Despite only splitting this weekend's series against the Kansas City Royals, the Orioles seem to have turned it up a tick in the past few weeks. This is not in the least bit surprising to me; in fact, I expected it. The Birds have always finished strong under Buck Showalter. In 2010, he had them take the competition to the opponents who figured that they'd walk all over the O's due to their record. And who could forget last September, which I believe was the launching point for 2011? (Needless to say, if Showalter isn't under consideration for Manager of the Year in the American League, I'm not sure what this world is coming to). At this point, there's no reason to believe that they won't finish well under Showalter this year as well, which prompts this discussion.
Sports is often not necessarily about who's the best team, but moreso who gets hot at the right time. In the NFL, the New York Giants lost to the Washington Redskins last Dec. 18, severly hurting their playoff hopes. They ended up finishing 9-7 and backing into the NFC East crown. As we all know, they got hot and won the Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers of 2010 were a similar story, as were the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, and the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals. It's really no different than a long winning streak in the regular season: You start believing in yourself and it feels like you've touched gold.
So is that happening to the Orioles? Its still a little early to say. However, on Dec. 19 of last year, few people would have picked the NY Giants to be in the playoffs much less win the Super Bowl. I suppose that I'll harken back again to the fact that the O's have always finished strong under Showalter. I really think that's a big intangible in the grandiose argument of where the Orioles will finish this year. If they have an August/September like they did the past couple of years, hello playoffs. Most people will point to the pitching and how it'll be hard-pressed to hold up. However. think back to 2010-11 - they had the same issues then, and they still won.
Momentum is a huge thing in sports. So when a team gets hot and on a roll, look out! Again, withstanding the mixed results of the Kansas City series, we've seen the Orioles start to get hot in the past couple of weeks. However lets rein ourselves back in for just one moment; the O's also have a murderer's row slew of games coming up, starting with the Red Sox this week at the yard. Boston's had a lackluster season at best, but they're still the Red Sox and they'll play the Orioles tough. (And for the record, shame on them if they don't.) However, following that, the Birds head back out on the road to Detroit and then Texas, two teams that gave the O's problems in Baltimore earlier in the year.
If this is a team that's getting hot at just the right time, that will be reflected in Detroit and Texas. It's all fine and dandy for the O's to beat up on the Mariners, but a truly good team will find ways to win games in those series as well. Again, on Dec. 19 of last year the New York Giants never would have thought they'd win the Super Bowl. If the O's can continue this positive momentum, there'll be nowhere to go but up.
You'll notice that the teams in other sports I mentioned above who got hot at the right times were all champions in their leagues. At this point we're talking about two different things; winning a title is a much bigger feat that simply getting into the playoffs. However, both can often necessitate getting hot at the right time. Look at it from the flip side; in my view, the 2011 Texas Rangers were a better team than the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. This is not to take anything away from St. Louis, but would you rather be the hot- at-the-right-time Rangers, or the Cardinals, who were arguable the better team? Consequently, a team that gets cold at the wrong time can miss the playoffs. Look no further than the 2011 Red Sox. Will the Orioles go down as a team that caught fire at the right time? I suppose there are worse spots in which to find yourself.
Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long 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.