Let’s start with a simple trade. We’re going to trade Baltimore’s magic in one-run games with Seattle’s lack thereof. Now here are your AL Wildcard standings, accordingly:
Yes, the Mariners would currently be in a playoff spot if they could have won 77% of their one-run games as the Oriole’s did.
What the Orioles have done in close games is absurd. They’ve won 27 such games, while losing just 8. Two of the league’s best teams—the Rangers and Yankees—are 21-18 and 18-22 in such games, respectively. The league’s two best bullpens by ERA belong to the Rays and A’s, and those teams are 20-26 and 22-15, respectively. That quartet includes four of the best teams in the American league, and combined they are just 81-81 in one-run games.
The Orioles might have that special something—some sort of will to pull through when it counts, but I don’t buy it. Take a guy like Albert Pujols. He’s clutch, right? For his career, he has a stunning .455 wOBA in (what Fangraphs deems to be) high leverage plate appearances. That’s 42 wOBA points higher than his career .413 wOBA in low leverage situations. But in his worst season, 2012, Pujols has performed 114 wOBA points worse in clutch situations. In his best clutch season, the Machine performed 123 wOBA points better than his usual. That doesn’t sound like much of a machine, unless that machine is a popcorn popper or a Whac-a-Mole. If one of the most consistent players in the last decade can’t reproduce results in the clutch, why should any team be able to do so?
Backup. This post is not about Albert Pujols, the Yankees, or even Orioles, really. This post is about what it takes to get from 70-78, to the playoffs. This post is about Tinkerbell. While it’s better to be the Rangers and be good, it can still be done like the Orioles, with Tinkerbellian pixie dust.
The Mariners true talent probably won’t put them in the top 5 of the AL next season. But a little magic might, and there’s some fresh precedence for that scenario roosting in Baltimore right now.