It Could Happen...
When the Orioles broke through into the American League playoffs two years ago for the first time in nearly a generation, the feeling around town was like parents watching their child perform in their first musical recital.
You’re just so darned happy that your kid is holding a violin that anything that comes out of it, even if it’s the wrong note, is OK.
It’s two years later and even if the Orioles weren’t expected to win the American League East when the 2014 campaign began, expectations have now been raised.
So, as the city waits for the Division Series to start this Thursday at Oriole Park against Central Division champion Detroit, the question for Baltimore baseball fans is, is this enough?
If the Birds somehow don’t capture the World Series title, would merely winning 96 games as well as the seventh division title in franchise history satisfy you?
How far would the Orioles have to go short of champagne and a trophy to have made 2014 a success?
The optimist says this kind of talk is silly, that the team that finished tied with the second best record in all of baseball, the team whose 12-game margin of victory over the rest of the division was second only to the 17-game margin the Washington Nationals piled up against their competition, cannot fail.
Indeed, these Orioles seized first place on July 5 and never looked back, besting not only Toronto and Tampa Bay, but the hated Yankees and the defending world champion Red Sox.
That the Birds prevailed without the services of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters and All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, both lost for most of the season because of injuries, is nothing short of amazing.
For the job he did this year, Buck Showalter should be the American League Manager of the Year. He pushed every button and at the right time. This season, this success doesn’t happen without Showalter at the helm.
But the regular season was the easy part. Now is when Showalter’s job gets trickier.
The Orioles led the major leagues in home runs with 210. No other club hit as many as 190.
That’s a pretty impressive stat, until you consider that the Birds were fifth in runs batted in and only seventh in runs scored.
That suggests that the team has difficulty manufacturing runs if they’re not hitting home runs.
Neither Wieters nor Machado are coming back and first baseman Chris Davis, last year’s major league home run champ, is out thanks to a 25-game suspension.
The earliest Davis can return is the eighth game of the playoffs, meaning he is out for the entire first round, and a big chunk of the second round, if the Orioles get there.
Pitching only gets better in the playoffs and the Tigers have three Cy Young Award winners in their starting rotation, not to mention the best offense in the league.
Getting past Detroit will be a challenge, but the Birds have stared down challenges all year.
So, who knows? By this time next week, with a little luck, Baltimore baseball fans may be heading to the second movement of a glorious concerto.