Final Exams

The “Baltimore Orioles?” (insert confused sounding, national sports media broadcast voice who still doesn’t believe there is a professional baseball team in Baltimore) have been facing a series of tests all year. Each long road trip has supposedly determined the fate of the season. Every tough AL East home series has supposedly done the same. And as of September 10, 2012, all of those tests have been passed, mostly with flying colors.

Final exams begin this week for the Orioles and after this, the tests are over with. Playing three against the Rays this week and then traveling to the west coast for three against the A’s over the weekend should give a pretty clear picture of where this team stands.

Yes, this team. A team that one media outlet said the best case scenario for 2012 was AT BEST 69 wins. A team that has used duct tape all year yet has still managed to assemble an entourage of players that is 1 game out of first place in the AL East on September 10. A team that everyone (*cough* Keith Law *cough*) says has no right to be here and isn’t even one of the eight best teams in the American League. But so far, every test has been passed and recognition needs to be given, regardless of what happens in these final three weeks of the season.

I’m not one to celebrate small victories that are undeserving. But when this team wins their 82nd game in the next week or two, the community of Baltimore should celebrate proudly while keeping the focus on where it needs to be - getting into the playoffs.

The O’s lost Nick Markakis for the rest of the regular season during Saturday Night’s bittersweet win over the Yankees. Chris Tillman hasn’t been cleared to throw off a mound yet. Troy Patton is still rehabbing. Pedro Strop is struggling after being abolsutely dominant for the first four months of the season.

But what’s new? Injuries have been there all year, first with Nolan Reimold, who had six home runs in limited at bats in April and then Jason Hammel in July. Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter, and Jake Arrietta have all struggled throughout the season yet Matusz has found a role to excel in out of the bullpen and Jake looked very good against the Yankees yesterday.

Lots of people like to harp on the fact that Nate McClouth and Lew Ford, two “no names,” have been key in games over the past month. Again, that’s nothing new to a true Orioles fan who has seen the 40 man turned over and over looking for anyone who can help this team suceed. Most O’s fans were ready to send Mark Reynolds packing in June, even though he was still walking and seeing a lot of pitches. Thank God rationale sense prevailed and Reynolds wasn't packaged off to a team buying low.

These 22 games are the final tests for the Orioles. I’m going to be doing what I’ve done all year and be at EVERY home game with Paul, regardless of other commitments or duties and watch every west coast game on TV despite it potentially affecting my ability to be productive the next day. And I am going to do my best to support this team to get to the ultimate destination - the playoffs. BUT, as in life, if things don’t go the Orioles way over the next three weeks, I can look back at this team since April 6 and be extremely proud to be a fan of the 25+ players, coaches, and front office that have assembled baseball’s best and most under reported story of 2012.