If you believed what the national media tried to push over the course of the 2012-13 off season, the Baltimore Orioles are probably somewhat of a surprise with their current record. However regardless of your opinion of the O’s, the fact is that they’re right there in the thick of the AL East and playoff race. As play opens tonight, the O’s find themselves in third place in the AL East, 2.5 games back of first place Boston. They’re also a full game back of New York for the final wild card spot; as I opined above, they’re well within striking distance. However the white elephant in the room is the fact that Boston and New York refuse to lose. So what gives as we move into the true grind of the season?
I think that most people felt Boston would be improved this year, but they’re playing way over their heads right now. And New York seems to be better healthier with the return of Mark Texeira and at some point Curtis Granderson; however they’ve maintained their first place status even without their services. And even though Tampa is a game-and-a-half back of the Orioles entering play tonight, don’t ever count out a Joe Maddon-managed team. Here’s the good news for the Orioles: they’ll start seeing their share of all of these teams moving forward. The Birds of course will see Tampa for three on the road this weekend, the BoSox for four at the yard starting next Thursday, and New York for three (also at the yard) at the end of the month. (They’ll also have a three-game set in Toronto later in June, however Toronto is not in the discussion regarding the standings at the moment.)
One might also point out the fact that the likes of Boston and NY could put distance between them and the Orioles if the O’s can’t beat them. That will certainly be those teams’ goals, and of course Tampa’s will be to gain ground and/or overtake the Orioles in the standings. I’m reminded of the 2005 Orioles that started off the season red hot, and was still in first place come June. People got to the point of believing, only to have the likes of Boston and NY pull the rug out from under them. That Orioles team was afraid of competition; this one is not. That was proven yesterday when they grinded out a tough win against a scrappy Houston team. In many cases the Orioles used to in effect “play down” to their competition at times, which would frustrate their fans to no end. However after losing a tough one Wednesday night, they managed to come back and take two-of-three.
You’re not going to gain many beauty points for beatings teams you should beat, but there’s also a mental facet to that. Fans should have no worries about this team in that regard…none whatsoever, and that comes from Buck Showalter. However going back to the dog fight into which the Orioles are apparently entering, there does seem to be an ardent unfairness to the fact that Boston and NY are coming out of nowhere to lead the division once again. However that’s baseball folks; when you’ve been the creme de la creme for as long as they have you don’t relinquish that role voluntarily because another team wants their chance. I think that many Orioles fans probably expected the Birds to be competing to a certain degree with NY, but perhaps not so much with Boston. However regardless of who should have been where, these teams probably aren’t going anywhere throughout the course of the season, so the Orioles might as well get used to them being where they are.
A lot of the frustration of Orioles fans is that these teams just won’t lose, as I said above. However the good news is that the same can be said of the Orioles. If you’re looking for a competitive advantage built into the schedule in some form, you can look at the fact that the O’s have to go west in August for a few National League games, however Boston has to go west twice before the end of the season. New York is currently out west right now. While they beat Seattle last night in the first game of a weekend series, they’ll also face Oakland and Anaheim. They’ll also have to go west in August for a few National League games. However in the end everyone will play almost the same schedule, and good teams will be able to win regardless of the venue or the circumstances. Thus far the Orioles have generally been one of those “good teams,” as have the Red Sox and Yankees. This month of June will ultimately tell us a lot about all three teams given how often they’ll be seeing each other and how close they are in the standings.