Created on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 Written by JIM INGRAHAM jingraham@MorningJournal.com @jitribeinsider,writer
In 2011 the Baltimore Orioles had a record of 69-93 and they finished last in the AL East.
In 2012 the Orioles had exactly the opposite record. They were 93-69 and they finished second in the AL East and made it to the playoffs as a wildcard team.
Could the Indians do that?
Could the Indians go from 68-94 last year to 94-68 this year?
Could the Indians — gulp! — actually make a run at the playoffs? After a 94-loss season? Crazy as it sounds, it could happen. It could happen because it HAS happened. It happened last year. With the Orioles.
Who will be this year’s Orioles? Maybe no one. What the Orioles did last year — while competing in the formerly ferocious AL East, no less — doesn’t happen very often. In fact it happens so infrequently that many numbers crunchers are convinced last year’s Orioles were a fluke, and that this year’s Orioles will return to being the Orioles.
Last year the Orioles were a ridiculous 16-2 in extra-inning games and 29-9 in one-run games. Those are off-the-charts winning percentages that aren’t likely to be repeated.
For example, the Orioles were the only team in the AL East with a winning record in one-run games — and they were 20 games over .500 in that category. No other AL team was even close to the Orioles’ 29-9 record in one-run games. The next best team in one-run games, with a record of 24-12 was ... get this ... the Indians!
Baltimore’s 16-2 record in extra inning games is even more outrageous. Only one other American League team even PLAYED as many extra inning games as the Orioles won. The AL average record in extra inning games was about 6-6. The Orioles were 16-2.
In other words, the Orioles, many numerologists postulate, have no chance of duplicating their fluke-ish 2012 season in 2013.
The Yankees are in shambles, the Red Sox lost 93 games themselves last year, and along with the Yankees were strangely quiet in the offseason. Tampa Bay? James Shields, B.J. Upton, and Carlos Pena are all gone from last year’s roster.
The only team in the East that has gotten better — way better on paper — is Toronto.
Why is this significant for the Indians? Because it’s very possible that, in 2013, for only the second time in the last 10 years, an AL wildcard team won’t come out of the AL East.
And don’t forget, there are now TWO wildcard teams. It’s very possible in 2013 that the only playoff team from the AL East will be the one that wins the division.
In the AL West, the Angels added Josh Hamilton, the Rangers lost him, but still have a lot of talent, while the upstart A’s who actually won that division last year, may be due for an Orioles-likely market correction downstart season in 2013.
The point of all of this is that the Indians picked a good time to play some checkbook baseball this offseason.
Conditions seem to be favorable for a downtrodden team like the Tribe to make a major jump in the win column. Actually, a major jump in the win column may not be necessary to reach the postseason in 2013.
If the Yankees and Orioles and A’s are backing up, and if the Red Sox continue to spin their wheels, maybe the Indians only need to improve their win total by a significant — not sensational — margin to contend in 2013.
Because, theoretically, anyway, they could fail to finish first or second in the AL Central and STILL make the playoffs. It would take both wildcard teams coming from the AL Central for that to happen, but stranger things have happened — like the Orioles going 16-2 in extra innings last year.
The Tigers are the Tigers, and it would be a major shock if they don’t win the Central. The rest of the division, given the Indians’ on-paper improvement, looks like a horse race.
The new and improved Indians in 2013 should score a lot more runs, steal a lot more bases, hit a lot more home runs and play a lot better defense. The bullpen should be solid again.
The starting rotation?
Let’s get back to the rest of the league. The American League right now is a league in transition, with some formerly powerful teams in a down cycle, some former cupcakes in an up cycle, and the potential for rapid relocation in the standings from year to year more feasible now than it has been in several years.
This is all good news for the have-nots. Especially for the have-nots who have transformed themselves during the offseason into have-somes.
Like, say, the Indians.