With a win against Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night, the Orioles will finish with a winning record in September for a second consecutive season. They are 14-13 entering the season finale.
A season ago, the Orioles went 34-23 after Buck Showalter became manager, including a 17-13 record after August 31. That strong finish had the fan base fired up this spring, and many vocal fans predicted big things -- you know, a winning record -- after the Orioles acquired Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds.
We know how things worked out from April to August.
But once again, we have watched the Orioles play quality baseball in the season's final month to impact the American League wild-card race. In one series, they would nail a coffin then yank out the nails in the next so they could hammer them into another team's coffin.
Two weeks ago, they took two out of three games against the Tampa Bay Rays. Then they did the same to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. And since then, the Orioles have beaten the reeling Red Sox four times in six tries. If they make it five out of seven -- and the Rays beat the Yankees on Wednesday -- the nails in Boston's coffin will be permanent. (To be fair, though, the Red Sox did plenty of the hammering themselves).
Let's say the Orioles finally beat Lester and keep the Red Sox out of the playoffs. Camden Yards will be crazy after the season finale and fans will brag about this for a while. But how will you feel next spring?
The initial Buck buzz carried into spring training last year. There were results. There was accountability. And there was legitimate optimism that winning would resume in the season. The Orioles couldn't capitalize.
That's why it's understandable that after another solid September, fans are conflicted this time around. The Orioles have been a blast to watch this month, but it's hard to believe things will play out differently in 2012 -- not with all the uncertainty with the team's young pitchers, craters in the lineup that can't be filled in by pro-ready minor-league prospects and another regime change rumored to be in the works.
Optimism always blooms in spring training -- even in places like Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Baltimore. After the Orioles finished strong again, will it feel differently next spring than it did six months ago?