After sweeping the Boston Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles left Camden Yards on Sunday tied for first place in the American League East Division with the New York Yankees. With only three games remaining, the team headed to Tampa Bay where they would play the Rays in their final series of the season.

En route, aboard their charter flight out of Baltimore, a small fire erupted and forced the plane to land in Jacksonville. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

After spending an hour familiarizing themselves with the terminals at JAX, the Orioles were once again aboard an airplane, traveling to their destination. In a rare instance of already being on cloud nine before good news has been the delivered, the team learned that they had clinched a playoff spot, with the Texas Rangers beating the Los Angeles Angels, while still in the air above Florida.

There are a number of jokes to be made here about the spontaneous fire being the work of the devil, offering Baltimore a subtle reminder of the deal that they must have made with him during Spring Training. Having seen more than a fair share of takes on the Dr. Faustus play, I’m aware that this is exactly how the Prince of Darkness would choose to operate.

However, all of that nonsense is to diminish exactly what the Orioles have accomplished this season. While the narrative suggests that Baltimore’s entry into the playoffs, given their uncanny record in extra innings and one-run games, combined with their minuscule run differential, is based solely on luck, that’s far from a complete picture.

If we travel back in time to the middle of the summer, the Orioles were indeed lucky to be only ten games behind the Yankees in the American League East, and a half game behind the Detroit Tigers for the second Wild Card spot, but their record was only 47-44 on July 18th. They were hardly what would be considered a dominant baseball club, and if we’re going to point to their supposed luck in being in the position that they were, we also have to point to the apparent bad luck found in every single other team in their division, except the aforementioned Yankees.

Since then however, we cannot use run differential as a crutch to defend our preconceived notions about the team. Consider this:

  • On July 18th, 2012: 47-44 record, .516 winning percentage and a -56 run differential.
  • On October 1st, 2012: 92-67 record, .579 winning percentage and a +11 run differential.

Yes, July 18th is certainly an end point that suits my argument. Perhaps even moreso in this case than usual, considering that it represents the date at which Baltimore was the furthest behind first place in the division for the whole year. However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that since the middle of July, the Orioles have a positive run differential of 67.

When the Los Angeles Dodgers made their salary accepting trades at the trade deadline and during the trade waiver process, they were roundly praised for taking advantage of where luck had brought them, close to the top of the National League West, and taking matters into their own hands to improve their team. Of course, the additions didn’t bring the sum that was anticipated, and the team currently finds itself two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the final playoff spot with three games remaining.

While the Orioles didn’t make the splash that Los Angeles made in terms of talent acquisition, they did attain the desired outcome through intelligent low cost options like Nate McLouth, Joe Saunders, Jim Thome and Randy Wolf. As strange as it might be to see Nate McLouth contributing, this wasn’t coincidental or reached through some pact with Satan. The Baltimore Orioles became a very good team after finding themselves in a position to take advantage of the luck that had brought them to that point. While certainly performances from unexpected sources have helped them along the way, as has timely hitting and the uncanny success of the bullpen, that doesn’t mean that the team is winning poker pots based solely on the hand they’re being dealt.

If anything, the 2012 version of the Baltimore Orioles is opportunistic, not the square in the Sesame Street game that doesn’t belong. They are the self-made man about to sit at the dining table with the aristocrats. There are whispers as to whether or not they belong among such elite company and no one knows if they actually deserve to be there. However, “deserve” is a funny word because it tends to connotate the earning of something despite its use being primarily from those who have done nothing to earn anything.

While perhaps unglamorous and unsophisticated, the Orioles are not undeserving victors of the chance to play in the coming post season. They’ve seized the opportunities they’ve been given, and overcome odds just like any other team in their position. Now, we see that no amount of fire is going to stop them from taking advantage of the chance to achieve the highest heights possible.

And The Rest

The pennant race standings with three games to go. [Hit And Run]

A guide to all of the American League playoff possibilities. [Big League Stew]

Is baseball’s new playoff format a hit or miss? [Sports On Earth]

The ups and downs of Miguel Cabrera’s bid at the Triple Crown. [Baseball Musings]

The imaginary grand slam that counted. [Getting Blanked]

Ken Rosenthal explains his individual awards choices. [FOX Sports]

Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price wins his twentieth game of the season. [D Rays Bay]

Atlanta Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel is having a season for the ages. [Fangraphs]

The Oakland Athletics are 79-47 with Cespedes in the lineup, and 12-21 without him. [Getting Blanked]

It seems as though you might have information released that you don’t want when you publicly criticize a public official. [SF Gate]

In clinching their own playoff spot, the Texas Rangers also clinched for the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. [Baseball Time In Arlington]

The end of the Tsuyoshi Nishioka era. [Baseball Nation]

Why intentional walks shouldn’t be handed out like candy on Halloween. [The Book Blog]

This perfectly describes the National League East. [Twitter]