It is September and the Baltimore Orioles are still in the playoff mix. I thought for sure they would have faded to black by now, their post-season hopes dead by the trading deadline. Instead, they keep scrapping away, refusing to fold their tents, bringing back fond memories of Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver and Boog Powell.
The Orioles have been irrelevant for so long it was habit to insist they could not carry through on their fast start to the 2012 season, that it was only a matter of time before the O’s came back to the pack. Well, they did not sustain the type of pace that would had them running away in first place for Labor Day, but unless they perform a serious swan dive they are going to finish over .500 and they are likely to have at least one game in October.
Manager Buck Showalter deserves some props for this. He ignored all of the cynics (like me) who said it was just a matter of time before the Orioles returned to their customary place–last place in the American League East. But the Toronto Blue Jays seem to have that distinction sewed up unless the Boston Red Sox can fade even more and catch them.
The so-called toughest division in baseball is not that anymore. Going into Saturday’s play, the Yankees were in first place at 75-56, but the Orioles were only two games out at 73-58. Tampa Bay was hovering at 71-61. But in the year of the increased playoff opportunity, there are no locks in the American League. The Orioles could still catch the Yankees. In the Central Division the White Sox led with a 72-59 record. The Tigers were at 70-61. In the West Texas flashed the best record in the league at 78-53. The Oakland A’s, of all people, were 74-57. This left the big-spending Angels at 70-62 and on the verge of being shut out of the playoffs altogether.
From Baltimore’s perspective things were looking pretty good. They couldn’t rule out slipping past the Yankees. The second-place team in the Central might well end up with a worse record, and the same could be true of the runnerup in the West. This would produce joy in Mudville since the last time the Orioles had a winning season was 1998. That’s 14 losing seasons in a row.
At the moment the Orioles don’t have a .300 hitter, but they do have seven guys with between 12 and 26 homers, so they can beat you with the long ball. The leader is Adam Jones with 26. Chris Davis has 23.
The biggest winner among starting pitchers is Wei-Yin Chen, who is 12-7, but the bullpen has been the savior. Jim Johnson has 41 saves and a 2.93 earned run average. Four other relievers have ERAs between 1.86 and 2.71. Johnson and those four all have appeared in between 50 and 57 games. The pen is holding it all together for the Orioles.
With a month to go in the regular season Orioles officials are probably searching around for some red, white and blue bunting to hang at Camden Yards, just in case a playoff game breaks out.