Despite ESPN's shrill claims to the contrary, there's rarely any real line of demarcation on things like "contending" and being "in the race." Just a vague but ever-increasing sense among fans of 29 teams that, yeah, this year isn't going to be the year.
And frankly, this feels as close as we're going to get to being secure in that knowledge until the magic number reaches zero. Since June 22nd, the Dodgers have a better winning percentage than the Miami Heat had last year. If they did this for an entire season, they'd go 133-29. It won't continue, but even if it doesn't, there's really nothing that makes me think that LA is going to lose seven more games than Arizona the rest of the way.
Sure, there's still a chance for the second Wild Card but, eh. The Reds and Cardinals (and Pirates, if you're into that) appear to be better teams than the Diamondbacks. And even if one of those teams falls off, the possibility of playing a one-game playoff against the other (who will be aware that they're playing in the Wild Card game and will have time to adjust their rotation accordingly) doesn't fill me with contentment.
Everyone's at a different point with this, and many of you got here way before I did. But the point is, most people watch a non-contending team play baseball differently than they watch a contending team play baseball. Root for the young guys, root for individual accomplishments, do what you need to do to cope. But we're probably winding down on the part of the season that contains legitimate playoff hopes.
What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):
I guess I'm obliged to talk about the other team and all, because y'all are still reading this, which means that people are curious about the strange visitors from the East.
The Orioles are presently 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot in the AL, thanks to a recent surge by the Rangers that knocked the A's out of first. Unlike many of the teams they're chasing, a handful of whom we've seen recently, the Orioles are not without their holes. And by "holes" I basically just mean that their rotation is not the best.
There are teams with worse ERAs from their rotations, but those teams are all in last place in their divisions, so that doesn't bode well at all. And they're neck-and-neck with the Blue Jays for the worst FIP, so it's not just bad luck.
You'll remember that Nate McLouth had a couple of really good seasons for the Pirates before getting traded for scraps, which was funny because that's what always used to happen to good Pirates. It was also funny because he was terrible after getting traded to the Braves, which is the opposite of what always seems to happen to the Braves. You'll be forgiven if you haven't thought about McLouth since then, but he's quietly put up an OBP of .347 for Baltimore over two seasons in left field there.
As mentioned above, the Orioles don't have a playoff spot, and that's at least partially the Rangers' fault. Still, I don't think the O's can get too angry at Texas, since Texas handed them Chris Davis for a reliever. Now, Davis struggled a bit in July, and went through a long stretch where he didn't hit a single home run. It has knocked his OPS all the way down to 1.054 this year, or still more than 100 points higher than Paul Goldschmidt, who is also pretty cool.
Husk asked the other day whether we'd rather have Bryce Harper or Manny Machado for the next 10 years, and the fact that we even had to think about it pretty much speaks for himself. He's possibly the best defender in baseball, and he's not playing the position that he's played for his entire career.
Guys like Adam Jones exist simply to remind GMs that rangy, toolsy outfield prospects are tons of fun when they actually work out, and to keep spending time and effort scouting, drafting, and hyping them. UZR doesn't much like Jones' defense, but his offense has improved fairly steadily since he came into the league, and he currently has the best wRC+ of any non-Mike Trout CF in the American League.
Am I the only one who's just a little bit sad that Andy MacPhail, the Orioles GM who painstakingly assembled essentially the entire lineup through losing season after losing season, didn't get to stick around to see what he had built? Probably.
Insightful Commentary: One of the underrated cool things about this season has been watching Miley round into form since the end of May. He's gotten better each month, and it's a reminder that he can succeed even without Madduxian control as long as he has a strong ground ball rate. And probably not coincidentally, Miley's GB% has gone up almost 10 percent since last season.
Scott Feldman was on the Cubs as recently as July, and the fact that I had completely forgotten about that speaks volumes about how forgettable both Feldman and the 2013 Cubs are. As has been mentioned elsewhere, Feldman is kind of the poor man's Brandon McCarthy, with a similar repotoire that produces similar results outside of their respective home run rates. And that was probably affected by McCarthy pitching in Oakland while Feldman slaved away in Texas.
Tuesday: Randall Delgado (4-3, 3.48) vs. Miguel Gonzalez (8-5, 3.91)
Insightful Commentary: Randall Delgado hates the AL East. He hates the five-hour NYY/BOS games that are always on Sunday Night Baseball, hates the Rays' plucky but financially-oriented approach to team-building, hates the retro craze that Camden Yards kicked off. Why? Who can say. It's just one of those things. Or he's regressed a bit against a couple of good offenses that happen to play in the same division. One or the other probably.
If you check out Miguel Gonzalez's Fangraphs page, you'll notice that he disappears between 2007 and 2010. He dealt with a knee injury that was followed immediately by an arm injury, which is a combination of problems that would probably cause most pitching prospects to retire. But the Orioles took a chance on him, and he's been pretty okay for a couple of seasons now. He's out-pitched his FIP (4.38) for a couple years now, thanks largely to a BABIP of .270 over that time. What we don't know is whether that's Gonzalez's true talent level or not.
Insightful Commentary: This is the fun one. It's still incredible to me that Corbin has had exactly one start this year in which he has gone fewer than six innings. And just three starts where he has failed to get a Quality Start. It's not so much that I'm enamored with the Quality Start stat (because I think it's fairly terrible), but that sort of consistency is pretty incredible for a pitcher in his second season, even if we tend to take it for granted at this point.
How you feel about Tillman depends almost entirely on what stats you look at. ERA wants to believe. It paints a picture of a young pitcher who was in danger of losing his job entirely before putting things together before 2012, and he's put up an ERA in the low 3s ever since. FIP's more cautious; it's been hurt before. FIP points out that Tillman gives up a bunch of home runs, and that he's not the strikeout pitcher he looked like when he was coming up. And W/L Record is in the corner eating paste and telling you that he's gone 23-6 since 2012 in Joe Morgan's voice.
Three Pressing Questions:
How much fWAR did the Orioles get out of the Erik Bedard trade? 21 fWAR, not counting the value from the players who they received in turn for Sherill and Mickolio. Well say, that's a pretty lopsided trade. Again, Andy MacPhail deserves a fair bit of credit.
I don't accept UZR. Can you prove Machado is awesome at defense without your fancy newfangled stats? Just watch this a bunch of times.
Orioles Blog: Camden Chat
(All numbers via Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)