Neal Shaffer: On the Orioles and expectations

Quick show of hands: Who thought we'd be here?

The Orioles' unexpected, unlikely and sublimely satisfying run to the postseason last year changed a lot of things in Birdland. It changed the relationship between the team and the city. It changed the way we thought of the people involved. It made Peter Angelos into less of a villain (or should have) and it made Adam Jones into the star we always knew he'd be. It made Camden Yards once again into a showpiece.

And, yeah, it changed expectations.

Last year at this time, a .500 season was a hope while something along the vague lines of improvement was an expectation. Most of us still expected a loser and would have been happy with less of a loser than we'd previously had. We wanted progress towards the playoffs, but we dared not dream of an actual playoff appearance.

Now that we've been there, and now that the 2013 season is under way in earnest, where do we go?

Ideally you'd like to think that the team will improve yet again. Yes, but let's be careful. We need to define these new expectations.

Ninety-three wins is not a legendary achievement, but it's a damn good showing. Ninety-three wins will be good enough for the playoffs most years. This is why most teams do not win 93 games, even good teams that did it the year before.

There's no doubt the Orioles have both talent and depth. There's no doubt in the mind of any sane individual about what Buck Showalter brings to the table. There might still be some doubt about Dan Duquette, but even if there is, it's beside the point. The defining question of the 2013 season isn't about what the Orioles have, because they have plenty. It's about whether or not 2012 was, as many on the outside looking in seem to believe, a fluke.

The win total alone won't answer that question. Over the course of a long season it doesn't take much to swing a given team's fortunes five or eight or 10 games either way. There's a lot separating the top three teams from the bottom three, but there isn't much separating the general group of good teams from each other.

What the Orioles need to do this year is show stability. They need to show that they can play well over the course of a full season, which means competing consistently and weathering the adversity of injuries and slumps. Basically, they need to look good.

Given the run of bad baseball that preceded last season, stability in itself will count as meaningful, and important, improvement. Regardless of the win total.

If we're taking predictions, though, I'm on the hook for 87-75. What about you?

Neal Shaffer regularly blogs about the Orioles at The Loss Column, and his work appears 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.

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