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MEOLI: A shortened MLB season won’t shorten long odds for an Orioles playoff run

JON MEOLI
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
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Just because the planned baseball season will only be 60 games long doesn’t mean the Orioles won’t still be the Orioles.

Even though a shortened season might allow for some unique things to happen, there’s little beyond blind hope that could allow the Orioles to turn a season in which they were expected to be in contention for the worst record in the league into a two-month playoff run.

The Orioles’ best 60-game stretch in 2019 was a 24-36 run from June 28 through Sept. 5, one of six such spans they had last season, though their minus-56 run differential in this one was best of the bunch. Every team but the Detroit Tigers had a better 60-game portion of their season in 2019.

Their worst 60-game stretch last year was a 14-46 spell from April 20 to June 26, with a minus-156 run differential. Again, only the Tigers had anything worse over 60 games.

At no point in 2019 did the Orioles play at the level required to make the playoffs, even in a 60-game season. This year’s team might add some starting rotation stability in the form of a presumed healthy Alex Cobb and veteran left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, but will be without the offensive production of Jonathan Villar and Trey Mancini from a lineup that, outside of those two, largely lacked consistency.

No amount of positive thinking — not a full season of Austin Hays, comeback fantasies for a muscled-up Chris Davis or the warm March memories of fringe relievers stacking scoreless spring training innings — can take a team that won one-third of its games a year ago and essentially flip a quarter of their losses to wins in the 60-game season to come. That’s what it would take, along with a set of circumstances too long to list, for these Orioles to make the playoffs.

The schedule does the Orioles no favors. A new run at projecting the 2020 season at FanGraphs has the Orioles projected at 20.8 wins, essentially a 21-39 record. That’s worst in the American League East, and the fewest projected wins of any team in the majors. The Seattle Mariners are next-worst at 23.3 projected wins.

Ten games apiece against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays make up half of their schedule. The remaining 20 games against National League East opponents, weighted to include more games against the World Series champion Washington Nationals but also potential playoff challengers like the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets, don’t help matters either.

All told, the Orioles’ projected opponent winning percentage is .518, according to FanGraphs. No American League team will have it harder.

Their ZIPS projections, which adjust for playing time within the team, have the Orioles at a league-worst 19-41 and facing the league’s hardest schedule, though the shortened season raised their percent-chance to make the playoffs from zero to 1.3 percent.

That’s real, tangible improvement of those playoff chances. It’s also a evidence enough that even with such a unique season planned, it’s not unique enough to make anyone believe this Orioles team will buck expectations in a way that making the playoffs or even breaking .500 would require.