Wow. How fast time flies. I honestly, truly, amazingly cannot believe that we are already halfway through the wonderful journey we call baseball season. It seems like only yesterday we were in March, still reeling in the nostalgia of an AL East title, a run to the ALCS and the acceptance back into baseball's elite. No matter the heartbreak of a season-ending sweep, the losses of Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller and Nick Markakis, we were going to do great things yet again.
Oh how fast time flies.
So here we are, inching out of the All-Star break, with the second-half of the 162-game marathon down range through the scope. Like the target in front of us, it's quite a ways away, you probably have to squint just to see it and most importantly, you'll likely need a little luck to knock it down. At 44-44, and only 4 games behind those stupid Yankees in the AL East, the target really doesn't seem all that farfetched. Realistically, the bullseye should be ours to snipe, but as much as we wish it were that simple, you guys have made it anything but.
Starting the first month of the season at 10-10 seemed okay, given the minuses of J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters and Jonathan Schoop. Adam Jones blew up the Earth with his .400/.440/.707 April slash, even adding 5 HRs and 19 RBIs. Chris Davis was back to crushing dingers, Jimmy Paredes dropped down from Krypton to hit baseballs with Superman fervor and despite a team ERA of 4.78, we thought "Hey, they'll get it together, it's only April".
Then May happened.
You guys wouldn't believe the united sadness that could be created in only 140 characters. The month of May became a mobile psychiatric ward, as many of your "fans" found a safe haven on our timelines to vent their inner fears regarding the future of this season. If I have to be honest, some it was justified. When you go 13-16 in a given month, averaging only 3.3 runs per game and bat .231 as a team, it's likely to cause out-of-character tendencies. Did I mention you guys scored zero or one run seven times in May? I had to have brought up your seven losses by one or two runs, right? Whatever you do, don't look at the Facebook comments...
But June. Oh man, June was a blast!
You guys were back, man. The Orioles team we had been waiting for all spring had finally sprung. An 18-10 record? A +46 run differential? Coming back from a season worst six games under .500 to jump back up to 41-34? TOO. MUCH. FUN. I had quite the time relishing in that six-game winning streak that included a sweep of the Red Sox and taking three of four from the Yanks. I LOVED that 19-3 win over the Phillies when the game was over before the 2nd inning. Y'all really did a number on me in that 13-9 win against those loudmouthed Blue Jays, scoring seven runs in the 2nd inning, only to blow the lead, but to regain it with a four-run 9th inning. How about Darren O'Day loading the bases in a 2-2 game the day before, striking out the side before scoring two runs in the 9th to win 5-3?
I remember thinking this was the turning point for my boys. My favorite group of guys in sports. My baseball team.
Heading into July, I was riding a Point Break wave of smiles, one of which Keanu himself would have looked at and said "whoa". But baseball, as you all know, is not a game for the weak. It's finding the shortest of shorts, loading the Camelbak with an oasis of agua and splotching that newly-bought bottle of Gold Bond on your dignity and finishing the race.
Mr. Duquette, Mr. Showalter and to you Orioles, it pains me to say, but us Orioles fans are feeling the burn.
July has brought back the Twitter doubts and the baseball "experts" saying your luck has run out. The 3-8 start to the month, again caused by offensive ineptitude, has brought even the loyalest of fans to hashtag their way back to sanity.
But nonetheless, the ups and downs, highs and lows, walk-off wins, walk-off losses, bad Bud Norris starts, good Ubaldo Jimenez starts, hitting with runners in scoring position, not hitting with runners in scoring position, bad Chris Davis at-bats, good Chris Davis at-bats and Manny Machado awesomeness, you guys are still right in the thick of this thing.
It ain't over.
We got 74 games left to right the ship, but boys, we need to get back to what makes the Orioles, the Orioles. What is it that we do better than anyone else? Well, we hit dingers. Our 110 long balls are actually 5th-best in the bigs, so we probably don't have to worry about that. What about the bullpen? Well, you should be proud to own the third-lowest bullpen ERA in the American League at 2.90. Defense? Are Manny, J.J., Adam, Matt and Johnny still playing in Baltimore? Yep, shouldn't be an issue.
So, what is the missing link? That piece that's fueled your two most recent postseason pushes?
Though there is no quantifiable data or sabermetric analysis that can determine whether I'm right or wrong, I know, in my gut, that this team is missing the certain mojo we've seen over the past three years. That signature brand of baseball that's been penciled into song.
We've seen glimpses of said magic in parts, most recently from my personal favorite, Jonathan Schoop. Us Orioles fans already don't like the Nationals for the simple fact that the mid-Atlantic is O's territory, and then you add Bryce Harper, a Triple-A stadium and F.P. Santangelo to the mix, we were never destined to be buddies. But on Friday night, after Tanner Roark struck out both Jimmy Paredes and J.J. Hardy to kick off the bottom half of the 9th, here comes Schoop and that boom or bust swing. As I'm watching on my TV, I look to my brother Colin and say, "Johnny's going deep". Sure enough, in a 2-2 count, Schoop launched a hanging Roark slider just over the left field wall.
It isn't easy to ask you guys for more moments such as this, but this is what we've come to know. The chips-are-down and back-against-the-wall type flashes are both heart-wrenching, yet glorifying, and somehow, you guys have turned it into an art-form. Again, we can't, and won't expect walk-off hits for the rest of the next 74 games, but that doesn't mean that magic is solely bottled in game-winning dingers.
A *cough* hit with runners on second and third with two outs would do. Maybe working an 0-2 count to a walk. Perhaps a stellar start from any of the five starters to bust out of a slump, instead of maintaining it. At this point of the season, would anything be more magical than Bud Norris coming out of the bullpen in a tight game to perform in the clutch?
You know what else is magical? Having a lineup that isn't made with a majority of spare parts. My man Matt seems like he's getting closer to a more consistent role behind the dish. Though it probably would have made more sense for Jonesy to use the All-Star break as a platform for rest and Popeyes chicken, us fans know he's not the kind of guy to shy away from the spotlight, despite a lingering shoulder issue. And look what happens when Schoop is in the lineup!
Maybe it's just me, or my ever-present optimistic attitude, but I feel like there's something you guys just haven't shown us yet. I bet there's some more Gold Bond somewhere in Wayne Kirby's locker hidden away, and he's just waited until now to share it with the rest of the clubhouse.
I know I speak for the rest of Birdland when I say we hope for a more magical second-half, or else our Twitter feeds will beg Mr. Duquette to make his way to Toronto.
The best of luck in the second-half, and we'll be here the rest of the way.
MORE BUCK SHOWALTER DOCUMENTARIES PLEASE