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What A Difference A Month Makes: Late July Baltimore Blues

The great historian of the U.S. Charles Beard once said, "History never repeats itself exactly." I was thinking of that perceptive quote when looking at the mediocre month my Orioles have endured. I never expected that they could repeat their miraculous finish of last year when they won a record number of one-run games, beat the Rangers in the first-ever wild card playoff game, and pushed the Yankees to the limit in the AL Divisional Series.

They took fire last year around August and are certainly still alive in this year's wild card hunt. They are only five games behind the surging Tampa Bay Rays in the lost column for first place in the AL East. But the Birds are spinning their wheels in July and giving no signs that they can put together a winning streak to surge them towards the top.

The slumps of Chris Davis and Manny Machado were predictable. They had spoiled us with home run and double binges, respectively, and to their credit they have continued to play strong defense as does the entire team night after night. Yet the starting pitching remains inconsistent except for the emerging Chris Tillman and hopefully a healthy Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez. The lack of consistent power from other members of the lineup except for Davis is both evident and frustrating.

The return of second baseman Brian Roberts after years of injuries has pleasantly surprised me. He seems to be moving well in the field and driving the ball at the plate. So maybe a lineup that is potentially deep when it is clicking will awaken in the days ahead. Not betting on it but will be rooting for it to happen.

I hope the Orioles will be wise enough not to go for a deadline deal in late July for the quick fix that won't fix anything for the long run. Some teams, however, cannot resist the pressure from the media, including a special MLB-TV program planned for the hours before the mid-afternoon July 31 trading deadline.

Don't get be wrong - I love MLB TV. Even won a mlb.com T-shirt - made in America I'm happy to add- when I asked a question of Mark McLemore at FanFest during All-Star Game about his connection with Adam Jones that I found out goes back to when both were with the Seattle Mariners. Yet long-term views in building an organization should always be foremost.

Meanwhile the Tampa Bay Rays under the guidance of world-class manager Joe Maddon continue their amazing onslaught. After being in the basement briefly in late June, they have surged into first place as of games before July 30. Near the end of July they won back-to-back series on the road against both the traditional AL East powers, Red Sox and Yankees.

The return of last year's Cy Young winner David Price from injury has led the way on a potent starting staff that includes former Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, breakout southpaw Matt Moore, the rookie Chris Archer (pilfered from the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal), and Roberto Hernandez (the former Cleveland star known as Fausto Carmona).

Waiting in the wings to return to the rotation shortly is Alex Cobb who was having an outstanding year when he was hit in the head by a line drive in June. The Rays witnessed the Blue Jays' J.A. Happ suffer a similar injury earlier in the season at their home field Tropicana Park and Happ is still not yet back.

The dangers that ballplayers face every day and the courage they show should never be underestimated. I was an eyewitness on Friday night July 26 to another near-injury when
the Yankees' Ichiro Suzuki almost beheaded Hellickson with a line drive in the first inning.

Hellickson, who won the gold glove last year, reacted quickly and snagged the ball before it hit his jaw. He composed himself quickly and wound up pitching six innings for the win.

It is not likely that Tampa Bay fans will flock to their indoor stadium in St. Petersburg to greet their surging heroes. They remain next-to-last in MLB home attendance. But Florida Gulf Coast sports fans are missing a great opportunity to see a team that lives - really lives one of the mottos of manager Joe Maddon: "Win hard for 30 minutes, lose hard for 30 minutes, and then prepare for the next game."

I don't follow the National League as closely because the Mets while improved are still lacking in so many areas. In late June I did see the Dodgers play the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. I was pleasantly surprised to see many Brooklyn Dodger caps and shirts even though the team has been in LA now longer that they were in NYC's underdog borough.

The expatriates from Brooklyn were still under .500 when I saw them. But you could see the talent ready to explode in Hanley Ramirez, now back playing shortstop, and Yasiel Puig, the Cuban defector. Shortly after leaving NYC, the Dodgers caught fire and have played baseball almost as well as the Rays since then. They lead the NL West now and have two aces in NL Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw and the AL refugee Zack Greinke.

The unpredictable world of baseball continues to unfold and I for one will sit back and enjoy it. I am not letting the continuing fallout from the Biogenesis steroid scandals spoil it for me. I for one wouldn't mind more suspensions of players by MLB except - I stress EXCEPT - I have no confidence that impatient owners will not go bidding crazily for the next free agent with questionable credibility on the PED issue.

One truth remains self-evident: Nothing can or will kill baseball.

That's all for July - see you next month and remember always: Take it easy but take it!
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