Over at Baseball Prospectus yesterday, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic wrote a guest column in which he says he's having a hard time rooting for the Orioles because they got about the business of baseball the wrong way. In short:
So, as nerdy as this might sound, I guess I’m rooting for positive run differentials and good process. I’m not sure the Orioles have either.
When it comes to the Mets, I'm all about a good process and good results. I'd prefer to see the team create a sustainable contending product that will provide years of the infamous meaningful games in September and, perhaps, a World Series title sooner than later. But take the Mets out of the equation, and who the hell cares about run differential?
Last night, the Orioles beat the Mariners in eighteen innings. It was Baltimore's fourteenth — 14th! — consecutive victory in extra innings. It is the longest such streak in Major League Baseball since 1949. It's not exactly Cal Ripken Jr.'s record of consecutive games played, but what the Orioles are doing right now probably won't be done again for a very long time.
For months, the math and the projections have suggested the Orioles' run of success wouldn't last. It could, of course, still fall apart between now and the end of the season. But on the morning of September 19, the Orioles are tied with the New York Yankees at the top of the American League East and figure to have a damn good chance at a wild card spot even if they can't pull off winning the division.
Piecoro says that he's rooting for the teams that "should" win. He's rooting for process, and the projections — take the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds report, for example — haven't given the Orioles much of a chance until now. As recently as eight days ago, the Tampa Bay Rays were given much better odds of making the playoffs than the Orioles because the projections didn't like what the Orioles had on paper. Now, though, the Orioles are still right at the top of the race and have a 77.6 percent shot. The Rays have just a 4.0 percent shot. The math has finally given in to the reality of the situation at hand.
But in the end, rooting for the expected is boring, unless the Mets are expected to dominate. Otherwise, screw the team that's supposed to be the best team. Baseball games aren't played by robots, and watching a team like Baltimore come out of nowhere to threaten to supplant the Yankees as American League East division champions is awesome.
Leave the projections and predictions for spring training. Enjoy watching the unexpected unfold in September.