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Just in case they don't last long in the playoffs, here's a quick primer on Major League Baseball's most surprising team.
A few things you might not know about the Baltimore Orioles, who head into their Wild Card game against the Rangers with a chance to go from last place in 2011 to winning the World Series in 2012 ...
- Yeah, you know the Orioles sported a negative run differential for most of the season before finally crossing the border into Plusland toward the end of September. But when discussing their postseason chances, it's probably worth noting that they did fare better in the second half of the season. Before the All-Star break, the O's were outscored by 26 runs, which of course is the mark of a sub-.500 team. But after the break (and in fewer games), they outscored their opponents by 33 runs. That's not the mark of a great team, but does suggest they're not terribly outclassed by their postseason competition.
- Buck Showalter's fondness for one-run strategies is decidedly mixed. The Orioles ranked last in the American League with only 58 stolen bases, but finished second with 38 sacrifice hits. Of course, the O's played an immense number of close games (more on that in a moment), so 38 ("successful") bunts really isn't a lot. There's actually very little spread among A.L. clubs, with the No. 2 Orioles at 38 and the No. 10 White Sox and Yankees at 31.
- Okay, you probably do know this, but it does bear repeating over and over and over again: The 2012 Baltimore Orioles went 29-9 in one-run games, and set the all-time record with a .763 winning percentage in those games. In a related note, they went 16-2 in extra-inning games. And in one more related note, their bullpen's 3.00 ERA ranked third in the American League. More impressively (and oddly), the Orioles' top five relief pitchers all have ERAs ranging from 2.24 to 2.68. Oh, and the O's finished the season 74-0 in games they led after seven innings.
- What's that? You want more amazing facts about the 2012 Orioles? Taiwanese rookie Wei-Yin Chen, with a dozen wins, was the only Orioles' only double-figures winner. Chen was also the only Oriole who started more than 20 games. If there's a key to the Orioles' second half, it was finally settling on Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman in the rotation, as both finished with nine wins and excellent ERAs.
- The Orioles finished second in the American League with 214 home runs. Three Orioles hit seven homers, two hit 12 or 13, three hit 22 or 23, and two hit 23 or 33. Yes, useless trivia. Especially because the Orioles were a power-hitting team last year, too. What might surprise you, though? This club actually scored almost exactly as many runs last year as this year, and fell slightly in the league rankings (from seventh to ninth). Their improvement is due entirely to better pitching and defense, as last year they finished last in the A.L. with a 4.89 ERA; this year they're sixth, at 3.90.