Everyone keeps waiting for it, but it still hasn't happened. Everyone keeps pointing to their horrible run differential, but it hasn't made a difference. Nope, sorry folks, the Baltimore Orioles are still right in the thick of the playoff race and it doesn't look like they are going to go away anytime soon.
It defies almost every shred of baseball logic the surprising Orioles are still very much in contention one week into August. Given that they have an underwhelming roster and have carried a negative run differential almost all season, Baltimore is going from surprising to mind-blowing. When they got off to a hot start to the season, everyone said it wouldn't less. In the long run, the Orioles deficiencies were supposed to catch up with them. The only problem is that the long run isn't as neatly defined as a 162-game season, even if our brains really want that to be the definition.
If that were the case, the Orioles would have gone into their predictable tailspin by now. In fact, they would probably be doing is exactly right now. Instead, they are coming off winning consecutive road series against the Yankees and Rays. According to conventional wisdom, that is the stretch of the schedule where they should've started to unravel, but that wasn't meant to be. They even upped their degree of difficulty by playing the last few weeks with a platoon of MLB cast-offs Nate McLouth and Lew Ford in left field and Omar Quintanilla, who was DFA'd by the Mets a few weeks ago, at second base.
What's even more amazing is that even their own front office doesn't seem to believe in them, having opted to punt on making any trades to upgrade their roster at the trade deadline. That was a tacit admission from management that they probably weren't good enough to hang in contention, yet here they stand riding a modest three-game winning streak and just half a game out of a Wild Card spot.
Of course, at any given moment the other shoe could drop on the O's. Just because they are still in the post-season hunt doesn't mean that their flaws aren't real. It just means that whatever intangible magic they've been using to cover up those flaws hasn't worn out... yet. But for the same reason than nobody can determine just how that magic works, nobody really knows when it is going to fade away either.
Until it does, the rest of the American League would be well advised to treat them like the contenders that they currently are instead of like the pretenders that everyone believes them to be.
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