Do you remember what Baltimore felt like the morning after the 2009 AFC Championship Game?
I most certainly do. After a long, freezing cold night in the upper deck at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Drew Forrester and I hit the airwaves on the show now known as “The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction” the moment we arrived back in Charm City. We fielded a number of calls relating disappointment and frustration about the Ravens’ loss. We fielded a few calls from people who were shuffling to cancel their planned trips to Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl XLIII. We fielded a ton of calls from people who simply hated the idea of losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But more than any of those, we fielded a number of calls along the lines of this.
“Man…that was such a tough way for the season to end. But what a season it was. I never thought the Ravens would make it to their first AFC Championship Game since the Super Bowl year with a rookie quarterback and a first year head coach. I have so much hope for this team moving forward.”
Remember that feeling? Now do you remember what the feeling was like less than 12 months later when the Ravens fell 20-3 to the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC Divisional Playoff game?
I’ll give you a hint. The response wasn’t quite as forgiving. The response was more along the lines of “I’m not sure Joe Flacco is good enough for the biggest moments and John Harbaugh was completely outclassed.”
Three seasons later the reaction seemed a bit humorous but at the time it was undoubtedly genuine.
I wanted to take you for this trip down memory lane for some perspective about the 2013 Baltimore Orioles and the “elephant in the Warehouse” at the moment, closer Jim Johnson.
It’s not hard to remember the feeling surrounding the Baltimore Orioles after their ALDS Game 5 defeat at the hands of the New York Yankees. There was a very similar feeling in Charm City at that point. Hundreds of fans returned to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to welcome back the Birds, fans took to social media to explain how meaningful the unexpected playoff run was for them and others began to imagine what the postseason appearance would do for building the future of the team.
Things are shaping up to be much different in 2013.
What do you think the reaction to the Baltimore Orioles will be if the team again fails to get out of the Division Series this season? What if unlike in 2012 they were to lose the Wild Card Game this time around? What if they were to fall short in the final week of the season?
In case you were wondering, there were no reports of hundreds of fans waiting for the Washington Capitals outside Verizon Center after their Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers this year in the NHL Playoffs despite the fact that the Caps had won the Southeast Division.
The O’s are now under a significantly different microscope than they were a season ago. The panic from O’s fans surrounding this stretch of four blown saves in five opportunities for Johnson isn’t unreasonable…it’s understandable.
It isn’t acceptable for Orioles fans to think that one of those four games could end up being the difference in making the playoffs or not, the difference in going back to the Wild Card Game or winning the AL East. It isn’t acceptable for Orioles fans to imagine the inability (other than Jason Hammel Monday) of Orioles’ starters to get deep in games to be the difference in whether or not the bullpen has anything left for a September push. It’s unacceptable for Orioles fans to imagine the lack of a #1 starter being the reason why a team with a qualified ace like Justin Verlander or C.C. Sabathia could take them out in a five game series.
That particular scenario is all too familiar.
The struggles of Jim Johnson cannot be dismissed by Orioles fans, nor should they be dismissed by anyone inside the Orioles’ organization. It is honorable that Johnson’s teammates and manager Buck Showalter are standing by him publicly during his struggles, but they cannot afford to have the “aw shucks” mentality behind closed doors.
This organization has to be approaching a breaking point when it comes to Johnson. They have to be keeping a close eye on whether or not Kevin Gausman is capable of quickly moving past “exciting prospect” and towards “legitimate seven inning starting option.”
What they can’t do is act as though none of these things are legitimate concerns. They’re major concerns. They’re not likely to doom the Orioles at this point in the season, but they could very well make the difference in whether or not this team can surpass their 2012 accomplishments.
There simply won’t be a parade to celebrate “The team that may have made the World Series had it not been for the starting pitching that couldn’t make it deep enough into games and keep the bullpen rested.”
At least I don’t think so.