Baltimore Orioles fans have waited a long time for the chance to watch their favorite team participate in a playoff race. Judging by the crowds at Camden Yards for the final four games of the Orioles’ most recent homestand, though, fans might be willing to wait a bit longer to see the Birds in action.
The Orioles moved into the front of the American League wild card race by taking three out of four games from the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox from Monday, August 27 through Thursday, August 30. The Orioles entered play Friday, August 31 with a record of 72-58, which, if the season ended today, would earn them the AL’s second wild card spot and the chance to travel to Oakland to face the Athletics (73-57) in the inaugural one-game wild card playoff game.
The Orioles could still avoid the wild card play-in game entirely: They are just three games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East heading into this weekend’s three-game series in New York and will again play the Yankees in Baltimore during a four-game series beginning Thursday, Sept. 6.
Perhaps the Yankees’ visit to Baltimore for the start of a seven-game homestand will result in better crowds than the ones the Orioles and White Sox played in front of this week, when a total of just 47,035 fans, including a season-low 10,141 for the series finale Thursday.
Even the biggest crowd of the series (13,098) was still smaller than any crowd the Orioles drew in 48 home dates (a span of 49 games, including a doubleheader) between May 10 and August 25.
With the school year in the Baltimore area already underway, smaller crowds at Camden Yards are no surprise. Still, the acres of empty seats grabbed the attention of the local media: Baltimore Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd wondered where all the fans were on Tuesday, August 28, when he wrote “…it was an astonishingly small crowd for a pennant contender. And the Orioles deserve better. Much better.”
Late-season contention is decidedly unfamiliar territory for the Orioles, who haven’t reached the playoffs since 1997 and haven’t ended August with a winning record since they were 69-68 as of August 31, 1998. And that team was already buried 12 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the wild card race and a mind-boggling 30 games behind the Yankees, who went on to win 114 games.
The Orioles ended the 1998 season with a 79-83 record, which marked the first of 14 straight losing seasons. And few of those losing seasons were flukes: The Orioles ended August within 10 games of .500 just twice between 1999 and 2011.
With a run differential of negative-44 runs—which normally translates to a record of 10 games under .500, according to the Pythagorean formula devised by famed statistician Bill James—some fans may believe this is a bit of a fluke by the Orioles. But Baltimore is a remarkable 24-6 in one-run games as well as 12-2 in extra inning games, which indicates the Orioles have found something that works this year, even if it’s not a formula that typically repeats itself from year to year.