James Baker: The emotional roller coaster of (near) contention

Put very simply, we are not used to this.

Orioles fans are in no way emotionally prepared to be over .500 and in the playoff hunt this late in the season. The Orioles have spent 109 days over .500 this year. For the sake of context, last year the Orioles spent a grand total of 14 days over .500. This level of play has completely frayed the nerves of some Orioles fans, and if you don’t believe me then you haven’t been paying attention.

Before last week’s five game win-streak, there were serious calls to sell everything we had being floated on the Internet and sports talk radio. Then the Orioles went on a nice, tidy five-game streak and, all of a sudden, Manny Machado became expendable if it meant getting Hanley Ramierez or Chase Headley. The Orioles have been dominated by the Rays over the last two nights and suddenly I have been reading calls for trading Matt Wieters. At the root of all of this is the fact that we, as Orioles fans, really don’t know how to process what is going on right now.

Most fans have been waiting for the proverbial other shoe to, metaphorically, kick us in our collective gentleman’s region for the better part of two months. And it simply hasn’t come yet.

After the hot start to the season people said, “Wait until this stretch at the end of April,” and that test was passed. Then they said, “Wait until the end of May” Again passed. Then it was the All-Star break and another arbitrary deadline is right around the corner, I’m sure. The fact remains that, even though this team has struggled in recent weeks, they are still holding it together.

Before last night’s debacle, the starters had put together six quality starts in a row. Now Miguel Gonzalez’s implosion last night proves the fact that you aren’t going to get quality starts every night and bad things do happen to rookie pitchers from time to time. But it does not erase the fact that this team has done it before and there is little reason to suspect that it can’t be done again. The bats continue to be a very large concern. Matt Wieters and Chris Davis have been struggling mightily recently. But does one honestly believe that they will continue to hit this poorly for much longer? Both players historically turn it on in August and September, right when the Orioles will need it the most.

My message to fans right now is simple: Don’t panic. The Orioles have proven well enough that they have the ability to string together more wins than they do losses. Their pitching has shown the ability to rebound before and their bats, though dormant right now, have proven to be effective for extended stretches this year. The last two losses are a sobering jolt after a very solid road trip last week, and I know everyone is looking at this weekend when the white-hot Athletics come to town, but no one should fret too much.

Losing streaks will happen to every team, but the good ones try to keep them short and as few and far between as possible. So far, the Orioles have done a decent job of that this year, allowing them to be in the position they are in right now.

Don’t panic, Orioles fans. I know none of us expected to be in the situation we are in right now, as the Orioles are on the doorstep of contention. There is no doubt the team needs to play better to take that final step. All we fans can do is wait, watch and possibly not freak out after every loss.

James Baker blogs about the Orioles at Oriole Post. His observations about the O’s appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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