Zach Wilt: Final thoughts on Orioles' 2014 campaign

How could I possibly be disappointed in the Orioles' season? Ninety-six regular season wins, an American League East title for the first time since 1997 and a trip to the American League Championship Series. Oh, and the Orioles accomplished all of those feats without Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and even Chris Davis at the end of the season. If you told me way back when pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 13 that the O's year would run through mid-October, I would have been thrilled. I might have even called you crazy.

But my expectations slowly shifted when I saw the potential for this club. To be completely honest, back in 2012, everything after 81 wins was icing on the cake for me. The wild card victory was sweet, but I don't think anyone was truly devastated when the O's fell to the Yankees in the American League Division Series. They put together a great season and outperformed their projections.

This year had a different feel though. After the Orioles ran away with the division, winning it by an astounding 12 games, I began to take a World Series-or-bust mentality. One champagne celebration wasn't enough, I wanted to see Buck Showalter on a parade float riding down Pratt Street hoisting a trophy above his head. It started to feel close. The Birds dominated the Detroit Tigers, a team that had been in the ALCS or World Series in three consecutive seasons, and had home-field advantage with a chance to win the pennant.

Then things took an unexpected turn when the red-hot Kansas City Royals came to town with their stellar bullpen and flashy defense and shut down the O's. Four games later, I'm sitting here, in the same spot that I listened to Joe Angel and Fred Manfra broadcast the first spring training game of 2014, trying to figure out what happened. How could it possibly be over? How could this be the end?

Baseball is funny like that. From March on, it's consumes me every day from the strolls down Eutaw Street with my dad to staying up for 10 p.m. West Coast starts to the daily group texts about the team that fill the time between games. Every evening, there's always Orioles baseball to look forward to, it's the off-days that end up feeling strange. Then suddenly, without warning, it's all over. The rug gets pulled out from under you.

That's the hard part for me. While my expectations changed, that's not what's disappointing. It's the fact that it's over. While I believe that the potential was there for the Orioles to add a World Series banner to their collection, it just wasn't meant to be, and I can accept that. They ran into a buzz saw in the Royals and the better team took the series. As a fan, it's painful to admit, but what's even tougher to stomach is the thought that I won't get to watch the Birds again until 2015.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Orioles as we enter the offseason. Can they bring back the 2014 home run leader, Nelson Cruz, after inking him to a one-year contract in spring training? What about lefty reliever Andrew Miller, arguably the most impactful trade acquisition at the deadline? Have we seen Nick Markakis' last at-bat in black and orange? The winter holds all of the answers to the questions we refused to think about all summer.

As I say goodbye to the 2014 Orioles season, it won't be the ALCS that I'll remember. Instead I'll think about losing my voice when Delmon Young cleared the bases against the Tigers in ALDS Game 2, watching the Orioles celebrate the AL East championship in front of their home fans and seeing the O's separate themselves from the rest of the AL East by winning six of 10 on the west coast after the All-Star break.

Thanks for a great run, Orioles. I'm sad to see it come to an end. How many days until pitchers and catchers report?

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zamwi. His views appear here as part of'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 but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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