he Baltimore Orioles finished last season 69-93, last in the A.L. East. This year the team hopes to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. (AP)

Last season, the Baltimore Orioles went 69-93. They finished last in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the New York Yankees. But according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, observant Orioles fans began to sense a change in the spring.

“I think there were indications that this team was better by mid-April,” Connolly said. “But really, I don’t think fans truly got on board until the last three weeks or month or so, because they were waiting for the collapse that inevitably comes with 14 consecutive losing seasons. They were waiting for it to fall apart, and I think they finally believe now that this team is a playoff team.”

Orioles pitcher Joe Saunders says the explanation for the jump from worst in the league to contender is simple.

This team could be destined for more than just making the playoffs… Even when things go wrong, somebody steps up to make things go right.
– Dan Connolly, Baltimore Sun

“We’ve thrown the ball well,” Saunders said. “We’ve had clutch hits. We’ve caught the ball well. We’ve done everything well, so, it’s a recipe for good things to happen.

That recipe has been especially successful during extra inning games. According to Connolly, going into the weekend, nobody had worked late better than the Orioles.

“Their first 17 extra-inning games, they lost the first two and won 15 consecutively,” Connolly said. “That is the longest streak of consecutive extra-inning games since the 1949 Cleveland Indians. They have a tremendous bullpen, which has been able to keep the other team from scoring, and then they hit a lot of home runs. They’re 7-0 after the 13th, which is, you know, inexplicable.”

Inexplicable, perhaps, but no less delightful for that as far as Orioles fans are concerned.

Much of the credit has gone to Manager Buck Showalter, who has convinced this collection of alleged has-beens and unproven youngsters they could win. Dan Duquette, who joined the Orioles as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations late in 2011, has restocked the roster when necessary with the likes of Manny Machado, who’s been something of a one-man highlight film at third base over the last few weeks. Adam Jones leads the team in homeruns, and he has specialized in extra-inning long balls. The team has been so consistently tenacious in keeping pace with the Yankees that fans might not consider just making it into the playoffs sufficient.

“Yeah, I think they’re greedy now,” Connolly said. “The funny thing about this team is, it should not be where it is. It’s not that good on paper. So they really shouldn’t be where they are, and they just keep winning. So I think there’s a feeling in Baltimore now that this team, you know, could be special. This team could be destined for more than just making the playoffs because everything has… Even when things go wrong, somebody steps up to make things go right.”