The Sweep Smell of Victory

April 04, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

The Orioles did their best to minimize the impact of the first stage of what still looks to be a daunting April schedule by completing a 3-game sweep of the Rays on Sunday, sending the team home, undefeated record intact and alone atop the AL East…for the time being anyway. Bolstered by their pitching despite the untimely loss of Brian Matusz due to injury, the O’s rolled through Tampa, and for 3 games at least, looked more like the team that should be the objects of expectations than their overmatched hosts.

Perspective being called for, pennants can’t be won in April but they can be lost there. Given the difficult appearance of the O’s April schedule, the cache of wins that they picked up over the weekend in Tampa should at least help in their efforts to stay above .500 for the season’s opening month.

 

It occurred to me during the opener that the O’s perspective on the start of the season must have been at least a bit skewed going into the weekend series at the Trop. The early start to the season, along with not leaving the state of Florida must’ve made this feel to some degree like spring training continued. Whether that wound up being a benefit that served the team during their sweep, or just one more obstacle that they had to overcome in getting there is debatable, the end result though is not.

 

I wrote a blog a few months ago with a section titled “Baseball Math” that basically sought to reiterate a couple of proven baseball “formulas”. The first being that a single hit per week amounts to about 40 or 50 points in batting average (Crash Davis logic) was meant to illustrate that for all of the machinations and strategizing inherent to a baseball season, at the end of the day, luck and timing can play a much bigger part in baseball than it does in other sports. The second (taught to me by my father, but time honored too) is that every baseball team no matter how good or bad (with few historical exceptions) can expect to win 50 games and lose 50 games in every baseball season. What teams do in the remaining 62 games determines where they finish their seasons. So for their efforts, the O’s have made 3 games worth of headway into their 50 win destiny and at the same time laid 3 big early losses on one of the division’s favorites.

 

What’s really important in that scenario (if any importance at all can be drawn from an April series) is the divisional aspect. Between the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox (the 3 favorites to fight it out for the division) the Orioles will play 54 games this season. If they hope to stake their own claim to a share of the division, they’ll have to expect to go at least .500 in those 54 games. Picking up 3 of those 27 needed wins early accounts for 11% of that total, and they got them on the road. With 9 more such games in April, if the O’s can win just 4 of them they’ll finish the month with 7 wins against the divisions big 3 and just 5 losses. If they do any better than that in those games, they’ll be well on their way to the 27 wins they’ll need to have a realistic shot at being a divisional factor. And all of that before they’ve even unpacked their suitcases from spring training.

 

That after all is the most important thing to remember. Perhaps as I was marveling at the O’s ability to stay focused in the face of what must’ve felt like being held after school for spring training, we should wait and see if coming home on Sunday night, presumably for the first time in months and turning around for a Monday home opener proves to be even more of a challenge. Something tells me the impact of their travel will only be felt to the extent that Jake Arrieta is able to keep a tough Tigers lineup in check, and I’m guessing that Arrieta got an early pass home, ahead of his teammates to curb any such effect on his performance at least. The atmosphere at the yards will be electric for sure given the way they played this weekend. I wonder if anyone went out to greet them at the airport.

 

Another interesting (albeit less useful) baseball stat, or factoid, that my Pop laid on me was when the 1984 Tigers were out to their 35-5 start. At that point he surmised that at 30 games above .500 already, simply playing .500 baseball from there out all but assured the Tigers of a trip to the post season; this in the 4-division, no wildcard era. To that end if the O’s could simply play .500 ball from here on out, they’ll be guaranteed a winning season. That’s a start.

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