There's been a constant general discussion among baseball fans nearly all season about one team in particular:
How are the Baltimore Orioles doing it?
Going into the beginning of the season, the Orioles, on paper, appeared to be headed for a season in which they would struggle to win more than 62 games.
Fast-forward to present day: The Birds are two wins from 90, leading the AL wild-card race and giving the New York Yankees a run for their money at staking a claim as the beast of the AL East.
No one could have called it. It defies logic. But it's happening.
Here comes the next question: Are the Orioles actually a good team, or has it just been one of those years for them where EVERYTHING goes their way?
I believe they're a good team. I believe they've turned the corner as a franchise. And here's why.
Any team can get lucky and win an extra-inning game here and there.
It takes a good team to string together 16 straight in extras in a single season, good enough for the second-most all-time behind only the 1949 Cleveland Indians, who had 17 straight.
You don't just do that by accident, folks—especially considering that one of those games went 17 innings, and another went 18.
At home, on the road, it doesn't matter. If the Orioles go into extra innings, they expect to come out on top.
That's the kind of attitude only good teams have.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has fundamentally changed the way players think and carry themselves in the clubhouse and on the field.
He's got this team believing. He's got every player on the team feeling like he's an important part of what the team is doing, and he's got them all playing at their highest level.
That is what a great manager is supposed to do. That's the difference that a great manager can make in a team.
Showalter has turned this team around substantially in just two full years of being in Baltimore, and the turnaround from last season is simply incredible.
This man should win Manager of the Year because he is likely the main reason the Orioles have become a good team two or three years ahead of schedule.
A good team can't exist if there's tension in the clubhouse. Just ask the Boston Red Sox. That team has always had talent, but different distractions have ruined any chance of the Red Sox performing at the level they're capable of.
Orioles teams of the past decade never had huge clubhouse problems, but they would occasionally, and for a team that's struggling in the first place, that's never a good thing.
This season, though, there's been no evidence of any of that, and the Orioles' play on the field supports that claim.
The players on the team appear to genuinely care about each other, have each others' backs and are all too ready to take the blame for a loss when it wasn't even that player's fault.
Chemistry plays a huge role in whether a team is good or not. Luckily, the 2012 Orioles have that chemistry.
The Orioles have won 88 games thus far with eight games remaining before the playoffs start.
Plain and simple, you don't do that by accident, and you don't get lucky 88 times in a season.
This year, the Orioles are a good team. There's nothing over the top about them. They hit homers, their pitching is off and on and their defense was terrible before the All-Star break but has gotten better. They don't do any one thing better than any other team in baseball, outside of hitting homers more often than most.
They just play together, as a good team. And that's what counts.
If that isn't proof enough that the O's are (admittedly, surprisingly) a good team, then I don't know what is.