Winning the close ones has been a key for the Orioles' run to first place

With their win last night in Boston, the Orioles moved back into sole possession of first place in the American League East. But while the Orioles own the AL's second-best record at 32-24, they rank just eighth in run differential at a plus-three.

Run differential is the amount that a team outscores its opponents by on the year. While Texas is an impressive plus-70 and the Yankees are a plus-33, the Orioles are plus-three. Texas looks much more impressive than the Orioles in that stat, yet their record is just a half-game better than the O's mark.

Just look at the last four games to see the Orioles beat Tampa Bay 2-1 and win 8-6 and 2-1 against Boston. That illustrates a key to their success this year - winning the close games. It has led to an impressive record if not a glossy run differential.

There are just four AL teams with winning records in one- and two-run games combined and just one with a better win percentage than the Orioles.

AL leaders in one and two-run combined win percentage:
.720 - Cleveland at 18-7
.679 - Orioles at 19-9
.526 - New York at 10-9
.517 - Tampa Bay at 15-14

While Texas can bash opponents with its offense, when the Rangers get in those close games they are a sub-.500 team. The Rangers record is 9-12 in one- and two-run games.

Being able to win the close games has allowed the Orioles to now win three of four after losing nine of 11. On the year the Orioles rank second in the AL in one-run win percentage (at 9-5) and first in two-run win percentage (at 9-4).

At 19-9 the Orioles are 10 games over .500 in the close games and they are just eight games over .500 for the entire season, so you can easily see the difference winning the close games has made for the Orioles this year.

Adding to that is the O's 7-2 record in extra-inning games this year, which includes seven wins in a row since they lost their first two of the year. This team just makes big plays late in games to win and it's been huge all year.

Last night, the Orioles had just five singles, but they bunched three of them together in the sixth to score two runs while their pitching made that stand up. The bullpen is another key to winning all those close games. Pedro Strop has an ERA of 1.23 and Jim Johnson is at 1.38 with 18 saves in 19 chances.

Thanks in large part to that duo, the Orioles are the only AL team that has not lost a single game this season when leading after seven and eight innings.

The 2012 Orioles are proving to be a team that makes clutch plays late in games to win and doesn't blow late leads. It's a formula they have used to spend a lot of time in first place.

The Orioles don't look impressive on the run-differential front but they can live with that if it means being in first place in a division that features every team playing .500 ball or better.

What is your take?: Is the Orioles' record in the close games the biggest factor in the club's 32-24 record? Does a run differential of just plus-three mean the Orioles are not as strong as some of those other clubs despite a better record? Can they keep winning the close ones deep into this season to stay in the race?

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