Long-suffering Orioles fans will look to the second half of this baseball season for answers to two key questions:
1. Is a winning season on the horizon?
2. Can the Birds contend in the division within two to three years?
Unfortunately, the team's record after the All-Star break won't provide any real answers to those questions.
Want evidence? Of course you do.
Consider the post-All Star break performances of other franchises with several consecutive losing seasons. Then consider the O's own performance during their current 11-year slide. Both indicators demonstrate that teams on the brink of a breakout year don't show their hand in the second half of the prior season.
It's Not Just about the Rays
The 2008 ALCS Champion Tampa Bay Rays are the easy baseball metaphor these days, the rags-to-riches example of an "overnight" success story that was actually years in the making. They are what the Orioles strive to be, right down to beating the Red Sox with all the marbles on the table.
So how did the Rays perform after the 2007 All Star break? Just like they did in every other half-season prior before then—not well.
The Rays were 32-43 (.427 win percentage) after the '07 break, an improvement from the 34-53 (.391) mark they posted to start the season but still no great indicator that they would storm the gates of the division's Evil Empires in 2008.
The Rays lost consecutive series to the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays, respectively, to close out 2007. For the season they were 5-13 against Boston, 8-10 against New York, and 7-11 against the Orioles. The only division opponent who didn't win their season series with the Rays in 2007 was the Blue Jays, who finished 9-9 against Tampa.
One year later the Rays won their season series with Boston (10-8), Baltimore (15-3), and Toronto (11-7). Only the Yankees topped them in '08 (7-11).
You may think the Rays are the only example, but wait...there's more!
The Detroit Tigers endured 12 straight losing seasons before righting the ship in 2006 and sailing to the World Series. The Tigers' 2005 record after the break was 29-47 (.382). They ended the season by losing five straight and 13 of 17.
The 2005 Brewers finished an even .500 to end a 12-season losing streak. The Brewers' 2004 record after the break was 22-53 (.293). They were 5-15 in their last 20 games.
And the Royals finished 83-79 in 2003 to end a run of nine straight losing seasons. The Royals' 2002 record after the break was 29-48 (.377). They were swept by Cleveland, who finished 74-88, to end the season.
The Orioles may well end their run of losing seasons in 2010. Just don't look to their record after this year's All-Star break for clues that it's going to happen.
But What about Us?
You know the Orioles have 11 consecutive losing seasons. You know they slump in August. But do you know how many times they've had a winning record after the break since their last winning season in 1997?
The answer is three. And not one of those seasons (1998, 1999, and 2004) was an indicator of future success.
The 2004 season initially did look like an indicator of good things to come in 2005 when the O's started the latter year 47-40, which gave the team an 88-76 (.537) combined record between the 2004 and 2005 All-Star games. But from Mazzilli to Palmeiro, the Birds imploded for a 74-88 overall record in 2005.
What about 2000? The O's won eight of their last 11 and swept the Yankees to end the season...and then lost 98 games in 2001.
Heck, I'll even throw in the 1988 Orioles, whose 107 losses were the most in modern franchise history. The next season—"Why Not?"—they finished 87-75. Who could've seen it coming?
The Moral of the Story
Whether it's tracking the progress of Brad Bergesen on the mound or Matt Wieters at the dish, there's plenty to be excited about in Birdland for the remainder of 2009. And the games themselves do matter. But don't get discouraged should the O's record come up well short of expectations.
As they say in the financial world, "Past performance is not an indication of future success."
What's left for the Birds?
The 40-48 O's will play exactly half of their remaining 74 games against teams in the top two of their respective divisions.
Here's how it breaks down:
-20 games against the Yankees and Red Sox
-10 games against Tigers and White Sox
-seven games against Angels and Rangers
Second Half Blues
In 812 post All-Star break games from 1998 through 2008, the Orioles are 347-465 (.427). However, the Birds posted a winning mark in the season's symbolic second half in 1998, 1999, and 2004.
Here's the rundown on the team's second-half record by season:
22-45, .328 winning percentage
31-43, .419 winning percentage
29-43, .403 winning percentage
27-48, .360 winning percentage
41-36, .532 winning percentage
30-41, .423 winning percentage
25-52, .325 winning percentage
23-51, .311 winning percentage
36-40, .474 winning percentage
42-33, .560 winning percentage
41-33, .554 winning percentage