Neal Shaffer: Hope for 2012, but the future's still the thing

Let's be clear: There's still no reason to abandon hope for the Orioles to post a plus-.500 season in 2012. They have a knack for righting the ship when things look bad and every game that passes puts them that much closer to the endgame. Each day that ends with a cushion is a surplus banked against a bad streak. They're getting there.

Regardless, we all basically know that this team isn't ready for the playoffs just yet. There's too much strength in the competition, both from the Yankees at the top of the division and from teams like the Rays, White Sox, Angels and Rangers in the wild card. Throw in the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Athletics, and the road looks quite daunting, knowing what we know about the hometown nine's weaknesses (never mind how good the other teams might be).

By my measure, however, this season is already a success. The reason is simple: In baseball, virtually nobody jumps from sub-.500 to the playoffs in one season. There's always a season or two of transition. And those seasons tend to look like, well, like the Orioles in 2012.

Transitional seasons are marked by three things: surprisingly positive results, inconsistency and a ceiling. Which is to say that transitional teams show signs of growth while at the same time looking like they'd be hard-pressed to close the deal.

Sounds like a pretty good description of these O's, no?

Think about the Pirates last year. They were in first place as late as July 18 before crumbling badly and finishing with another losing season. Right now, they're poised to make a legit run at the wild card.

For that matter, look at the Nationals last year. Same close-but-not-quite story. Look at them today. Would you take their same 80-win total from last year for these Orioles? Who wouldn't?

Not that it's a perfect science. A lot changes from season to season. Nevertheless, it seems only logical to say that getting from here to there in Major League Baseball usually requires a stop or two along the way.

For 14 years, the Orioles weren't even on that road. They weren't making stops on the way to better times, they were standing still on the wrong side of the tracks. This year is different.

We've seen actual progress. The numbers aren't all there, but the performance is demonstrably better. And that, friends, is a very good sign. Regardless of how the next two months play out.

Neal Shaffer regularly blogs about the Orioles at The Loss Column, and his work appears here as part of MASNsports.com's initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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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