It is June 29th, and the Baltimore Orioles are separating themselves from the rest of the American League East. After winning again in San Diego last night, Baltimore now sits 4.5 games up on Boston and 5.5 ahead of Toronto. They have won 6 games in a row and show no signs of slowing down.
On the surface this Orioles team looks fearsome, a daunting challenge for the Jays to try and track down. They have 123 home runs – the most in the majors. They have the 3rd best team OPS in all of baseball at .807. They have the 3rd best bullpen ERA in baseball. They are also full of star players like Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones.
But is Baltimore really that good? Or have they just been extraordinarily lucky with the timing of their schedule? Granted, you still have to win the games put in front of you, but doesn’t it always seem that while the Blue Jays are playing teams in the middle of winning streaks the Orioles are battling teams that are hitting rock bottom?
I decided to expand on the post I wrote last week about Toronto’s rotten and unlucky timing, and apply it to the Orioles as well. I wanted to see if the assumption made above was actually true. Are the Baltimore Orioles benefiting as much from who they are playing as they are from how they are playing?
The answer is a resounding yes.
To prove it, I took a look at each and every series that both Baltimore and Toronto have played, and created a simple formula to compare the difficulty of their opponents. The day that a series against a new opponent begins, I calculated the strength of that opponent based on the following:
– plus or minus 1 point for every game above or below .500 on the season
– plus or minus 1 point for every game above or below .500 in the past 5 games
– plus or minus 1 point for every game above or below .500 in the past 10 games
– plus or minus the opponent’s current streak
For example, if upon entering a series a team was 15-14 on the season, 3-2 in its past 5, 5-5 in its past 10, and riding a 3 game winning streak, they would earn a score of 5 (1 for the season record, 1 for the past 5 game record, 0 for the past 10 game record, and 3 for the winning streak). The higher the score, the more difficult the opponent. Simple.
Including the current matchups (Toronto visiting Colorado and Baltimore visiting San Diego) both the Jays and O’s have played 25 series in 2016. The total sum of opponent difficulties? Not even close:
To summarize things, I classified each series into a Neutral, Hard, or Easy rating. Any opponent with a negative double digit score was considered an easy opponent. Anything in positive double digits was considered hard. Anything in between was considered neutral. The overall breakdown is heavily skewed in Baltimore’s favour:
That’s right – the Blue Jays have played in almost twice as many “hard” series and three-and-a-half times fewer “easy” series. A quick comparison of the details behind the hard and easy series will bring home the point more clearly:
Toronto – Hard Opponents
Baltimore – Hard Opponents
As you can see, the June 17th series was played against each other so in reality the Jays have played six difficult series to Baltimore’s three. As is also evident from the chart, timing is everything. Whereas a series against Oakland right now might be seen as relatively easy given the A’s are 9 games under .500, back on April 22nd it definitely was not. At that time Oakland was 9-7 on the season, 5-0 in the past 5, 6-4 in the past 10, and riding a 5-game winning streak. Similarly, as demonstrated by the Yankees series on May 24th, a team doesn’t even need to be above .500 to be considered difficult. Though New York was only 21-22, they were also riding a 5-game win streak and were 5-0 and 7-3 in their recent stretch. Not easy at all.
The overall records in those games?
Toronto: 11 – 11
Baltimore: 8 – 6
Toronto – Easy Opponents
Baltimore – Easy Opponents
This where the comparison really gets interesting. The Blue Jays have only played two series that could be considered easy. Minnesota and Philadelphia are weak teams to begin with, and both were struggling mightily when they played the Jays. But that’s been it for weak opponents. Baltimore, on the other hand, has played a weak opponent seven times! And not all of them have been bad teams. They played the Yankees a few weeks before the Blue Jays did, only instead of New York being red hot they were ice cold: 8-15 and losers of 5-straight. When Toronto played Oakland on April 22, the A’s were on fire. Two weeks later the Orioles played an A’s team that had lost 4-straight and was 3-7 in its past 10. They also were given a chance to play a Rays team and an Astros team that were in deep, deep slumps.
The overall records in these “easy” games?
Toronto: 6 – 2
Baltimore: 14 – 7
Overall, both teams are holding their own in games against difficult opponents and both teams are beating up on the weak teams. The biggest difference is that the Jays have played 13 fewer games against chumps, and 8 more games against champs.
To further illustrate the differences in schedules, consider this:
– The combined record of Baltimore’s opponents at the time of each series is 461 – 480, 19 games under .500. The combined record of Toronto’s opponents in 480 – 452, 28 games over .500.
– The Blue Jays have played against a first place team 8 times. Baltimore? Just 4.
– Baltimore, on the other hand, has played against a last place team 6 times. Toronto? Only once.
So the next time you take a look at the standings and see the Jays behind the Orioles, remember one thing: Baltimore isn’t exactly a powerhouse. This exercise has determined that while they may be a good team, they are definitely not perfect – just a team that has fattened up its record against a bunch of also-rans.
For the Blue Jays, this means one thing:
The Orioles can be caught.
This season is nowhere near over.