The Baltimore Orioles may not win the A.L. East or even make the playoffs, but if the final two weeks of the season end in disappointment, there will be at least one small consolation for the franchise. Thanks to the Orioles’ 9-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Sunday, Baltimore has assured itself of a winning record for the first time since 1997. Also, by snapping its string of 14 consecutive losing seasons, the Orioles avoided tying the American League record of 15, which was first set by the Boston Red Sox from 1919 to 1933 (no wonder New England was consumed by the curse of the Bambino) and matched by the Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics from 1953 to 1967.
Note: Blue bars represent NL teams; red bars represent AL teams.
In order to snap their losing skid, the Orioles have relied on more than their fair share of good fortune. After all, with a run differential of -20, the Orioles’ expected winning percentage is only .483, or 0.076 below its actual rate, giving the team the third most favorable discrepancy in baseball history. How has Baltimore managed to defy expectations? At 27-8, the team also maintains the highest winning percentage in one-run games recorded since 1901. Finally, the cherry on top of the Orioles’ improbable season has been its 13-2 record in extra innings, which is tied for the 15th best mark in modern baseball history.
Note: For an explanation of the Pythagorean formula, click here.
Not too long ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates were also on course to snap a long string of consecutive losing seasons. However, since peaking at 16 games over .500 on July 28, the Bucs have plummeted to just one game above the break even mark, leaving open the possibility that they will extend their record of futility to 20 straight seasons with a below .500 record. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, although the team’s recent stretch of losing has put a winning season in jeopardy, it hasn’t eliminated them from the playoff picture. Despite losing 12 of their last 15 and 21 of their last 30, the Pittsburgh Pirates are only two games in the loss column behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild card.
Franchise Winning Percentage Distribution, Since 1901
Note: Includes 2012 season as of September 16, 2012.
Most Yankee fans probably can’t relate to the anguish experienced by the long-suffering diehards of the Orioles and Pirates. In the Bronx Bombers’ 112 season history, the team has never had more than four consecutive losing seasons (1912-1915 and 1989-1992). What’s more, the Yankees have only had 22 seasons below .500 overall as well as fewer since 1915 than the Orioles and Pirates have had during their current streaks. The team’s remarkable rate of being above .500 in 80% of all seasons is easily the highest total among all 30 franchises and head and shoulders above every team but the Giants.
Before the Pirates embarked on their long voyage of losing in 1993, the franchise was one of the most successful in terms of having winning seasons. Entering that year, the Pirates had finished above .500 in two-thirds of their campaigns since 1901, which was the third highest rate in the majors. Even with the team’s current string of 19 straight losing seasons, it still boasts the seventh highest rate of winning, but that’s probably small consolation to fans rooting for the team now. Similarly, before reeling off 14 straight losing campaigns, the Orioles had finished above .500 in nearly 70% of all seasons spent in Baltimore. It might be hard for younger fans of the team to believe, but for over three decades, the Oriole Way was the model for the rest of baseball, not the laughing-stock it had become in the last 14 years.
The reversal of fortune that befell Pittsburgh and Baltimore should serve as a warning to those who take their team’s success for granted. Undoubtedly, Pirates’ and Orioles’ fans never expected the go so long between winning campaigns, especially when you consider each streak started after a division winning season. So, whether or not you’ll be rooting for the Pirates to join the Orioles in getting off the losing schneid, just remember, there but for the grace of the baseball gods (and the competency of management) goes the fate of your favorite team.