O's not looking too far ahead, but developing winning mentality

It's almost the end of May and the Orioles are still atop the American Legaue East standings. While a tainted and scarred fan base might be hesitant to get too excited, you have to wonder: At what point do the players go from surprising fast starters to confident contenders?

How do the 2012 Orioles perceive themselves?

The answer is realistically.

After asking a few O's if they feel they are the team to beat in the AL East, it's clear the Orioles know exactly where they are and how far they have to go. The leaders of this team aren't cocky, but seem proud to be regaining respect around the league.

Adam Jones seemed uncomfortable when I asked him the question. To him, a "yes" would be raising the orange-and-black flag on the mountaintop a little prematurely. "It's more like, don't think you can come in here and beat us like you did in the past," Jones said. "Guys used to come in here who were struggling and would leave hot."

Those days are over. The Orioles' pitching staff has the second best ERA in the American League, and the bullpen is one of the best in baseball this year.

Nick Markakis told me it's the reason the Orioles hitters have confidence they can win every game.

Markakis-Wieters-High Five tall.jpgMatt Wieters described the clubhouse this year as "professional." He said that meant focused. Wieters told me there's the ability, throughout the clubhouse, to not look ahead or behind. Regardless of what happened the night before, win or lose, he told me the Orioles just prepare for the next game - and they believe they can win that game.

It's a very measured approached - and it's working. In my opinion, it's smart. The Birds still have about 120 games left in the season and anything can happen.

But if the Orioles can keep this pace, at some point, they'll have to make that transition and not be afraid to walk with a little swagger.

If it's the second half of the season and the Orioles are still in first, they'll have to start believing they are the team to beat in the division. It's not cocky, it's a winning mentality and they'll need it make a playoff push.

Markakis is already there. Of all the Orioles on the active roster, he's been around the longest and has witnessed the most losing. When I asked if the O's are the team to beat, he wasn't afraid to talk like - here it comes - a Yankee.

"Yeah, I pretty much think we all think that. We're all on the same page. We're all here for one reason," Markakis said.

The Orioles are all here for one reason, and it's not to develop players or feel it's a huge feat to take just two games of a series. With more success, the players will start to accept that the sky won't fall and that it's OK to look ahead.

Envisioning your team in the playoffs never hurt anybody.