Carroll County Times

Commentary: Memorial Day mark gives O's fans reason to believe

Long before anyone was wacko for Flacco, sports fans in this region believed in magic.

Orioles Magic.

Of course, that concept seems utterly dated, trapped in a bygone era with Ms. Pac-Man, Duran Duran and Reaganomics. After 14 consecutive losing seasons, "tragic" has been much more associated with the franchise than magic.

Belief, once lost, is hard to regain.

But as we reach Memorial Day, traditionally the first important benchmark of the baseball season, with the Orioles in first place, logoed caps and orange T-shirts are coming out of the closet. Car radios are turning from music to play-by-play. Fans are checking out box scores and standings. And Camden Yards is starting to feel alive again.

Yes, it's only slightly past the one-quarter mark of the season - and if leading at the quarter-pole was all-important Bodemeister, not I'll Have Another, would be going for the Triple Crown - but there is a strong correlation between a good Memorial Day record and postseason contention come September.

The Orioles will wake up on Monday at least 10 games over .500 and in first in the AL East. That's quite a contrast to where the team usually is on Memorial Day.

Baltimore was four games under .500 at this time last season, 21 games under in 2010, and seven games under in 2009, in last place each year. This is just the second time since 1997 they've been more than one game over .500 on the holiday.

There have been so many collapses after promising stretches over the past 14 seasons, that it's probably prudent not to get too carried away with this start. Their on-base percentage is below the league average, their defense, particularly on the infield corners, is atrocious, and chances are, they won't wind up leading the league in home runs.

There are some excellent signs, however. A major-league best 6-2 in extra innings, the Orioles are 14-9 against AL East competition and a major-league best 15-6 on the road.

How out of character is that? Here are the Orioles' marks against their divisional foes the past four years: 28-44, 24-48, 24-48 and 22-50. And here are their records away from home: 30-51, 29-52, 25-56, and 31-50.

Is it possible this season is the perfect storm of the heart of the lineup (J.J.Hardy, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters) all coming into their prime together, of Dan Duquette's first offseason signings (Wei-Yin Chen, Wilson Betemit, Darren O'Day, and Luis Ayala) working far better than anyone would've imagined, of Andy MacPhail's final trades (Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara, Pedro Strop for Mike Gonzalez) making the AL champion Rangers look foolish, and of a few relatively young pitchers (Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Jason Hammel) beginning to turn the corner?

Only a true believer - the kind of fan who remembers the lyrics to the theme song of a different era ("Something magic happens, every time you go ...") - is expecting this to continue into the fall.

But the crazy thing about baseball is, you never know. There seems to be at least one out-of-the-blue, shocking, no-way! team that makes the playoffs every year. (See: Arizona Diamondbacks, 2011).

Even if this isn't the year the postseason drought, or even the streak of losing seasons, finally ends, two outstanding months are reason for optimism. So, too, are seemingly can't-miss prospects like Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy ascending the organizational ladder. And so is signing Jones to a lucrative extension.

All at once, seemingly out of nowhere, everything seems to be going in the right direction for this organization. Almost like ... magic.