Orioles will prove doubters wrong and return to the playoffs

There's no reason the O's should have to settle for less than another exciting September ... and maybe more.

If the Orioles are to get back to the playoffs this year, they are going to have to climb over another mountain of national skepticism.

They are going to have to prove that they can make up the difference when the gods of statistical probability insist that they lose an extra-inning game once in a while. They are going to have to win more four-run games to make up for the inevitably lower percentage of one-run victories they can depend upon after last year's otherworldly performance in close quarters.

In other words, the Orioles are going to have to prove themselves all over again, which actually goes for everyone in the uncommonly balanced American League East. They just have a lot more baggage than the other four teams.

Some of the experts have them falling all the way back to the bottom of the division after last year's surprising 93-win season. Many have them in the middle of the pack. There are a few who are ready to "BUCKle Up" again and visualize them back in the postseason, but there isn't exactly a groundswell of confidence that they will be a strong playoff contender again this season.

That's just fine, of course. The 2012 Orioles enjoyed sneaking up on the rest of the American League last year, so you're not going to hear any of them complaining that everybody is gunning for the heavily retooled Toronto Blue Jays or the pitching-rich Tampa Bay Rays. They'll just keep reclining in the weeds.

It's easy for the Orioles to lay low because baseball operations chief Dan Duquette did not go on a post-playoff shopping spree to bulk up the roster. There was no November surprise and certainly no blockbuster trade like the one that turned the Blue Jays into the talk of the offseason and the Miami Marlins into minnows.

This is largely the same team that created a new form of Oriole Magic after 14 straight losing seasons, but underestimate it at your own peril. The Orioles aren't going to fall off the map. They aren't going to revert to the team that the Oriole Way forgot. They are a lot better than a lot of people think, and they will prove it by challenging again for the division title and — like last year — grabbing one of the two AL wild-card spots.

This year, they might even get home-field advantage in the first round.

Duquette and Buck Showalter have proved that there really is strength in numbers. They got production from just about every player on the 40-man roster last year, and you can expect them to mine the Triple-A Norfolk roster liberally again.

The fact that there was no glitzy free-agent acquisition over the winter left some Orioles fans wondering whether the club was really committed to building a perennial contender, but comeback players Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts have given indications this spring that they might be able to fill the continuity gap in the batting order.

Let the rest of the baseball world fall in love with the Blue Jays. They did have an exciting offseason and appear to be vastly improved, but we'll have to wait and see whether all those new parts will fit together to make them the dominant club in the division. The Rays look to be the team to beat because they have upgraded last year's sporadic offensive attack and still have terrific pitching, even after trading James Shields and Wade Davis for a package of young players that included big-time hitting prospect Wil Myers.

The New York Yankees can't be counted out, even though they have been ravaged by injuries and look like a $200 million shell of their former selves. They still have more money than all the major deities combined, so they'll find a way to stay competitive until they can get the cornerstones of their lineup back in place.

Don't know what to think about the Boston Red Sox. They spent too much money on Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster, but they did complete a big overhaul after cleaning house last year.

Orioles fans can only hope that both of the big spenders mud-wrestle all year at the bottom of the standings. That might make a third-place Orioles finish almost palatable, but there's no reason the Orioles should have to settle for less than another exciting September ... and maybe more.

What should be pretty obvious is that the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers are — on paper — the two most dominant teams in the American League and seem destined to meet in the American League Championship Series.

That's what the experts say, and when have they ever been wrong?

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and at wbal.com.

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