As I’ve discussed the past two days, the Baltimore Orioles are expected to finish last in the AL East according to Baseball Prospectus. My aversion to this prediction is well-documented, however is there more to it than meets the eye? Let me play devil’s advocate for just a moment…
…the O’s played the NL West last year in interleague play. The LA Dodgers, San Diego Padres, et al. Not exactly the greatest division on earth, but of course the Dodgers and Giants are always competitive. (And the O’s of course took two-of-three in San Francisco, coming back to win the final game of the series in dramatic fashion after being down by six runs in the seventh.) So did that help the Orioles of 2016?
It might have for sure – only that the other teams in the division played the same schedule. So in essence, that cancels any competitive advantage that the O’s may have had in the division out. But if they had played a tougher division last year, is it possible that they might not have made the second wild card?
Anything is possible. But this is getting into the real nitty-gritty of things. This season the AL East will play the NL Central. (The Orioles will also have two two-game series’ against the Washington Nationals – home and home.) So they’re looking at the defending World Champion Cubs (still seems strange to say that!), the Cardinals, Brewers, etc.
With the exception of Chicago, that might not seem like the toughest task. But keep in mind that the NL Central centers their game around pitching and OBP. In effect they play small-ball, whereas the AL East is all about mashing home runs. The Orioles’ experience with those types of teams hasn’t yielded results that are necessarily favorable over the past few years.
They were swept by Minnesota in August of 2015, they seem to struggle against Kansas City, and even Cleveland at times (although they handled the Tribe last year). Heck, even in their own division – Tampa always seems to play the Orioles tough. Whereas the O’s are always looking to hit the ball out of the ballpark, teams like these see a single or a walk as a small victory.
So as we get into the grind of the season and the Orioles start seeing these teams, they might do well to exercise patience at the plate just a bit. Chicago’s a team that could probably compete in the AL East with their bats, but the rest of them are mainly small ball teams. While you have to set up your team to compete mainly in it’s division, the division you play in interleague is also something to watch.