There's previously been some doubt surrounding the Orioles' ability to hang with the upper class of the American League. After a 6-4 road trip against the three best teams in the AL West, there's no longer any doubt that they have that ability.
The O's have carried the third-best record in the AL since the end of May and the pitching of late has been spectacular. Everyone on the outside looks at the Orioles and sees an offensive juggernaut that lacks the arms to succeed in October, but if the last few weeks are any indication, these Birds are proving they can win games in any number of ways.
It's a strange thing to think about, especially in my lifetime. I'm young enough to have seen just three playoff appearances by Baltimore's baseball team. I've never been able to expect the Orioles to contend or be in the postseason race late into the season, much less at the trade deadline. That tide is shifting.
All of a sudden, seeing the O's miss the playoffs wouldn't just be a disappointment, it'd be embarrassing. There is a lot of baseball left, still over two months of games to be played. Teams like the Rays are making charges and grabbing headlines left and right. But with a three-game division lead (the second-largest in baseball) at this point, there's no excuse for the Orioles to slip up. They are the best team from top to bottom in the AL East. They should win the division and no one should accept anything less than that this season.
With all of this in mind, it's time to start looking ahead. As everyone knows, the non-waiver trade deadline is Thursday. The Orioles just completed a crucial post-All-Star break stretch, but have a very important few days ahead as well. There are little improvements that can be made to any team, but for the O's to match the likes of the A's and Tigers down the stretch, adding a small piece could make a big difference.
The Orioles went a combined 3-9 against Oakland and Detroit this season. In order to match those squads, the starting pitching would basically have to perform the way it has over the last week. There's no reasonable explanation or expectation that something like that could happen. The biggest add for the O's could be a reliable relief arm to add to the bullpen. Zach Britton and Darren O'Day have proved fairly reliable this season, but outside of those two guys, it's been a bit shaky.
It's pretty well-known that Dan Duquette is unlikely to make a huge splash this week. There won't be a big name like David Price or Matt Kemp landing in Baltimore. When and if the O's make a deal later this week, fans are likely to run to Google in an effort to find out exactly who the guy is. That's the type of trade that can push a team over these next two months. There will be someone out there brought in to give a boost to a team that only needs a small one to ride into the postseason for a second time in three years.
This strange dynamic of expectations is something O's fans have dealt with a lot over the past few seasons. This new regime has given the franchise a great deal of big moments and success in that time. It reminds me of the great line from "Spider-Man" in which Uncle Ben claims, "With great power comes great responsibility." The front office has a great responsibility to take advantage of this opportunity. The division is a must-win. What the O's can do in the playoffs is something fans can dream about, starting now.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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.