I am, when compared to an average fan, a bleeds orange, die hard Orioles fan. I have loved them ever since I was a toddler, even before I knew about Cal Ripken Jr. and his record-setting career. I don’t even think it was a choice, seeing as how I was born at Johns Hopkins, like all of 5 blocks away from Camden Yards. If your not from the area, which I’ll generously set as somewhere in the state of Maryland, you probably have no idea how fiercely we protect anything about our city. This goes double for our sports teams, the Orioles, the Ravens and heck, even the Blast. There is not a person in this world that I wouldn’t humiliate, destroy, insult or shank if it meant one more win for one of my beloved teams.
Ok, Maybe that’s going a little too far. Just as a disclaimer for legal purposes, ignore the words, “destroy” and “shank.” Damn right I’m passionate, it’s been 15 years since our last winning season and every year it’s been the same old thing. Either a). They start off the season going something like 15-3 and end up being 21 games out of a playoff spot by the end of the year, or b). They stink up South Baltimore until right around the All-Star break and then all of a sudden play over .500 baseball the rest of the way. This has the dual-effect of causing us to wonder WHY we couldn’t do that through an entire season and basically tossing us a shriveled tasteless bone to chew on. We’d say, “At least the latter-half of the season looked promising, hopefully next year.,,”
Well No Longer! Somehow someway we have for the most part put together a season of dreams. As of tonight, 9/7/12, after shelling the New York Yankees(77-60), ie: our most hated rival, with 6, count ’em, 6 home-runs, not only are we 17 games over .500 but the Orioles are also tied with the Yankees for the best record in the AL East! Now how about we actually make some noise??
To the people in the national media, our beloved Orioles are nothing but an aberrant statistic. They point to their fancy run differentials and the fact that our team as a whole is hitting only .247, tied for 21st in the league. How many times have I read articles about the Pirates, Angels or especially Tampa Bay(75-62) stating how well positioned these teams were to earn a playoff spot based on their expensive free-agents and strong starting pitching?
All I’ve heard about the hard-charging Orioles is that our team won’t last and that we’re just getting lucky in close ball games. Everyone knows about our record in games decided by 1 run but look at our record in games decided by 2 runs, which is still a respectable 46-20. Our main hitters, as in Mark Reynolds, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Weiters, have all posted superior numbers over the past 32 or so games. Even some of our supplementary players, such as Ryan Flaherty, Chris Davis, JJ Hardy and star rookie 3rd baseman Manny Machado are all currently hitting near .280. You want run differential? Over the past month, the Orioles are +45 and are averaging 4.88 runs/game while giving up only 3.47runs/game. Those numbers only get better if you look at the past two months. Reynolds alone has 7 HR in the past 2 weeks while tonight Jones hit his 28th HR of year.
To get this kind of production and this many wins out of this piecemeal band of brothers, Manager Buck Showalter must have sold his soul to the Devil or turned into a Bokor, otherwise known as an evil practitioner of Voodoo. All jokes aside, even if we don’t win the AL East he still has my vote for Manager of the Year, if only for taking 50 different mismatched players and turning them into a team that’s currently 18 games over .500.
With the best record in all of baseball over the month of August, this gritty Orioles team has already exceeded all expectations and have quieted all critics and doubters. Quietly outplaying teams that spend twice as much money as the Orioles, our team has managed to continue to stack wins by getting solid run support behind dependable if not great starting pitching. The bullpen has been for the most part sensational and somehow we have managed to play well against everyone. Well, everyone except for the Texans.
Most of these statistics you can find on every Tom, Dick and Harry’s blog or sports website. What seems to be missing is the pulse of excitement running through the veins of every Orioles fan in a 100 mile radius of Baltimore. It’s been so long since the Orioles last winning season that an entire generation of kids and teenagers have never been to a playoff game. For the first time since the mid 90s, the coming of Autumn foretells possible playoff victory… and not just for the Baltimore Ravens.
The only thing even close to bringing home the Lombardi Trophy to Baltimore would be to win the World Series. It’s funny how my expectations have changed over the season, from having a .500 season to having a winning season, to earning a wildcard spot to becoming first in the division and finally winning some playoff games. What’s to say this already magical season can’t end with a World Series victory? I know, I know, it seems far fetched but there are some solid statistics behind that line of reasoning.
I’m aware that, at least logically, the playoffs in professional baseball aren’t quite as random as in professional football. As in professional basketball, MLB playoff format is in a “best of” series format. Instead of having to win one game to advance, you have to win 2 of 3 or even 3 of 5 games. Even so, the playoffs aren’t about who had the best regular season record, it’s about who becomes hot at the right time, exactly like the other American professional sports. The Texas Rangers(82-55) had the best regular season record last season but we’re defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals(74-63), by the skin of their teeth. Even so, there are only 4 other teams in baseball with a better record than the Orioles, only one being in the American League. Add in the fact that the Washington Nationals, with the best record in baseball THIS season, are shutting down their ace in the hole pitcher Stephen Strasburg this Friday and the Orioles probably have as good a shot as anyone to make it to the World Series!
I mean think about it for a second. The usually dangerous Boston Red Sox(63-75) are close to firing their manager, The Yankees are 20-26 since July 18th as injuries and weak hitting have conspired to leave our hated rival to the North nearly impotent. If EVER there was a chance for the Orioles to make a play for the AL East pennant it would be right now.
Despite the 13th lowest payroll in MLB, despite the fact that our team is primarily made up of misfits, washed-up free agents and home-grown talent, despite every critic, talking head and newspaper outside of Baltimore writing us off, we have continued to out-think and out-play teams with far more resources and more recognizable players. We aren’t looking for hand-outs and slowly but surely our fans have trickled back into Camden Yards(43,000+ showed up tonight!). If we continue to take care of business by winning the games we’re supposed to win, the national media will be forced to take us seriously. Until then, how about all of us who live in Maryland or Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia, make as much noise as possible. Already they hear us in New York.
Michael and most of his friends have been tailgating and going to games at both Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium since before the current Camden Yards was built. There was a time when it seemed his group of friends were the only ones sitting in the bleachers, drinking foamy beer and eating cheap hot dogs while cheering every time a Yankee or Red Sox player got injured.