-For a game that is so damn old, with statistics and records dating back to the late 19th century, baseball is never lacking in surprises and, as the kids put it, WTF moments. Of course, there is the same old, same old nonsense that occurs year in and year out but it seems that each season, there is at least one pleasant surprise giving baseball fans a reason to keep an eye on the standings. This time around, that certainty has gone to the birds. Literally.
When preseason wrapped up this past spring, the buzz about town was that there was a new sheriff patrolling the ever-so-dangerous American League East. Toronto had run away with being crowned the kings of spring. With a record of 24-7 in Grapefruit League action, the Blue Jays were making a statement that things were about to change. No more was the A.L. East going to be a three-pony race. An impressive pitching staff, a reigning two-time home run king and a hometown rookie sensation all pointed to a seismic shift in tradition.
Well it seems the Jays left their swagger in Florida because not only did they drop the ball this year, they did it while wetting themselves. For all those who preluded the heralding of Toronto supremacy with “It is not a Yankee or Red Sox division anymore,” you can save yourself a shred of dignity. Baltimore to the rescue!
It is a double-take scenario; seeing the Orioles challenge the mighty Yankee machine is worth a second look, if not for morbid curiosity. How could a team that started the year with 150 to one odds of winning the World Series be at the top of a pile of supposed titans? The answer is quite simple, yet not so obvious.
The Orioles are not blessed with any made-for-T.V. superstars. When you think A.L. East, you think of names like Jeter, Ortiz, Longoria, Bautista, not Wieters or Markakis. There are no bonafide all-stars or sexy names on this Baltimore squad. No MVP candidates or phenoms. Barring any miracles, they won’t have anyone that will reach 100 RBIs, or knock 40 home runs. If Nick Markakis can get hot in the final week, he will be the only Oriole with a chance at hitting more than .300. So, how can a team of rag-tags, with no identifiable offensive standout or pitching messiah, rise to the top of such perennial crème de la crème? It is all about taking that crème and whipping it.
Though Baltimore is competing with New York for the division title, an honour they have not seen since 1997, they can be considered the true winners of the division. They were a Cinderella story since April, but they maintained success because they consistently won games against divisional opponents. They have managed to compete when it mattered.
The Orioles have amassed the best record in their division when it comes to games against their division rivals. By winning these important games, they solidified a playoff berth, and shocked the millions who pegged them as a team to finish 30 or more games behind.
This anomaly in the standings has been a gift to fans in Baltimore, starved for meaningful baseball in the fall, but I think the biggest gift will be that shmuck who said “Screw it, why not?” and threw down $20 on Baltimore back in March.