The Orioles are 19 games over .500, and lead their division by the widest margin in baseball. This season has been incredibly fun to watch, but it has the possibility of being special. A full sixty percent of the Orioles’ remaining 43-game schedule comes against teams that are at or below .500. The strongest teams they will face are the Toronto Blue Jays (63-59) and the New York Yankees (61-58). The Birds thrived (rather than merely survived) through their gauntlet of a schedule after the All Star break, and now face a schedule that favors a strong finish.
Many have compared this year’s squad to the 2012 Buckle Up Birds, but they are simply not the same. Further removed from that magical run, Orioles fans can now admit to themselves that the 2012 club benefited from luck in addition to Buck, and that 93 wins was a bit smoke and mirrors. As my Bird’s Eye View co-host Scott Magness points out, ALDS Game 1 featured Lew Ford at designated hitter. A stronger argument cannot be made.
This year, the Orioles are fun to watch, not because they are winning unexpectedly, but because they are finally meeting our newly-raised expectations. Even if Pythagoras will never be happy. This team is one of the better teams in baseball because its solid, but unspectacular starting rotation has been solid. Its powerful, yet inconsistent lineup has managed to limit the lean times, and pour on the runs in the good times.
The real joy, though, has been watching The Difference. We all know what Orioles Magic is, we even saw glimpses of it in the worst of seasons. But The Difference is harder to quantify. This is the “something” that sets the 2014 Orioles apart from the terrible teams we were “treated” to in the Dark Period. Whereas it is impossible to define, it is easy to see. The Difference was on full display during this week’s mini-sweep of the New York Yankees.
Take Monday night’s game, where way too many Yankees “fans” showed up at the Yard to cheer on the Captain and his overpriced band of misfits. Things looked bad. In the second inning, the Orioles allowed two runs by little-league-comedy-of-errors. Without throwing a pitch, they allowed two Yankees runs when Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley scored care of throwing errors by Manny Machado and Bud Norris. To say it was an “embarrassment” is a soft sell.
Then, there was injury to add to the insult: Machado went down with a knee injury in the third inning. How hopeless was that moment? “Not again!” Birdland seemed to cry in unison. With the team down 3-1, and with the severity of Machado’s injury unknown, the dagger had struck.
What happened next is The Difference.
Previous Orioles teams would have been down and out. They would have rolled – the emotional toll would have put this game away for the bad guys. If it was a laugher, it would have been at the expense of the Orioles. Don’t believe me? Ask the Rangers.
Instead, the Orioles scored the first of their ten unanswered runs on the very next play. Adam Jones (who else?) drove in Jonathan Schoop, and the come back began. The Orioles went ahead on Chris Davis‘ two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth, and never looked back. There was something poetic about Davis’ home run. The 2013 hero, reduced to a shadow of his former self, was called from the bench to replace Manny Machado. And he answered the bell. The Difference led the Orioles to an 11-3 rout.
Then there was last night’s game. The Orioles completed another come-from-behind victory. Late inning heroics were supplied by Schoop and Jones, whose “Baltimore Home Runs” powered the O’s to a 5-3 win.
In 2012, Orioles fans simply enjoyed not being the butt of jokes. Acclimating to having a contending team in August was a rush of emotions akin to drinking from a fire hose. Now we can enjoy it – all that comes with it. Enjoy the wins, and the expectation of playoff games at Camden Yards. Enjoy watching the Orioles flex their muscles as one of the best teams in the league.
But most of all, enjoy The Difference.