UN-PRIMARY COLORS: Their stand-out green/gold and black/orange uniforms aren’t the only things that paint the Orioles and Athletics in very different lights. Photos courtesy Greg Fiume and Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The 2012 baseball season will undoubtedly be remembered as the season of surprises. The Nationals, at least so far, have practically run wire-to-wire leading one of the most talent-filled divisions in baseball. On the flip side of that coin, the Phillies have gone from a baseball dynasty to a deadline seller. Out West, the Dodgers have gone from being pro baseball’s biggest black eye to a legitimate wild card contender and Arizona has regressed back to a club that plays mediocre .500 baseball.

But of all the surprises in this season that has included more plot twists than a Spanish soap opera, the two biggest stories quickly emerging are the Oakland Athletics and the Baltimore Orioles. The Athletics, forever branded as that little brother eternally a step behind MLB’s big market, big payroll ball clubs, has found away to win playing ‘Moneyball’ once again. Baltimore, on the other hand, has had its fair share of big names, but this winning season is the first the birds have seen in well over a decade.

MACHADO MAN: Since being called up, Manny Machado has fit right in with Baltimore’s affinity for late-game heroics. Photo courtesy Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

On a map, Oakland and Baltimore are separated by 2,441 miles. And, on paper, the two franchise’s paths to success are equally far apart. Where Oakland has been playing quiet, sustainable baseball, the Orioles have won through high drama and storybook endings game after game.

And still, this morning the two teams both wake up, as I said, baseball’s biggest surprises and only one game apart in record. Oakland, after being shut out yesterday 6-0, is 82-61 while Baltimore, after yet ANOTHER extra-inning victory, is 81-62.

But one of the things that has defined baseball this decade is a new era of “super statistics” and “Sabermetrics”. Among these, is a relatively new concept called Expected Wins-Losses. The statistic essentially doesn’t care how games ACTUALLY end, and, instead, looks at where a team’s record SHOULD be based on the number of runs they’ve scored and allowed.

This is where the two teams on opposite coastlines begin to diverge. The Athletics, who’ve scored 80 more runs than they’ve allowed, have an Expected Win-Loss Record (X-WL) of 81-62, one game off of their real record. But the Orioles, who through yesterday had allowed 20 more runs than they had scored, have an X-WL of 69-74. The difference between their actual record (19 games OVER .500), and their “expected” record (15 games UNDER .500) is almost mind-boggling.

So why the disparity? A lot of it has to do with HOW they’ve gotten to where they are in mid-September. And where are they? Against almost staggering odds, the answer to that question is “in their respective pennant races”.

For Baltimore, any explanation to their success begins and ends with the long ball. From a statistical standpoint, they are only average when it comes to pitching (ranked 13th in ERA, 20th in WHIP, 16th in Opponent’s AVG) and fielding (13th in Defensive Efficiency Rating and have committed the 5th-most Errors to date), and it doesn’t stop there. Even when it comes to many aspects of their offense (20th in AVG, 14th in OPS, 6th-most Strikeouts), the picture doesn’t get a whole lot prettier. But the Orioles rank 3rd in the league in home runs, by far their best statistical category.

Also playing a factor in their success is an almost unfathomable 27-7 record in one-run games. What does that mean? It means, when Baltimore wins, it’s usually close, and when they lose, it’s often not. Contributing to that record in one-run games is the fact that the Orioles are 13-2 in games that go beyond 9 innings.

Basically, if it’s late in the game and it’s close, you’re probably going to lose if you’re playing Baltimore. But the theories that go into the formula of X-WL basically say that every extreme outlier must regress towards the average. In other words, if you believe in Expected Wins and Losses, Baltimore is due for a late-season collapse.

However, some will tell you that day won’t come and many of them will say it’s because of an attitude this team carries that simply cannot be quantified by numerical statistics. Maybe it’s the leadership of Buck Showalter or maybe it’s the right mix of chemistry in the clubhouse, but the Orioles faithful will tell you the reason that you cannot see the reasoning behind Baltimore’s success in 2012 on paper is simply because it does not reside there.

At the very least, it’s a better theory than “Orioles Magic”.

BACK TO BRETT: Now that Anderson is healthy again, he can bolster an underdog pitching staff that has minded the store pretty well without him. Photo courtesy Tony Medina/Getty Images

In Oakland, though, the statistics do lend themselves to an explanation behind the Athletics’ success. On offense, Oakland has performed much it the same way the Orioles have or worse. Their .235 batting average is second-worst in the majors, their OBP doesn’t fair much better (26th), and their 1,200 strikeouts on the year is the worst in professional baseball. However, the Athletics are 9th in home runs with 167.

Unlike Baltimore, however, Oakland has been excellent with their pitching and fielding. They rank third in staff ERA (3.40), WHIP (1.22), OBP (.303), and OPS (.673) and fourth in opponent’s AVG (.243). Interestingly enough, though, they are one of only five ball clubs (and the only one with a winning record) that have not amassed even 1,000 strikeouts. What does that mean? It means the Athletics are pitching to contact and, more times than not, it’s quite successful.

And, in the rare moment their pitchers do struggle, the Athletics have been almost second to none in the field. Despite a mediocre fielding percentage (.983), the Athletics are second in Defensive Efficiency Rating. They’ve also caught the seventh-highest number of base runners stealing, which helps their offense play the conservative “small ball” that they do.

The fact that there is more of a statistical explanation to the success of the Athletics as opposed to the Orioles is really the only explanation you need when it comes to the discrepancy in the two teams’ Expected Win-Loss records.

So, while the WAY the two teams have one baseball games is quite different, where they find themselves midway through September is all too similar. One game apart, the Orioles are tied for the lead in the AL East and the Athletics are trailing the Rangers by only three games.

If the playoffs were decided today, both teams would be in. And, if neither team fails to win their division, they will be the two AL Wild Card teams that face off in a one-game, winner-take-all match to advance to the NLDS.

That, in and of itself, may be the best way to write the next chapter of this 2012 baseball season. Both Oakland and Baltimore will be the scrappy, little-engine-that-could underdogs in October, there’s just no denying this. But anyone who has ever heard the real story of Cinderella knows this: the glass slipper only fits one lucky lady.

NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure you give him a follow @bclienesch for MLB updates and other shenanigans!