The Orioles face a daunting task as they enter their final week of 2015. No longer in the running to repeat as American League East champions, and barely hanging on as wild card contenders, the O's are now simply trying to stack as many wins as possible heading into the offseason. A few weeks back, I looked at the team's struggles in the same negative light that many did. Even through that, I was able to search for and find positives. Now, as the team approaches the 81-loss mark, there's less of a glimmer of positive.
A winning season is important to the Orioles, but it's even more important to the fans. Some may think there's little difference between 82 wins and 80 wins, and that's true in many senses. But being able to say you've had four straight winning seasons would be something for the O's to stand on. For well over a decade, fans dreamed of simply having a winning season. Playoffs were an afterthought. Even following the 2012 season that saw a wild card berth, fans just wanted another winning campaign in 2013.
There's a weird feeling with the Orioles that one losing season - and they are currently staring down the barrel of one - could send things into a tailspin. This sounds somewhat irrational and even incomprehensible to some. As I said, there's really not that large of a difference between 82 and 80 wins, except for perhaps a few draft positions. It's more about a mindset with the fan base at this point. Some people really believe that failing to reach a winning season this year could be the difference between continuing a winning trend next season or falling down a well and into another string of losing seasons.
I don't think there's that dramatic of a difference, but I do admit that there will be a major sense of loss in my eyes if they don't get there over the next week. I can at least hang my hat on a winning season if they are able to reach the mark. It's a small win, but a win nonetheless. Now, after being swept without scoring a single run in Boston over the weekend, the O's face an even tougher climb to get that winning season.
The Orioles are going to get an close look at the two teams that surpassed them in the division this week. The Blue Jays and Yankees are both playoff-bound and have made the jump past the Birds. That makes the challenge of getting another winning season even more formidable. These aren't teams that will be laying down for the O's; they want to hold on to their positions and continue to play well going into the postseason. The Orioles will be able to see first-hand this week what Toronto and New York have done over the last year to make the jump.
Dan Duquette and the Orioles front office will have a large task this offseason. Not only are there reports of turmoil within the organization that need to be explained, but also the disappointment of the 2015 season. The leadership must be able to explain to the fan base how this team fell off nearly 20 games from last season. It's easy to place much of the blame on player performance. It's also easy to place it on the failure to replace certain players and improve certain areas of the roster. What really needs to happen from their standpoint is identifying the issues and overhauling them.
I hate to even think about it, but if fans don't receive a reasonable explanation for the team's dramatic drop-off, that sense of impending doom will set in even deeper. There's already a fear of staring a losing season in the eye. Fans really think that more of the same is on the horizon for this team. There's one simple way the team can delay that feeling, and as silly as it seems, it starts this week. Going out and winning six more games out of seven will go a long way to pushing that feeling down. Putting together four straight winning seasons, and making the playoffs twice in that stretch, is something to be proud of in this day and age.
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.