Baseball is a game of numbers. Most are obvious - 4 balls for a walk, 3 strikes for a strikeout, 3 outs in an inning, 9 innings in a game.
But for some major league teams, a significant number can be more subtle. And for the 2009 Orioles their significant number is 5.
When the Orioles have scored 5 or more runs in a game this season, they have put up playoff-caliber numbers. But when scoring 4 runs or less, the O's have been overmatched.
Going into Friday night's home game against the Indians, the Orioles had played 128 games and their record was 52-76. But a look inside the won-loss record reveals an interesting trend.
The Orioles' record when scoring 5 runs or more is an amazing 41-16. That's a winning percentage. of .719. But in contrast, when the O's have scored 4 runs or less, their record is 11-60. That's a winning pct. of just .155.
There are many reasons for the disparity, the biggest being the Orioles' team ERA, which going into Friday's game was 5.01. That's why the O's are just 5-15 when they have scored 4 runs this season. The magic number is 5.
But the bigger explanation for the disparity is the numerous young players the Orioles have added to the roster this season. They are a talented group and have bright futures. But young players have stretches of inconsistency as they learn to compete at the big league level day-in and day-out. It's part of the process and the key is the lessons learned from their mistakes and their inconsistent play. It will make them better players, which will lead to more consistency.
The hope is that as the pitchers become more efficient and effective, they will give up fewer runs. And as the young hitters become more consistent, it will lead to increased run production.
The game has never changed. You win by scoring one more run than your opponent. And the fewer you allow, the fewer you need to score to win that game. The next step in the Orioles' rebuilding is winning more games by not having to outslug the opponent.
The O's have actually played in more games (71) in which they have scored 4 runs or less than they have played in games (57) that they have scored 5 runs or more. As the pitching and hitting gain experience and become more consistent, the won-loss record will improve.
For 2009 the magic number has been 5. If the O's can reduce the number to 4 next season, they'll win a lot more games and get closer to contention.