Winning when the pressure's off
Maybe we shouldn't focus so much about why things unfolded as they did for the Baltimore Orioles this season as much as we should the psychology behind it. Here's the thing for starters; I've never bought into the whole sports psychology thing. Players need to play, coaches need to coach, and folks such as myself write about it...not much to see here. However, suddenly this team has sprung to life just as it did in the latter part of last season. The question is whether or not this is coincidence, or if there's perhaps a little more than meets the eye.
Through the months of May, June, and July, this team seemingly couldn't do anything right. They seemed to invent new ways to lose games. Whether it was Kevin Gregg blowing saves or someone booting a ball in the field to allow the go-ahead/winning run(s), it was no mystery that somehow the other team would find a way. Keep in mind that when the baseball season starts the common saying is that hope springs eternal. So is it possible that at the time the pressure of hope springing eternal got to the Orioles? The O's took two-of-three from Tampa last week, two-of-three from Anaheim this past weekend, and they took the first of five games with Boston yesterday. In other words, the pressure's off a bit. They can just sit down and play without worrying about the consequences (good or bad).
I'm playing devil's advocate here a bit. If the above-mentioned scenario is true, what would that say about the mindset of this team and this organization? It would indicate some pretty fragile guys if you ask me. The mark of greatness in an athlete or in any person is that you have the ability to rise to the occasion when the stakes are high. How often do we hear during August (NFL preseason) that this team or that is looking good? Generally someone will also throw in the disclaimer it's only preseason. In other words, these games don't count, so let's not get overly excited; better to see if guys can rise to the occasion when something's actually on the line. However what good is an athlete if he can't produce when something's on the line...ever? Furthermore, what good is a team as a whole if it can't produce when something's on the line...ever?
This in itself is a psychological problem, but I'm not prepared to admitt that's the issue at hand. There are a lot of reasons that have to do with a team doing well or poorly. The Orioles' main problem is still pitching, and that will always make a huge difference in a team's season. However there again; was the pitching poor partly because the guys subconsciously were trying not to make a mistake? I would say that any athlete that allows self-doubt to creep into their head during a game shouldn't be playing. In or out of sports, this world is not a place for the faint of heart. Whether this is the case for the Orioles is something that only the players can truly answer. Each and every one of them needs to think about this over the winter, as does any player that's acquired over the off season. I'd rather see a guy play well in May and June when the season's truly on the line. Rising to the occasion when it counts is part of what the city of Baltimore stands for.