Getting your kicks by rooting for 66

The Orioles have won 66 games this season and they’ve got six more to play. They also won 66 games last season.

I’m trying to appreciate the “progress” that they’ve made in 2011.

I’m also trying to forget that last year’s team was 2-16 and went through three managers.

The Orioles will avoid 100 losses. They could win more games than last season. They won’t have the worst record in baseball. They no longer have the worst record in the American League after winning eight of their last 10 and 11 of 16.

It’s still been a bad season, filled with disappointments and frustrations. You can’t be satisfied unless you set the bar at the approximate level of a speed bump.

A strong finish doesn’t carry into the following season. We were reminded of that little fact this season. But I’ll take some comfort in the way J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Jim Johnson have performed. And the power and run production from Mark Reynolds, which wouldn’t look so bad at first base next year. And the 11 wins that Zach Britton has totaled in his rookie season, though last night’s was a cheapie. And how Robert Andino is making that Hayden Penn trade like more lopsided than (insert Tara Reid cosmetic surgery joke here).

Britton can be an ace. He’s far from a finished product and his season played out backward, but he can be an ace.

He was supposed to join the rotation in late April or early May and be shut down before September. Instead, he started the third game and he’s still pitching.

I’m not going to overreact to the way Pedro Strop has handled his bullpen role, but the next run he allows will be his first. He’s held opponents to three hits over nine appearances spanning 8 2/3 innings. He’s walked two and struck out 11.

Strop fanned Ryan Raburn last night to strand Miguel Cabera at third base in the eighth inning and preserve a 6-5 lead. He started off Raburn with a 96 mph fastball, threw three straight sliders, fired off another 96 mph heater that almost skipped past Wieters, and got the strikeout with an 82 mph slider.

He’s a little cocky, which is a good thing for a late-inning reliever. I don’t sense any fear.

I keep telling myself that the Rangers wouldn’t just give up on an arm like that unless they know something we don’t, but maybe they’re just that deep in pitching and are in a win-now mode and found Strop to be expendable and ...

Don’t overthink it, Roch.

It’s way too soon to start divvying up bullpen assignments for next season, but I like how manager Buck Showalter is mostly going with Strop in the eighth and Johnson in the ninth.

Kevin Gregg will be on the team next season. How he’s used is way up in the air. He looked like a closer last night, not an arsonist.

Actually, he looked like Johnson. Maybe it’s rubbing off.

The Orioles reached agreement on a minor league contract with pitcher Steve Johnson, who could have become a free agent over the winter.

The deal is expected to include an invitation to spring training in 2012.

Johnson went 5-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 10 starts with Double-A Bowie, and 2-7 with a 5.56 ERA in 17 starts with Triple-A Norfolk. He walked 62 and struck out 122 in 145 2/3 innings between the two affiliates.

Johnson allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven of his last nine starts with Norfolk.

The Orioles have assigned Johnson to the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.

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