Neal Shaffer: Shifting expectations and keeping them in check

The Orioles have played themselves into a string of curious and unexpected situations this season. Possibly none more so, however, than this: They may have raised expectations to the point where missing the playoffs would actually be a disappointment.

Last night, as Jason Hammel exited the game with an injury, I had the strangest feeling I've ever had as an O's fan. What I should have felt was, "Ah, well, this stretch run is going to be tough, but it's already been a great ride." Instead, it was altogether odder. Despite best efforts, I think my subconscious was starting to expect the Orioles to win.

My better brain quickly took over and granted much-needed perspective. Every bit of success from here on out is a gift and there's no way I could justify feeling disappointment no matter how things go. Yet, the O's went ahead and won anyway, and there were the emotions again. There I went feeling like we were that much closer to the playoffs.

As far as being a sports fan is concerned, there's basically nothing that could be weirder than this.

It has me thinking about the need to conceive of this team in two ways - to split off the now from the bigger concern.

Consider the Royals and Rays.

Remember '03? That was the year the Royals rode stellar efforts from first-year manager Tony Pena, Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa and Carlos Beltran to an 83-79 finish, breaking a nine-year losing streak. Since then, they haven't won more than 75 games in a season and have averaged just 65 wins.

Then there are the Rays, who were a laughingstock from 1998-2007, but have been in the mix ever since.

I bring these teams up because their examples teach us two things. First, one season never guarantees the next. The Royals and their fans know this. That said, it's not at all unreasonable to expect success to lead to more success. Look to the Rays.

These are our longer-term considerations, and it's great to have them. Short-term, however, it's critical that we still temper our expectations. The 2012 Orioles are playing with house money and it's a glorious thing. We just have to remember that it's house money.

Next year, different story. Expectations are officially raised as far as that goes, and if the O's go the way of the Royals instead of the Rays, it will be a terrible thing.

This year? Stay in the moment. There will come a time for larger concerns. The next month isn't it. For now, just enjoy every damn second of this. We've all earned that much.

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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