How is your health watching the Baltimore Orioles this season? Is your hair a little thinner? Blood pressure a little higher? Looking a bit more “seasoned” when you look in the mirror these days? Well take solace. You are not alone. This is healthy. It means you care.
The 2012 Orioles have become like that girlfriend that drives you crazy, but then does something that keeps you coming back for more.
It seems like every week Baltimore tinkers between contender and pretender. Some nights the Orioles play crisp, with quality pitching, decent fielding and just enough hitting to get the job done.
Yet many other nights, this team does things that make fans want to sling their bowl of potato chips at the TV screen.
Yet this team is still above .500 near the end of July.
What Baltimore lacks in consistency, it makes up with a resolute spirit and a manager in Buck Showalter that has held this fragile house together—with excellent patience.
One thing that is evident this year, more so in recent years past, is that passion is high for the Orioles. I see it all the time when speaking with Orioles fans. I heard it on the airways the night Baltimore lost a lopsided affair to the Detroit Tigers on July 13th by the score of 7-2.
That was the night Jason Hammel went down with a knee injury, and I could feel the passion spewing from Orioles fans that had tasted success and wanted more of it.
This in the face of radio hosts saying the ride was nice but had all but come to an end.
Shortly thereafter, Baltimore won five in a row—thanks to quality starts by the Orioles pitching staff.
Suddenly, radio phone lines lit up with hopeful fans on the other end.
Since then, however, the Orioles have lost three straight, and batters on the team seem to have baseball-size holes in their lumber.
And now, with the Baltimore Ravens training camp underway Orioles fans are starting to wonder if the wheels are beginning to fall off the gravy train.
While some fans say Baltimore needs to make trades to keep postseason hopes alive, other fans say the Orioles should stand pat, appreciate the fact this team has shown progress and continue to develop the club for the future.
Both sides have valid, and at times very passionate, arguments. But this passion is truly awesome to see, no matter the side.
That said, my mission in this slideshow is not to argue either way. Instead, my goal is to show how what the Orioles do now, will help them compete big time in 2013.
I really want to see Baltimore make the postseason this season. With a couple clever yet frugal moves by Orioles VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette, this team has a fair chance at earning a wild-card spot.
But it should not surprise anyone when I say the Orioles (especially the pitching staff) are currently enduring that sometimes hard to watch phase of hard knocks.
Look at the face of Showalter when a young Orioles starter struggles. He is ironclad. He looks more like a poker player, not willing to show his emotions.
This is not to say that Showalter does not boil inside when one of his starting hurlers walks three men in a row in an inning.
But Showalter knows that sometimes to reach that next level players have to feel what it is like to get knocked around. I have been there as an athlete. It is an absolutely terrible feeling. But it is part of the growing process.
Atlanta Braves left-handed pitcher Steve Avery reminds me of a player who went through hard knocks prior to taking off. Avery struggled mightily in his first season in the big leagues, compiling an abysmal record of 3-11 and a 5.64 ERA in 1990 (per Baseball Almanac).
But Braves manager Bobby Cox stuck with Avery—because he believed in him. In 1991, Avery went 18-8 with a 3.38 ERA, and helped the Braves to the World Series.
If Baltimore and its young starters can just hang on this year, learn from these hard knocks and mature in the process, the Orioles team that takes the field in 2013 will be battle-hardened enough to take that next step toward greatness.
While Baltimore grinds through hard knocks, the team must not forget that despite several flaws, it has continued to compile victories.
Despite Wednesday’s brutal 10-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles are still 51-47.
Compared to 2011, Baltimore did not get its 51st win until August 25th. But by then the Orioles were already 51-77 and well on their way to a 69-93 final record.
If this is not a confidence builder, I do not know what is.
That said, there is more to confidence building than just being ahead of schedule. For the Orioles, the team has to continue to develop its farm system.
Right now, Orioles fans are not very confident this team can make that splash trade. This is mostly because Baltimore’s farm system is one of the thinnest in baseball.
This is not to say the Orioles do not boast some excellent prospects. Dylan Bundy, Manny Machado, L.J. Hoes, Jonathan Schoop and Ty Kelly are just a few names that come to mind that could help the Orioles in the future. Xavier Avery is another one.
But in order for Baltimore to become a truly confident team, it needs to develop a deeper crop of talent.
That way, the Orioles can have those prospects available to make that splash trade that could launch the team into the postseason.
Remember Jack Palance's old Skin Bracer aftershave commercial? If you do not, this YouTube video may refresh your memory.
At the end of this commercial Palance said, “Confidence is very sexy. Don’t you think?”
MLB free agents are no different. Many find confident teams going in the right direction very sexy.
Should the Orioles continue to win despite its trials, and should attendance continue to improve beyond 2011 levels, this team becomes much more attractive to free agents looking for a team where they could really make a difference.
For example, how attractive would that old brick warehouse at Camden Yards look to Josh Hamilton?
It would look pretty attractive, especially when one considers Hamilton would be doing this on a nightly basis for a hot up-and-coming baseball team.
Of course, some people will fire hate mail my way saying there is no chance in hell the Orioles will be able to acquire a supreme player like Hamilton.
To this I say, hogwash.
But even if they do not, a decent finish to the 2012 season will bode well for what looks to be a pretty good free-agent crop, according to ESPN.
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