Washington -- Let's have a show of hands. How many Orioles fans imagined in February that club officials would be scratching their heads and wondering which way to turn as the team enters the midseason trading period?
The Orioles have played so far above preseason expectations that now it's just as hard to imagine the front office sticking with the original program and dealing away more veterans by the July 31 deadline for making trades without waivers.
In fact, the outlook has changed so much that a couple of those veterans suggested yesterday that club president Andy MacPhail should consider a big deal to upgrade the starting rotation.
"I don't think you'll find anybody in here who doesn't think we can compete this year," said first baseman Kevin Millar. "We're a 12-2 streak away from being in the thick of everything."
The name floating around the visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park last night was pending free-agent pitcher C.C. Sabathia, but don't get too excited.
There's little chance MacPhail is going to turn his successful rebuilding program upside down to rent a big-name pitcher for half a season.
Still, the fact that the players in the clubhouse are devising scenarios for a playoff run is a testament to the great clubhouse chemistry that has developed under manager Dave Trembley.
Even the most skeptical fans couldn't dismiss what happened in Chicago, where the Orioles ended the Cubs' longest home winning streak since 1936 and took two of three games from the team with the best record in the major leagues.
"No one can say anything or write anything except that this team has competed its butt off," Millar added.
That's fine, but this season was supposed to be another pothole on the road to a brighter future. Three months ago, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas set the over-under line for Orioles victories this year at 64 1/2 .
The way things are going, they could have 50 by the All-Star break.
"We are the future," Millar said. "If we make the playoffs and win the World Series, the future is now."
Gotta love Kevin. He didn't just drink the Kool-Aid. He dyed his hair with it.
He's not alone, however, in the belief among the Orioles that their solid first half is no fluke, and that it's too early to consider trading off any of the players who have contributed to such an uplifting turnaround.
"We're only seven games out," said reliever George Sherrill, whose name has been prominent in midseason trade speculation since the Orioles acquired him in the Erik Bedard deal a week before spring training. As for trading away any of this year's strong performers, Sherrill asked, "Why would you want to do that?"
Sherrill, who ranks second in the major leagues with 26 saves, would likely be a hot commodity if MacPhail decides to augment the preseason influx of talent sometime next month, but he isn't looking for a shortcut to the postseason.
"I want to stay here," Sherrill said. "I want to win here. I'd love to see us go after a front-line guy if we could can get one."
Don't hold your breath waiting for anything more than a medium shortstop.
MacPhail's quandary - and it's a happy one, given the low preseason expectations - is whether to stand pat and let the fans enjoy this entertaining bunch while they can or go full speed ahead with the rebuilding effort.
He's certain to receive overtures for Brian Roberts and Sherrill the next few weeks. He might even get an offer for Aubrey Huff, who entered last night's game on pace for 30 home runs and 93 RBIs.
The return for those players might complete the re-population of the minor league system and put the team in position to be competitive for the next decade, but there is more than one argument to be made against a midseason sell-off.
The fans have waited a long time for a team they could embrace like this one, and there's no guarantee they'll get another such opportunity anytime soon, even if MacPhail makes a couple more big scores.
If that isn't enough, the value of sustaining a successful 2008 season extends beyond a rejuvenated fan base to an improved environment for signing quality free agents during the offseason.
There's a lot at stake either way.
Who would have thought it would come to this?
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