The Orioles are still somehow relevant in July
As I write this column, the Baltimore Orioles have a record of 43-37. That’s 43 wins. And that’s 37 losses. That means the Orioles have won six more games than they have lost as of Wednesday morning.
The world has not spun off its axis. Cats are not now marrying dogs. And I did not awake to locks of flowing blond curls cascading down my back.
Yes, my beloved Baltimore Orioles, they of the 14 consecutive losing seasons and cause of many of my bleeding ulcers, are guaranteed to have a winning record at the mathematical midway point of the season. To this point, the team has played scrappy and with resiliency, overcoming their offensive and defensive woes with solid pitching and timely hitting.
They can’t catch the ball. They don’t consistently hit the ball. And there’s no telling what’s going to happen on a day-to-day basis with their starting pitchers. But their pitching usually does just enough to keep them in games, and they have a knack for manufacturing a key run when it’s needed.
Look, I’m under no grand delusions. The team has been without its most consistent hitter, Nick Markakis, for some time, and there are just too many easy outs in the lineup for this to get real serious in October. If the Orioles find themselves within range of a playoff spot in September, I would find myself in a euphoria I just don’t see happening.
But they are a pretty young team, and they have some exciting prospects coming through their Minor League system. That’s enough to give hope — which is something that has been in short supply for Orioles’ fans for some time now. Do I believe in this team? No, I don’t really think this current roster is good enough to compete for a World Series this year. But I do believe in the team’s manager, Buck Showalter, and I do believe in its future.
And that is something.
It hasn’t always been like this, for you younger fans. When I was a kid in the ’70s, the Orioles were one of the most respected franchises in professional sports. They had a farm system that consistently produced good players, and they competed for pennants every year. They won with pitching, defense and an offense that focused on generating big innings, based around the concepts of walks and three-run homers.
They had names like Palmer and Murray and Flanagan, and heroes like Roenicke, Dempsey and Lowenstein, who would seemingly produce a big hit every time one was required. Those Orioles teams came into each season expecting to win it all, and they usually gave it a good run every year. Eventually, Cal Ripken Jr. made it to the big team, and he brought with him a sterling work ethic and awesome talent, continuing the team’s good fortune for a while longer.
And then, well, they became this team we’ve been watching for the last 14 years — quite often starting out pretty well, generating some interest and then falling apart in its annual “June Swoon.”
But now it’s July. And the Orioles are still competing.
The Orioles have admittedly made me a bit cynical over the years. I’ve fallen for this quick-start act before, and it just made the fall from grace that much harder. I want to believe. I do. I want so desperately for this to be a competitive team again that I cling to every shred of hope there is — but I also expect that other shoe to drop at any moment and to see them drop 16 out of 17 games.
But I’m changing my outlook this season as it goes a little deeper into the schedule. Maybe they can hang around. Oh, I still don’t think they will challenge for a playoff spot this year, but maybe they can at least be in the conversation in the last couple weeks. That would mark improvement. That would mark progress. That would prevent me from wadding up my Orioles jersey and tossing it into a trash heap before dumping lighter fluid on it and ...
But I digress.
Summers just haven’t held the same magic for me since the Orioles began their descent into the abyss. Usually, by now, my attention has turned to football and wondering how the Ravens roster will look at the start of the season. But not this year.
Go Orioles. Well, until they fall apart.