James Baker: The magic number

The Orioles have off today so Baltimore gets to take part in its new favorite game: Scoreboard Watching! O's fans everywhere will be paying attention to the Rays, Yankees, Angels and Athletics games to see how the most direct competition fares. If all goes according to plan, the Orioles could awake tomorrow in a very advantageous position. The Orioles are in control of their own destiny, and their most recent spate of miraculous impossible play has put them in a very cushy place.

The way I see things shaking out, 90 wins should be good enough to get you into the playoffs in some capacity. Why 90 wins? Well, that 90-win plateau has been a sort of arbitrary benchmark for playoff viability, as good as any nice, round number really. But I choose 90 based on the relative positions of the contending teams and the amount of games left in the season. When looking at those factors it appears that the contenders are all in a race to get to 90 wins.

The Orioles are currently winning that race.

The teams in the race: The Orioles, Yankees, Rays, Angels and Athletics. I am not including Texas because even though they have not yet clinched their division sitting at 88 wins, being four games up on the A's and being the Rangers put them in a pretty good spot to get at least into the playoffs. The Tigers and White Sox are also omitted because the AL Central will not play into the wild card discussion, so the race between those two teams is relatively isolated from the others. With one wild card coming out of the East and the other coming from the West, the race to 90 is on.

The Standings:
Orioles/ Yankees - 85
Athletics - 84
Angels - 81
Rays - 79

Each team has only 13 (NYY and OAK have 14) games remaining. Below are the records that each team will need to have to reach that level:

Orioles/ Yankees - 5-8/ 5-9
Athletics - 6-8
Angels - 8-5
Rays - 11- 2

The Rays, when you look at what will be required of them, seem on the doorstep of being virtually eliminated from the race. There is always a chance that the second wild card will not win 90 games, but the Rays are the only team in the race that's still sitting under 80 wins and they are simply running out of time to make their run. Moreover, you have to consider their opponents. They play more than half of their final 13 games against contenders, including the final three games of the season against the Orioles.

The AL West contenders get a healthy dose of Texas Rangers baseball over the final 13 games. Both Oakland and Los Angeles play the Rangers at least four times through the remainder, with Oakland drawing them a whopping seven times.

Meanwhile the Orioles and Yankees have actually hit a soft spot in their schedules. Not that any team can be taken for granted, but the Orioles will not play a better-than-.500 team until the last three game series of the year when they travel to the Rays. The Orioles could reasonably have more than 90 wins when they make that final trip to St. Petersburg.

As the season winds down, every game counts. With the Rays appearing to be on their way out of the race and the Angels clawing to stay in, the Orioles are in a fantastic position coming into the home stretch of the season. I have been called many things when it comes to the Orioles. I was once called the "Prime Minister of Apologist Parliament" because I dared to say the Orioles had an outside chance at .500. But never in my wildest dreams did I think the Birds would be where they are right now: sitting 20 games over .500 and in the catbird seat heading into the postseason. According to ESPN, the Orioles don't have a "magic number" worth mentioning at the moment - but to me 90 wins is the next benchmark to shoot for. The sooner the Orioles get it, the quicker they can cement their first playoff berth in 15 years.

James Baker blogs about the Orioles at Oriole Post. His observations about the O's appear as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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