Just when it's getting fun...

I've had this discussion in the press box with a friend and fellow scribe on multiple occasions. OCJ touched on it in his most recent comment.

The last month of the season usually brings pain and suffering. It's like jamming toothpicks underneath your fingernails, watching Sidney Ponson dress at his locker or taking the Saints -5 1/2 last night.

(Who dat? The team that didn't cover for me. Nice defense, fellas. And don't be shy about punching it in from the 1.)

Orioles_OnFieldFun.gif

So here we are, down to the final dozen games of the season, and I'm actually sorry to see it end.

Not completely. I tend to get a little fried this time of the year, but it's been fun since manager Buck Showalter took charge. It's been refreshing, like a splash of cold water to the face that shouldn't be confused with the cold and harsh reality that this team still needs to make some changes to its roster if it's going to flirt with .500 or actually contend next season.

More on that later.

A former Sun colleague would break out a saying every time we filed a story and pondered whether we should have spent a few more minutes crafting the lead or doing something else to make it more readable. "Why should we care more than the players?"

Those words would float through the press box in September, when the Orioles looked like they'd already hung the "Gone fishin'" sign at their lockers. They had nothing to play for beyond individual stats. The contenders would pound them into submission. Games were lost by the third or fourth inning. Journeymen pitchers would take turns reminding us why they were journeymen pitchers, as the club scrambled to fill out its roster, its lack of organizational depth on full display for those of us who hadn't placed a hand over our eyes or gouged them out with a plastic spoon.

It's different this year. The Orioles are beating their division opponents. They've even been competitive in the losses. Fans are still talking about this team, and not just debating what needs to be done over the winter. The games still seem to matter. There's still a pulse in the home clubhouse. It used to just be my head throbbing.

Koji Uehara could be a poster child for the Showalter Orioles. He blows another save against the Yankees, leading to a crushing defeat, and responds by striking out five of the next six batters he faces over two appearances.

Last night, he threw eight of his nine pitches for strikes. He fanned J.D. Drew, who abuses this team, and Jason Varitek to nail down a 4-2 victory. He wore a huge smile as he bounced from teammate to teammate. I guess the lasting image of Uehara won't include him squatting.

Showalter knew it was important to get Uehara back on the mound after Friday night's meltdown. Good for the pitcher, and good for the manager who's evaluating him.

Bad for us that we're down to 12 games.

The first four months were a colossal waste. Now that we're having fun, it's almost over (that's what...never mind.)

Here are the updated standings:
Pittsburgh 51-98
Seattle 57-92
Arizona 59-91
Orioles 60-90
Kansas City 61-88
Cleveland 62-88
Washington 62-88

Now for today's question: Has this team accomplished enough under Showalter to change your opinion of what needs to be done over the winter? Has your shopping list been reduced or adjusted? Has it stayed the same? Has it actually grown?

For example, do you still believe the Orioles need to sign or trade for a No. 1 starter, or has Jeremy Guthrie convinced you that he should take the ball on Opening Day? That's a good starting point, so to speak.

I'll keep insisting that they must add a bat to the middle of the order to compete in the AL East. And I want Cliff Lee, though he'll be deemed too expensive. Grow the arms, grow the arms.

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