On Wednesday night in Toronto, the Baltimore Orioles experienced the unfamiliar feeling of losing a baseball game. The O's entered the evening tied for first place in the American League East, having gone 21-10 since the start of August and made up 10 games since July 18 on the other team atop the division, the New York Yankees.
With each victory and each game gained on the Yankees came another explanation of how a team that had been picked to finish fifth by most preseason pundits could be winning despite being outscored by its opponents. Many observed that the Orioles were excelling in games decided by one run, often an indicator of a team outplaying its underlying performance. Some pointed out that an effective bullpen can help teams win tight games, while still others thought Baltimore's bullpen success would prove as ephemeral as its record in one-run games. More than one wondered whether the O's league-leading transaction total could be the secret to their success.
A charmed team like the Orioles never owes its success to a single factor, so it's likely that all of the above played some role in the team's 76-60 record. But the above might still be missing something: the Orioles are one of three AL East teams this season whose records don't look like we thought they would. The O's may have managed to exceed our expectations in part because two of their division rivals have disappointed.