September 5, 2012
The Orioles in the playoffs? Who knew?
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Of all the indignities suffered in this lost summer of Toronto Blue Jays baseball, this may hurt the most: The perennial doormat Baltimore Orioles appear headed for the playoffs.
Not just the playoffs, but maybe first place in the American League East. It is that preposterous. It is that ridiculous. It is so completely out of the question that it is no longer out of the question.
And it seems the coldest of slaps in the face in this rather sad season in which everybody in baseball — and so much of spectacularly crushing — has been busy slapping the Jays across the face.
Dammit, there hasn’t been much to believe in over the years here in this place where playoffs were once not just possible but expected. But the one thing that has been steadfast, no matter what the circumstances, no matter who was managing, no matter what year it was or who was owning or directing the front office, is that no matter how bad the Jays were, the Orioles were always worse.
That has been a constant. Over the previous 14 seasons, since Baltimore was actually a playoff team, the Jays have had a better record 13 times. And not just better, but with distance. Nineteen games better in 2010. Eighteen games better in 2008. Seventeen games better in 2006. Had the pattern continued, they would have been 20 games better this year.
Not 15 games worse.
“Explain how this season’s happened?” said outfielder Adam Jones, repeating the question. “There’s no explanation. We’re playing baseball.
“There’s no definitive answer as to how it’s going.” All he knows is “as a team we’re playing better than other teams.”
That hurts too. This isn’t like Tampa Bay turning high draft picks into stars and waiting for the next David Price or the next Evan Longoria. This isn’t long term. This could be a one-year run for the Orioles. This could be one of those worst to first, never-to-happen again kind of years, that we see every so often in baseball. It happens every once in a while. Just never here. It’s eighteen Septembers without meaningful baseball, almost two decades since great teams played like great teams.
This Orioles team is not great, it’s just playing that way. The Blue Jays really could use one of those close-your-eyes-and-hope-it-allworks-out-right seasons, but instead they get half their team hurt and the other half doesn’t perform, and that adds up to a whole lot of nothing.
“I wouldn’t wish what happened to them on anybody,” said Buck Showalter, the Orioles’ manager. But he admires Jays manager John Farrell. Showalter is friends with many of the Jays’ coaches and believes, like most seem to believe, that the Jays are headed in the right direction.
He says that as he’s within a game of the Yankees and the Blue Jays are nowhere to be found.
When asked the same question Jones was asked — to explain this Orioles season — he said he refuses to be Captain Obvious.
“I’m not going to get over-analytical about this,” said Showalter. “What’s the old expression, ignorance is bliss. We have a lot of confidence. Twenty five guys, together. Very purpose driven club. It’s been fun to watch.”
Fun to watch and even better to manage. Showalter has made an enormous impact on this team since being hired midway through the 2010 season. In fact, despite last-place seasons, the Orioles have been a .630 ball club in one-run games since he took over as manager three seasons back. That can’t be a fluke. That has to mean something.
“I think our guys have a lot of respect for how short the distance is between the penthouse and the outhouse.”
The Orioles will finish this season with their most wins since 1997, the last time they were in the post-season. They will hold a series lead against the Jays for the time in eight years. They’ve won 26 series this year: Last year, they won 16. And in games decided by two runs or fewer this season, they have an impossible record of 46-19.
Closer Jim Johnson has 41 saves. The most saves in Jays history was Duane Ward, with 45, last time they won the World Series. Johnson could have more by late September.
And it has nothing to do with believing, the usual sporting nonsense about the difference between winners and losers.
“Belief,” said Jones. “What is all that belief stuff? That’s fairy tales. This is real life. You can’t believe in real life. You just got to go out and do. And that’s what we’re doing.”
That’s it. Now you understand?