In the National Football League, the idea of parity is constantly preached. “Any given Sunday” is the mantra of the league that claims to be the most fair of any of the professional sports. A last place team a season ago can make the postseason 12 months later, and all it takes to win the Super Bowl is a hot stretch over a few games at the right time.
That mentality is part of the reason that the game has become the most popular sport in our country. Maybe baseball should promote itself in the same way.
Sure, it takes longer to develop MLB teams into competitive winners. NFL franchises that have effective drafts can make an immediate impact the following season, while baseball teams take years to develop big league talent after successful drafts. But it’s the addition of a second Wild Card that has made Major League Baseball far more competitive than it has ever been.
Last year’s World Series featured two Wild Card teams, neither of which won over 90 games in the regular season. The champion San Francisco Giants had to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-game elimination before going on their amazing October run. And what about those pesky Royals? They rallied back in their own elimination game against the A’s with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth, then came back again after surrendering the lead in the top of the 12th with two more runs and a walkoff victory. A month later, Kansas City was a one game away from being World Champs after sweeping our beloved Orioles in the ALCS.
While everyone remembers what Ned Yost’s ballclub accomplished in the fall, few remember where they stood on this day a year ago. At 53-52, the Royals were 3 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card and rumors were swirling that they would move their top starter, James Shields, who was due to hit free agency after the season. KC knew they would lose Shields, who they acquired in a blockbuster trade for top prospect Wil Myers from the Rays, once he hit the open market. Why wouldn’t they get what they could for him at the deadline? There was no way a team that was just a game over .500 would seriously compete in the American League. Right?
When I look at the 2015 Baltimore Orioles here just a day away from the trade deadline, I can’t help but feel like they’re just as capable of accomplishing what the Royals did last season. Could they move pending free agents Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis and/or possibly Matt Wieters and hope to restock their farm system? Absolutely, but when you’re just a game out of the Wild Card, you’ve got to go for it.
After sweeping the Atlanta Braves and winning their fifth straight game, you’ve got to feel good about the direction the Orioles are heading with important decisions about their future looming. Chris Tillman threw an absolute gem on Wednesday night and he’s 2-0 with a 0.38 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break. The Orioles offense, which struggled mightily entering the break, is getting solid returns from their everyday players.
Adam Jones was dominant in April with a .400 batting average, but slipped in May and June, hitting .239 and .260 respectively. He leads the Orioles in average after the break with a .314 average. J.J. Hardy has slashed .310/.333/.500 with two homers in the second half. Jonathan Schoop has picked up 10 hits in his last 25 at-bats. Davis has gone deep five times in his last 12 games, and he’s now just two homers shy of Nelson Cruz’s total this season.
With 62 games remaining, the Orioles are in the driver’s seat. They might have to fight for their lives in a one-game playoff or maybe they’ll edge the Yankees in the East and repeat as division champions. Either way, if 2014 taught us anything, it’s that their playoff dreams are alive and well at the trade deadline.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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.