Neal Shaffer: For the Orioles, all bets are off

Owing to good luck and a fortuitous schedule, I have the honor of my regular turn in the MASN rotation falling today, as the Orioles wake up in a first-place tie with the New York Yankees - on Sept. 5.

It was only several weeks ago that the Yanks had a 10-game division lead and it hardly mattered. That the Orioles were winning and in contention for the wild card was plenty of reason for joy. Nobody at that time, at least to my recollection, seriously considered the possibility of contending for the division. We knew enough to not get greedy.

So now what? How can we make sense of this?

This is the kind of crazy run that reminds us why we care about sports in the first place. Contributions are coming from all corners, from Zach Britton's reemergence to Mark Reynolds finding his home run stroke just in the nick of time.

Hands up if you had any idea back in July that by September Manny Machado and Nate McClouth would be locking down left-side defense for a team with 76 wins in the midst of a 21-8 tear.

If there's a way to make sense of this, it's that sometimes when things get clicking they start to operate on what I like to refer to as internal logic. The accepted and established logic of "what is happening should not be" gradually loses meaning as the thing keeps happening.

The mean is a lagging indicator. It's weighed down by history to the point where, when things change, it can't keep pace. Yet within the thing itself, in the present, every new result quickly changes the calculation.

This happened and therefore can happen again. This is happening a lot, and is therefore no longer abnormal.

In the interest of fairness I have to point out that the process creates risk. The mean may lose relevance, but it doesn't disappear completely. History still lurks in a dark corner of the mind and we'd be crazy to not on some level still wonder if another shoe is going to drop.

But what is progress if not the arduous process of shaking off history and establishing a new baseline?

This, finally, is the window into what the Orioles are accomplishing as the 2012 season sprints to a close. Progress.

No matter what happens from here on out, they've done something. Which means that I'm looking at that tie for first place this morning and thinking not that it's fun while it lasts but, rather, that it's a demonstration of what is possible.

From there, well, who knows?

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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