It has been nearly four months since the Orioles were any semblance of the team that was hoping to turn a competitive corner this year, but maybe the time has arrived to see what you've been missing.
Brian Roberts, Luke Scott and Michael Gonzalez all have returned from the disabled list over the past week, and catcher Matt Wieters is expected back as early as Sunday, which will bring the Orioles as close to full strength as they are likely to get this season.
Does that mean they'll suddenly morph into a formidable team that can truly compete in the American League East?
Probably not, but the return of so many key players should make the O's somewhat more competitive and — more importantly — allow Plan A to be put under a microscope by the front office and the next manager before another set of important personnel decisions have to be made next winter.
"To have basically the [original] team back, it does make it easier to write those names in on a daily basis,'' said manager Juan Samuel. "I think it will be more set. You've got everybody for a couple months of the season to see what this team looks like together.
"That's why you like this situation, because you'll get to see where you are. You'll be able to see what it's going to be instead of what you think it's going to be."
That's very small consolation for Orioles fans, of course, but when you get to the place where the Orioles are right now, you've got to take your positive developments how you find them.
"It's nice to have everybody back or close to it,'' said right fielder Nick Markakis, "but you've still got to go out and play. We've got to go out there and show that we can play together and see how it goes. See what happens for next year. See where we're at."
I'm guessing there won't be a lot of surprises. The Orioles came into this season needing a big bat at the heart of the lineup, and that will not change unless Wieters comes back from his enforced sabbatical with the power bat that everybody was hoping to see in April. The young pitching staff is still a work in progress — and that progress has been sporadic at best.
So, forgive a few of the guys in the Orioles clubhouse if they don't view this as some kind of fresh start.
"It will be nice to be at full strength,'' said pitcher Kevin Millwood, "but I think right now, we're pretty much playing for pride. You just want to try and win as many games as possible and not tank the rest of the season."
Center fielder Adam Jones is a positive fellow, but he's concerned that some people might be expecting too much, particularly from a second baseman/leadoff hitter who has been out of commission for almost the entire season.
"The reality of the thing is, what are you expecting from Brian Roberts?" Jones said. "We all feel like he's going to come right out there and get us going, but it's a process. He hasn't played all year and this team hasn't played with him."
That's true, but just the presence of Roberts in the lineup is a positive development, because he brings stability to both the infield and the batting order. When he's healthy — and Wieters comes back — the Orioles do not have to play any member of the middle defense out of position.
"It's good to see guys back in their old spots,'' said Wieters, "and it'll be good to see our regular lineup out there and see what we can do."
Of course, nothing is going to happen that will make up for the club's ignominious first-half collapse. The Orioles might be able to put something resembling their Opening Day lineup on the field in the next few days, but it won't be Opening Day.
"It's not the same as far as starting the season with the opportunity that we had,'' said Scott, who has come back from the disabled list on one of his signature rolls, "but I'm excited to see what we can do with the situation we've been dealt and how we can make the most of it."
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and with Brett Hollander on Tuesday and Thursday at six. Also, check out his blog "The Schmuck Stops Here" at http://www.baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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