Neal Shaffer: Correcting the course

The Orioles beat the Red Sox last night and it's worth noting. The win raises the 2013 record against their hated rivals to 8-6, meaning they've got a good shot at winning the season series. Given that the Sox are running away with the division, that counts for something.

The win also leaves the O's just two games back of both Tampa Bay and Cleveland for a wild card berth. That, I suppose, also counts for something. Nothing's decided yet.

I remain, despite this, mostly (and unfortunately) convinced that they won't quite get there. I still feel like "close, but not quite" will appear in the first lines of this season's epitaph.

Either way, consider this: These Orioles stand one win away from securing a .500 season and two wins away from securing a second consecutive winning season.

Regardless of their fate vis-a-vis this year's playoffs, that's impressive.

The last time the Orioles had back-to-back winning seasons was 1996-97. Those were the benchmark years for the epic 14-season run of futility, but I think we tend to forget that the team was also mostly mediocre or bad throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. They had a handful of winning seasons, but they weren't much on the whole. See for yourself here .

This is the prism through which we need to consider 2013, no matter what else happens.

Because what do we want, really?

The playoffs are great and last year was a singular experience. What I think we, as fans, ultimately want is something larger. Something sustainable. Some kind of situation where the Orioles are consistently better than average and often very good, with only occasional hiccups here and there.

To get to that point after the terrible run we experienced would represent a true achievement. Indeed, it would move the Orioles into the next tier of major league teams, on their way (hopefully) to consistent contender status.

That starts with winning, year over year, regardless of how the playoff race shakes out. The 2013 season is already a success in that regard, and given the talent present in-house there's no reason to think 2014 won't continue the trend.

Maybe there's a playoff run still left in this bunch. Maybe they'll surprise me. But if they don't, it doesn't take anything away from what they've achieved. The course has been corrected, and that's bigger than I think most fans currently realize.

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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