That giant crashing sound that you may or may not have heard as the Orioles wrapped up their 7th consecutive loss on Sunday afternoon wasn’t the sky falling, instead it was likely the expectations of a fan base starved for any modicum of hope to cling to, crashing collectively back to Earth in the face of another season of likely disappointment. Pennants, they say, can’t be won in April but they can surely be lost there, and although there were few if any envisioning pennants for this Orioles team, they still, despite their recent struggles haven’t lost themselves the pennant. In fact, even in the face of this most recent batch of Orioles turmoil there are reasons to be even more encouraged now than at the beginning of the season.
First, the juggernaut that the Red Sox projected to be has not yet materialized, nor have the Yankees or Rays gotten off to world beating starts. Despite their 7-game skid, the O’s still find themselves in 3rd place in the division, 3 games out of first, and still ahead of the Red Sox and Rays who they expected to be looking up at in the standings with or without their own recent struggles.
The O’s can count themselves as fortunate to have gotten off to the start that they did at the expense of Tampa, and Detroit. As a result they still find themselves in the thick of the AL East even though the bats haven’t gotten warmed up yet. Sooner or later those bats will start coming around, and hopefully Brian Matusz and JJ Hardy will return too adding some depth to the rotation and credibility to the bottom of the order. Hanging around until that happens would say a lot about this team.
A look at the April schedule before the season began should have led most to temper their expectations. The season’s first month brought with it dates against the division’s big three Yankees (twice), Red Sox and Rays, in addition to the Tigers, Twins and White Sox who all project to fight it out for the Central crown and the defending AL Champion Rangers. If there appeared one place on the schedule where the O’s could hope to catch a breath in the first month it was in Cleveland last weekend. That breath, if taken, turned out to be ill advised.
Expectations and baseball though have a funny way of disagreeing. The Orioles return to Baltimore reeling but look to have an opportunity to get well against a Twins team that’s dealing with it’s own share of early disappointments. In addition to their struggles in the win column, the Twins come to town without the services of Joe Mauer, with Justin Morneau sick with the flu, and with the back end of their bullpen in disarray. That and some good old-fashioned home cooking could be just what the doctor ordered for these O’s.
Sooner or later adversity was bound to strike this team. While their talent is clearly improved from seasons past, they certainly didn’t give the appearance that they’d be above struggles. How they respond to those struggles (these struggles) will be the real measure of this team. So far the response hasn’t been great, but if it were to come now the timing couldn’t be better.
If the O’s can salvage 6 wins in 10-games on this home stand, and then split with Chicago in the first two games of their four game set, they can still finish April at .500. If they do any better than that, they could find themselves back atop the standings before they leave town again. Given the daunting appearance of the April schedule, .500 still supports high expectations. Additionally the O’s are currently 3-2 (all on the road) against the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox; their record in the 54 games staged against those 3 will probably make or break their season overall.
Remember that the 1983 Orioles had 2 separate 7-game losing streaks on their way to 98 wins and a World Championship. Remember too though that these aren’t those Orioles, so keep expectations realistic. These Orioles will make (or lose) their own fortunes, for better or for worse, perhaps beginning today against the Twins.
Disappointment against the Indians is nothing new to O’s fans. It was a disappointing end to the 1997 season against Cleveland that set this franchise into a tailspin from which they still haven’t managed to recover. We’ll see if that scenario played out again in microcosm last weekend. For now though…
Bring on the Twins…Bring on the Wins!!!