A year ago, the Orioles ended the Red Sox season in the final game of the year, while Tampa Bay snuck into the playoffs with a win over the Yankees.
The exciting culmination of the 2011 season—much of it involving the American League East—culminated in the new playoff system involving a second wild card.
This year, the Orioles are directly involved in the playoff race.
It's been a topsy-turvy year in baseball's most talented division. The Yankees struggled early but remain atop the division while their fellow high-rollers the Red Sox sit in fourth place through Sunday.
If the season ended Sunday, three American League East teams would be playoff bound—including the Orioles.
Once the laughing stock of all of baseball—not just their division—the Orioles have managed to outperform the clubs that outspend them for most of 2012.
Monday, though, the club will start one of its toughest tests of the year. The Orioles just plain struggle in Texas.
It's the club's first trip to Arlington since last year. The Rangers took 3-of-4 in Baltimore earlier this season.
Texas sits atop the American League West and looks poised to make another deep playoff run.
The Orioles season has been full of tests. The three-game series in Buck Showalter's former stomping ground is no different.
It won't define the Orioles season. It won't make or break the Orioles season. But it is a significant showdown in a series of them.
The Orioles haven't lost a series since Oakland took 2-of-3 in Baltimore in late July. Since then, Showalter's club has series victories against the Yankees, Tampa Bay, Boston and Detroit. It swept Seattle and split with Kansas City.
In fact, since losing 5-of-6 in late July—arguably the worst stretch the club faced this season—the Orioles have gone 14-6.
After this trip to Texas, the Orioles play seven straight at home. The series against the Rangers—the two-time defending league champs—marks three of 13 games in the final 41 that are against teams outside of the division.
In other words—this brief trip west to face the Rangers isn't the only wild frontier the Orioles will brave in the final quarter of the season.
Toronto—up next after three in Texas—has a scary lineup of sluggers for the Orioles homer-happy staff to contend with still. The Yankees are just one bad week away from falling back to the pack. Tampa Bay has kept stride-for-stride with the Orioles all year. Boston tried to start a brawl with the Orioles by plunking Adam Jones last week and will be looking for revenge after last year's final game.
Welcome to the Wild, Wild East.
It's going to be a fun ride to the finish.
TELL US: Have you caught Orioles fever yet? Where do you think they'll finish? Leave a comment.