Remember last winter, when the Orioles were getting beaten up for not making major moves? Or even back in May, when it seemed like Matt Wieters' blown-out elbow would start a downward spiral?
There are going to be some tough times ahead, sure. Manny Machado's sprained right knee is a cause for concern, as was the suspension he earned for his childish bat toss during that ugly series against the A's back in June. But executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and his staff, including Brady Anderson and Brian Graham, have given manager Buck Showalter productive reinforcements at every turn, and look where the O's are now.
Day-long rains washed out a scheduled game against the Yankees on Tuesday night. But that pause gives us a chance to acknowledge how Showalter's team has played its way into being one of baseball's best after a 12-12 March/April was followed by a 15-15 in May. The Orioles went 16-12 in June, 17-8 in July and have started August 8-3.
That's the pace of a contender that is fully capable of holding onto its 6 1/2-game lead in a watered-down American League East and posing a serious October threat to whoever it plays, including the two powerhouses out west, the A's and the Angels.
If you've been selling the O's short, please stop.
They aren't the surprise team they were in 2012, which down deep had to be happy to make the playoffs. They certainly aren't the team that took a step backward last year. This is an experienced, dangerous group of players who trust themselves and each other. Nobody would look forward to facing in them in the postseason, even if the Orioles don't have a Cy Young Award winner (or three) at the top of their rotation.
Winning can become habit forming, especially when it happens against good teams. The Orioles have been doing that for more than a month now.
The O's most recently played a team with a losing record in early July, when they took two of three from the Red Sox. They've won eight of their past nine three- and four-game series, beating the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Mariners (twice), Angels, Yankees and Nationals. Only the A's took two out of three from Baltimore in this stretch.
The thing that the Orioles do best is hit home runs. They almost never stop hitting them, which is a huge plus in this era of low-scoring games.
They haven't gone longer than two games without hitting a homer since April 14-19, when they went four games without one. Every other AL team has had a streak of at least three games without a homer since then, and six of them have had homerless stretches of at least five games.
Baltimore has hit 150 homers in all, the most in the Majors. Nelson Cruz, who wasn't signed until late February, leads the way with 31, but seven O's are in double figures, including Adam Jones with 22 and Chris Davis with 21.
Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez were signed after languishing on the free-agent market throughout the winter, with teams unwilling to give up the first- or second-round pick it would cost because they had been given a qualifying offer by the Rangers and Indians, respectively. While Jimenez has remained a risky proposition, Cruz has proven himself to be invaluable.
These were typically smart Duquette pickups -- relatively low-risk moves with the chance to pay high dividends. He's operated that way since replacing Andy MacPhail after the 2011 season and has proven himself quite shrewd, with Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Darren O'Day, Bud Norris and Steve Pearce among the additions he's made to fill holes.
Oh, and speaking of MacPhail, he laid the foundation for the Orioles' success by buying low to get J.J. Hardy from Minnesota in 2010 and Davis from the Rangers in '11. MacPhail and his scouts, in particular former scouting director John Stockstill, also did a nice job with the farm system. Witness catcher Caleb Joseph, a seventh-round pick from tiny Lipscomb University who is nicely replacing Wieters' production.
By giving up his team's first two picks in this year's First-Year Player Draft to sign Cruz and Jimenez, Duquette made his own statement about the potential of the team he gave Showalter. Duquette raised the ante by trading 21-year-old lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to Boston for Miller, who was among the most widely pursued players prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Miller has already contributed to three one-run victories in his two weeks with Baltimore, and the O's are 5-1 when he pitches. That doesn't make him Jon Lester or David Price, but Miller might prove just as valuable as those two in September.
The Orioles have built a nice head of steam. It will be a lot of fun to see how they use it.