Orioles Sweep The Rays, Come Out Of The Gate On Fire
After the 34-23 record down the stretch under Buck Showalter last year and an offseason in which Baltimore brought in Vlad Guerrero, J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds and Derek Lee, I think most people thought the Orioles would be a better team in 2011. Better is one thing, but sweeping last year’s AL Division Champs on the road is something that I doubt even the Baltimore brass considered possible, yet that is exactly what they did.
The Orioles never showed any doubt in their ability to play Tampa, which I think is a strong testament to the influence of Showalter on this team. And they won these games in every phase of the game as they simply out pitched, hit and played better defense than the Rays. If you looked at those two teams and wanted to pick the team that won 90+ games last season and took the A.L. East title, you would have to pick the Orioles as they looked more prepared and focused.
I think the most impressive thing about the Orioles three game sweep of the Rays, was the fact that Baltimore held them to just 3 runs in 3 games. Through three games into the season, no other team has scored fewer than 8 runs, yet the Orioles limited Tampa to a run a game. That impressive show of pitching and defense, is what has been severely lacking in the Orioles for quite some time. The Rays were the team with what was considered the far superior pitching, with David Price, James Shields and Wade Davis, but the Orioles starters (Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton) simply out pitched them. What is even more positive for Baltimore is the fact that, things could even get better. The Orioles number 2 pitcher and probably their most talented arm, Brian Matusz, was scratched from game two with tightness in his back. The injury could take a month or more to heal, but when he comes back there is little doubt that the Orioles are a much better team.
Now I know people will say that the Rays aren’t the same team that won the A.L. East last year as they have had to replace Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, but that is a fairly simplistic excuse. For one thing Carlos Pena wasn’t exactly the most productive Ray last season, and Tampa brought in Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to help replace the offense that was lost.
Now the one cause for concern that the Orioles have to face is how quiet their bats were. The Orioles managed just 12 runs in 3 games, which were less than what the White Sox put up on Opening Day. Overall, I don’t think it is too much of a concern as the Orioles were facing some of the toughest pitching in baseball. Also, with bringing veteran guys like Guerrero, Hardy, Reynolds and Lee, you know that you will get better production than what you saw last year out of Atkins, Wiggington, Tejada, and Izturis. So I have every confidence that the Orioles’ bats will begin to come around.
Baltimore will need their bats quickly as their schedule doesn’t get any easier. Through May 1st the Orioles will face the Yankees 6 times, and the Red Sox, Rangers, Twins and White Sox 3 times. The only series they have against a team that finished below .500 last season is a three game set against the Indians. Outside of that the Orioles will be tested quickly to see if this hot start is real or just an illusion. While right now I wouldn’t attempt to read too much into this start, I think that one month from now if the Orioles are still atop the A.L. East it will be time to start taking Baltimore a bit more seriously.