The Baltimore Orioles have gotten used to celebratory postgame handshakes over the last season-and-a-half.
The Baltimore Orioles have just 62 games left on their regular-season schedule. While that may sound like a good portion, it'll fly by just as quickly as the season's first 100 games have.
For the second year in a row, the Orioles entered the All-Star break with a winning record, and have a winning record at their 100-game mark in the season. They've won eight of their last nine contests going into Monday night's action, and sit two-and-a-half games back of the first-place Boston Red Sox, with the Tampa Bay Rays just a half game behind Boston.
Things are going pretty well in Birdland, as hope for a second consecutive playoff appearance is strong among the Orioles' faithful.
The big league club is obviously in pretty good shape with the team sitting a season-high 14 games over the .500 mark and fighting for a playoff spot, but just as any team, they could also be better. Still though, when it comes to these O's, there isn't a whole lot to complain about.
Their starting rotation has solidified itself very nicely over the last few weeks, with right-handers Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman becoming the most dependable arms the O's have. Gonzalez has tossed eight straight quality starts and won six of them, while Tillman picked up win No. 12 of the season with an eight-inning, two-run effort against the Texas Rangers on Sunday night.
With the return of left-hander Wei-Yin Chen right before the All-Star break, the team got a big boost to help its rotation. The return of Chen acted almost like a trade for a starting pitcher, as Chen has won his two starts since coming off the DL and is 5-3 on the year with a 2.67 ERA.
Newcomer Scott Feldman is an innings eater with a decent arm and large repertoire of pitches. He helps to round out the back end of the rotation as someone who can give the bullpen a bit of a break along with Opening Day starter Jason Hammel, who has struggled during the 2013 season but can still give the team innings.
Admittedly, the O's are in need of a true ace. But their rotation seems to be much more reliable than it has in past years with the top three of Chen, Gonzalez and Tillman. And heck, if those three keep pitching the way that they have been, one or two of them may round into a true ace at some point. Gonzalez specifically seems to be on his way toward becoming that, as the one thing he needs to improve on is getting into the seventh and eighth innings.
The bullpen, on the other hand, isn't near as strong as it was last season, and closer Jim Johnson has already blown six saves this year. He seems to be lacking the same domination that he demonstrated in 2013, but he still leads the majors in saves, so he must be doing something right.
Tommy Hunter has emerged into a solid middle- and late-inning man, while Darren O'Day is quietly doing a fantastic job, just as he did last year. The team could use one more reliable reliever, but if the O's don't acquire one before the season is out, they won't be horribly off in the relief department.
Offensively and defensively, however, the O's position players rank among the best in baseball.
They're first in baseball in homers, fourth in batting average, third in RBI and first in slugging percentage. They've got guys to set up atop the lineup (Nate McLouth, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis), big bats to drive in runs (Adam Jones and Chris Davis), and guys who will get key hits rounding out the bottom third of the batting order (J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters).
Defensively, the team is arguably the best in baseball, as it leads MLB in fielding percentage. Machado and Hardy are easily the best left-infield combo around, as Machado routinely looks like the second coming of Brooks Robinson.
The Birds are hot right now, and Baltimore is excited. Realistically, the team could add another good starter as well as one more solid reliever, but as their minor league system lacks a whole lot of depth, it would be wiser for them to hang on to their prospects (at least for now).
No sense in making a deal just to make one, and the trade market for pitching got even thinner on Monday with the Chicago Cubs sending starter Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers.
A lot can happen in 62 games. Most teams, if not all, will experience hot and cold stretches during that time, and the O's will probably be one of those teams. However, the O's have been one of the more consistent teams in baseball during 2013, not experiencing stretches of domination or futility for too long, with season-long win and loss streaks of five and six games, respectively.
Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees have been much more streaky, leading me to believe they'll fall at least once more before the season's out, and the steady O's will be right there to take and/or hold a lead in the standings on them.
Overall, the O's are looking very solid heading into the season's final two months. There's plenty of reason for optimism in Birdland, because the Orioles are a good team.