With their comeback win over the Royals, the O’s maintained their spot atop the AL East standings as they entered an important series against the cross-state Nationals, who have continued their emergence as a contender in the crowded NL East. Every series is important for these Orioles however, who have yet to convince anyone (myself included) that their 25-14 (as of Friday) record is anything but a fun diversion before the division reverts back to the standard order of things. Right now the only thing normal about the AL East is the Blue Jays occupying their usual spot in third.
And there are certainly reasons for concern. The injuries are starting to pile up on this team, and there aren’t any more reserves left in Norfolk that give me reason for confidence. Once Bill Hall was plugged back in at the major league level, you knew things were getting desperate. Mark Reynolds remains out with a strained oblique (which one does not want to risk re-aggravating), and while that gives Ryan Flaherty a good opportunity to develop it strips Buck Showalter of the flexibility to insert anyone other than Nick Johnson into that spot. With Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold still out, Xavier Avery has performed admirably (his average may be low but he is showing tremendous poise at the plate) but he is not going to be a season-long answer, at least not yet. The current roster is performing well, but there is very little depth for a team that was already thin to begin with.
The Orioles have already played two 15 or more-inning games this season, and with Jake Arrieta struggling, Tommy Hunter only in Baltimore because of injuries and Brian Matusz having not yet hit 7 innings in any of his 8 starts, the surprisingly strong bullpen is going to break down as the summer wears on. It is at that stage that we will know if this team can continue to overachieve and defy all baseball logic.
Then again, weren’t we supposed to learn a lot about this team from their stretch against the Yankees (twice), Red Sox, Rays, and Rangers? It seems like every win just makes us give another deadline for when we will really know if this team is any good. Honestly, we might not be able to say for sure one way or another until the season is over.
One thing is for certain though. This is a more resilient team than past iterations. A few nights ago when the Orioles trailed the Royals 2-0 in the 8th J.J. Hardy led off with a double followed quickly by Nick Markakis. The comeback was on. Then just as quickly it was off, as Markakis tried unsuccessfully to steal third, an Adam Jones strikeout, and a weak groundout by Matt Wieters. Since it was getting late I thought to myself “here we go again” and turned my computer off. I awoke the next morning and decided on a whim to check the score anyway. This team allowed the Royals to tack that run back on yet still delivered in the 9th to tie the game up and win it in extra innings. I wondered, “what is this team and where are the Orioles?”
If you ask me, what we are experiencing right now with this Orioles team will not last. The bottom will drop out and they will finish below .500. But to see them, even for a short while, winning seven straight road games (hopefully eight, I am writing this on Friday) is like a long drink of sweet tea on a summer day. Neither will last, but that doesn’t change how great it feels.