Darkness is closing in and the long night is upon us. The light of the 2016 Orioles is fading before our very eyes.
Or at least that’s the dramatic impulse that it’s entirely understandable to have. The recent experience for O’s fans, say for the last 15 years, is that everything is either really, really horrible, or that everything is pretty good by the time the calendar heads towards late August. The post-All Star break time has been closer to horrible than good, but it’s not horrible either. It’s just, well, meh.
One experience that we do not have in Orioles fan land is following a good team, not quite a great team, that comes up short against other good teams that aren’t quite great. The AL East is a race of three flawed teams where the O’s flaws are presently the most exposed. That’s not as fun as the Orioles romping through the division and into the ALCS, nor as fun as if they light September on fire and claim a wild card spot.
Think about it. In the 2012 season, there were no real expectations for the Orioles. They hadn’t even really gone on their run yet. They were six games back after a win on August 18. Two years later, they were 7.5 games up on the closest competitor on this day. They might not have clinched yet, but it was obvious which way the wind was blowing.
This whole, “Well, they’re only two games back, but two days ago they were tied and in first place,” what are we supposed to do with that? It’s a close race. Every single development, good or bad, in a close race feels like it’s amplified in its importance.
Lose two games against the Red Sox? It’s a disaster! The Orioles are choking the season away! That is true. We’ve seen it in action and it hasn’t been fun.
But also: The Orioles have stunk for a month and they’re only two games back, and they’re still two games up for the second wild card spot! They are capable of better than this. We know they are because we’ve already seen it. All they have to do is right the ship a bit and get back on track. The AL East will be a tough battle even if they do so, but the playoffs should stay within their grasp.
This is a lot more fun than if the Orioles are 32.5 games out on this date, which they were just six years ago, shortly after Buck Showalter took over as manager. Ty Wigginton was the Orioles All-Star that year, for crying out loud. They only had the one.
It’s not a bad thing to be spoiled by actually having expectations. The only reason that O’s fans are now feeling disappointment and dread is because they had the audacity to be better than everybody in the wider baseball media expected up until now.
None of us would want the O’s to switch places in the standings with the Yankees, though Yankees fans may be feeling better about how the last two weeks have gone for their team. Only after they were given up as failures did they do a little winning. Their fans can be excited because some of tomorrow’s Yankees are coming up and doing well.
The Orioles, on the other hand, don’t need tomorrow’s Orioles because they’re already pretty good. And it’s a good thing they don’t need tomorrow’s Orioles anyway, because there are none.
They just need their already-good hitters to bust out of the team-wide slump they’ve been in for a month. They might do it. They’re good enough to do it. Are they going to do it? I have no idea! The unknown is terrifying. Hope is frightening. Only the person with hopes can have them crushed. Yet we know what the world with no hope is like. Numbness and constant misery carry the day, every day.
This is something different. In six weeks time, it could turn out to be something awesome, or before then it could be revealed to be horrible.
What if the Orioles decide to set another strikeout record when the play the Astros over the next four games? What if Chris Tillman’s shoulder isn’t better after a few days rest? What if the kind of 1-12 streak that plagued them at the end of last August is still around the corner? Those are the horrible possibilities.
There are good ones too. We’ve seen them already this year. Remember when the Orioles ripped off seven game winning streaks in each of April, May, and June, even though their starting pitching has never been good? The Orioles averaged 6.6 runs per game in June. The players responsible for that are all still here.
The Orioles have 43 games left in which to make a comeback. They could get back into a tie within two games if everything breaks right. Or they could be out of a wild card spot in three games if everything breaks wrong.
In short, there’s no reason to panic about the Orioles... unless they lose tonight. Then everyone can pack everything in because the season is over.