It is the middle of August and the Baltimore Orioles lead the American League Wild Card race. Yes, you read that correctly, but allow yourself some time to process that.
With another win over the Boston Red Sox, this feel-good, fairy tale story is becoming all too real and it is time to start giving credit to a vastly improved team.
It seems to happen every season. The Orioles get off to a nice start to the season and tease you along the way until they reach the middle of the summer, where they completely fall apart and break your heart.
Even the most faithful fans approached this season, like all the others in recent past, with cautious optimism. It looks like now is a good time to throw caution to wind and go all-in on this team.
This Baltimore Orioles team is not flashy. They do not have front-line starting pitching and they do not have a bunch household names in their lineup.
What they do have is a manager in Buck Showalter who knows how to get it done and is pushing the right buttons at the right time. They have a bullpen that has been lights-out and a growing belief that they can compete with the best in the league.
The Orioles have faced adversity like any other team in the league and have come through stronger than ever. Injuries and lack of depth would bring most teams to their knees, but not this team and not this season.
Jason Hammel, Troy Patton and Jim Thome are currently on the disabled list while guys like Nick Markakis and Robert Andino have already missed time due to their stints with injuries.
The starting rotation has been a revolving door of pitchers. Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Zach Britton have tried and failed. Unlikely contributions from Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and especially Wei-Yin Chen have kept this team in contention.
Retreads like Lew Ford and Nate McLouth are filling in without skipping a beat.
Mark Reynolds has found a recent power surge and if he can find a way to get hot down the stretch, he can carry a team.
Adam Jones has lived up to all-star expectations and young phenom Manny Machado is showing he belongs in the majors.
The bullpen has been the rock for Baltimore. They have exceeded expectations and currently sport a 2.94 ERA, which is third best in the entire league.
Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day are having career seasons, while Jim Johnson has 35 saves as the closer.
The sky is the limit for this team, and that has not been the case in recent memory. "The Orioles lead the wild-card race, 'but I'll say again, our intent and our focus is on trying to catch the team ahead of us,' Showalter said" (h/t masnsports.com).
That mindset by the manager is the reason why the Orioles continue to win. It is the "never say die" attitude and, for a team that has embraced the underdog role most of the season, it is now time to prove they are a team to beat as they make the push toward a postseason run.
The Baltimore Orioles are the best story in baseball that no one is talking about, but if their winning ways continue, pretty soon everyone will focus their attention on how the rest of this story unfolds.
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