It’s been a topsy-turvy year in the A.L. East. After more than a decade of relative stability atop the division, the standings now read as if they were printed up-side down. With stalwarts like the Yankees and Red Sox bringing up the rear, and the Orioles perched above the others, it’s been anything but business as usual. But, how long will this new world order last?
Many Yankees and Red Sox fans, and perhaps members of each organization, have taken solace in the fact that the Baltimore Orioles currently lead the division. A six game deficit in May would never be cause for panic, but when the team out in front hasn’t had a winning season since 1997, it’s easy to see why the sense of urgency has been racheted down. However, based on history, the rest of the A.L. East shouldn’t take the Orioles too lightly.
Since 1901, 226 other teams (less than 10% of the total) have started the season with a record at least as good as this year’s Baltimore Orioles. Of that group, which collectively posted a winning percentage of .598 in the combined seasons, over half wound up winning the division. Perhaps just as important to an organization like the Orioles, which has been desperate for any sign of progress, nearly 90% of the segment finished no lower than third place and 96% ended up above .500.
The 226 teams referenced above include many with records significantly better than Baltimore’s current 28-16, which could skew the findings in favor of Buck Showalter’s birds. However, even when only considering 28-win teams, there are still many encouraging signs for the Orioles. This subset, which includes 73 teams aside from the 2012 O’s, posted a still impressive cumulative winning percentage of .571, while over one-quarter went on to win the division. Once again, that doesn’t exactly guarantee the pennant, but all the indications point to a sustained improvement as nearly 80% of the 28-win segment finished no lower than third and 92% posted more wins than losses.
Are the Orioles now the favorite to win the A.L. East? Probably not, but it does seem as if the franchise has finally turned the corner. Even if Baltimore replicates the worst season record from the original group of 226, the resultant .457 winning percentage would still present the team’s best mark in nearly a decade. They may not be drinking champagne in Baltimore at the end of the season, but, at the very least, it seems as if the Orioles have finally started to take flight.