are soaring through rarefied air these days. They're tied with the New York Yankees
atop the AL East entering Friday's play and, according to ESPN's Playoff Odds calculator, have a 72-percent chance
to reach the postseason for the first time since Davey Johnson
led the club to a 98-win campaign
That the Orioles are a contending team in a division featuring the deep-pocketed Yankees, the equally spend-happy Boston Red Sox
and the talent-laden Tampa Bay Rays
is impressive enough (Sorry, Toronto Blue Jays
fans ... your team doesn't belong in the equation quite yet.) More impressive - and downright baffling - is just how Baltimore has managed to climb the division ladder as they wrap up one of the most intriguing seasons in recent memory.
Consider that the Orioles come into the weekend at 81-62 overall despite having allowed 20 more runs than they've scored. The other seven American League teams presently above the .500 mark own an average run differential of plus-75.8. The Red Sox are just one run worse than Baltimore in this category, and they're 64-80.
Translation: The Orioles are, in some respects, the luckiest group of ballplayers in the league. Their Pythagorean winning percentage
- a formula that takes into consideration run scored and allowed to calculate expected result - suggests that they should be roughly five games under .500
. And yet, here they are, rolling toward their first division title in 15 years despite most experts picking them to finish at or near the bottom of the league.
To what do the Orioles owe their remarkable good fortune? An unbelievable 27-7 record
in one-run games is a good place to start. Their winning percentage in games decided by a lone run is easily the highest in the league; oddly, the Cleveland Indians
- sitting tied for last in the AL - own the next-best mark at 20-9. The Yankees are just 18-22 in such contests, which goes a long way in explaining how they managed to squander a sizable division lead in a matter of weeks.
On the field, the Orioles have been getting sensational performances throughout the lineup.
is enjoying a career year at the plate while continuing to provide Gold Glove-calibre defence in center field. Matt Wieters
has taken a step forward in his offensive development and looks like a star catcher in the making. Mark Reynolds
has had an up-and-down season but has turned it on down the stretch, belting seven homers and driving in 14 runs over his last 11 games
The starting staff has been an even bigger revelation. With de facto ace Jason Hammel
back in action, the Orioles' rotation - buoyed by impressive rookie Wei-Yin Chen
and the red-hot Chris Tillman
- is back at full strength and pitching as well as any group in the majors.
The road to the playoffs is by no means an easy one - Baltimore kicks off a nine-game road trip Friday in Oakland
- but the fact that the club is even playing for anything this late in the season is a blessing Orioles fans won't forsake. Weird season or not, they finally have a reason to care about September baseball again.