With their win on Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Orioles have clinched a winning August for the first time since 1997, which is incredibly hard to believe and also incredibly easy to believe. Tanking down the stretch is as much a part of the Orioles as anything. Just last year, the Orioles were a magnificent 10-20 in August. From 1998 to 2009, the Orioles have a August record of 142-199. The Orioles hadn't had any winning months since June 2008. And yet, in this season which has been most horrible season, we stand as Kings of the World: 15-11 in August.
It raises (but does not beg) the question, what does taking back August for Birdland mean?
A lot of folks will point to one thing and one thing only as the reason for this surprisingly turn of events: Buck Showalter. The players are more focused and playing up to their abilities, they'll say. The Fightin' Showalters, as ESPN has taken to calling the Orioles, have turned the corner under Buck, and that bright future we all saw coming in March is indeed right here. Buck Showalter may very well have saved the Baltimore Orioles, they'll say. And there is, if you will, a nugget of truth to that feeling.
There are, naturally, other more tangible reasons why the Orioles have done what has been impossible for the last twelve years and why the same team that looked so totally hopeless in May just kicked butt and took names in August. A light schedule, some well-timed injury recoveries (notably Brian Roberts), or Miguel Tejada being traded away, freeing up his 82 OPS+ from the second spot in the line-up where it had inexplicably been all year.
My point is simply that there are a lot of things that might have gone into this fun run of success the Orioles have waged in August. The Oriole defense and pitchers have allowed just 3.80 runs per nine innings. That's total runs, not earned runs. The pitching staff has an August ERA of 3.57, 8th best in baseball and tops in the AL East. Our starters have the most August innings pitched in baseball (174), and the 7th best ERA (3.36). Is that Buck instilling a new sense of attitude, or is it playing the Indians and Mariners? Or is it, maybe best of all, our pitchers figuring things out and turning the corner?
Well, I don't know, and I suspect that our success is fleeting. We remain easily the worst team in the American League. There is a doomsday September schedule looming. Our fragile young pitching will be shut down before the end of the year (Stephen Strasburg hopefully provided a cold splash of hard truth to those who want to push the young ones through to the end of the season). Brian Roberts is hurt again. Who knows what we'll see out of Josh Bell, who has never seen this sort of September before?
But before all of that is our winning August. I won't make any foolishly grand pronouncements like "this is the start of something special" or that "winning teams need to start somewhere". It's a very modest achievement, one born out of the randomness of sample sizes and schedule-making. But it also the product of the worst team in the American League clicking together, if just for a moment, and making baseball look easy and fun again, and making me happy to be an Orioles fan.