Domenic Vadala: The relative unfairness of the AL East

I’ve said numerous times on Birds Watcher that the birth of the current Orioles came on Sept. 28, 2011, when the O’s beat Boston on the final day of the season. We all know the story: Robert Andino’s RBI double, combined with Evan Longoria’s walk-off homer, knocked Boston out of the playoffs that year.

The Orioles followed that up with an impromptu playoff birth in 2012, and withstanding this past weekend’s series in Tampa, the Orioles are in the hunt again this year. In fact, going into the season, the prevailing sentiment was that both Boston and the New York Yankees could possibly be at the bottom of the division.

Speaking for myself, I expected Boston to struggle again, although I thought they’d be improved. From the get-go, I felt that New York would be in the thick of things. As much as Orioles fans might hate to admit it, there is some sort of magic elixir that has always seemed to come from putting on those pinstripes.

Look at current Orioles utility man Steve Pearce, for example. Pearce started off with the Orioles last year before being claimed off waivers by Houston. He would later end up with New York, where he would hit his only homer of the year that didn’t come as a member of the Orioles. Of course that homer came against the Orioles in September. You can also point to the late-season and late-game heroics of Raul Ibanez last year, joining a host of others who have managed to come off the scrap heap and contribute big-time in New York.

I felt that this year would be no different, even given the fact that Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Alex Rodriguez were all starting the season on the DL. Common sense, of course, dictated that Lyle Overbay, Jayson Nix, Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, et al, could fill the void. They were all good players and still certainly had value, however they were aging stars. You can throw common sense out the window when dealing with that franchise. Suddenly guys 35 and older play like they’re 25 again. Look no further than Ibanez last year. Most people would argue this is a surprise, but it can’t be much of one.

The surprise is that the Red Sox have played as well as they have. Granted they’ve only played the Orioles once, and the Birds took two of three. However, their pitching has been leaps and bounds better than it was in 2012 and in the latter part of 2011. There’s no doubt that injuries and clubhouse angst added to many of their issues over that time, and manager John Farrell appears to have brought some stability there. Again, I felt that Boston would be a better team in 2013, just not a contender again quite yet.

So from the perspective of the Orioles and their fans, there does appear to be some relative unfairness about this. The Orioles routinely had their brains beaten in by these two teams over the course of 14 seasons. So now that it appears the tables had turned just a bit, shouldn’t it be the Orioles’ turn to return the favor? All this means is that they can’t crow about how great they are and how badly those teams have slipped. As my fellow guest blogger, Neal Shaffer, said last week, Orioles fans shouldn’t become what they’ve hated all these years. For so long it seemed that Orioles fans would lament about how loud and arrogant Boston and New York fans would be when they’d pack the yard. So now that the O’s are good again, Orioles fans should remember how that felt for so long and not return the favor, in a sense.

The O’s are still much more of a rags to riches story than either of those teams. While it might not be fair and it might not be as glamorous as getting to see the Birds bludgeon the other teams in the division on a daily basis, this is how things work in the American League East. I still think that at least one one of them will fall back to the pack in the second half, but if not it’s possible that a very good team might miss the playoffs (or back in as a second wild card).

Is that fair? Probably not. But that’s baseball. Either deal with it or go home.

Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of’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 but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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