And Theyâ€™re Offâ€¦
If thereâ€™s one thing I learned in the past week, itâ€™s been the unpredictability in found in the nature of sports. Who really thought that after six games both the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays would be held without a win? Hadnâ€™t Boston already punched their tickets for this yearâ€™s World Series? Didnâ€™t the Rays win the AL East last season?
I donâ€™t care if youâ€™re Bill James or Miss Cleo, no one can predict what will happen in the sports world. Itâ€™s just not possible. If you want to talk about unpredictability, set your sights towards Baltimore, Maryland. Did anyone honestly think that, though the first week of the 2011 season, the Baltimore Orioles would be leading in the American League East standings after battling some of the best ballclubs in the MLB? I sure didnâ€™t.
Whether you believe in the birds of Baltimore or not, itâ€™s difficult, if not down right impractical, to ignore the fact that Buck Showalter has exuded an infectious confidence that has taken over his team. Baltimore (5-1) has demonstrated that their late-season success in 2010 â€“after Showalter took over as manager â€“ wasnâ€™t a fluke. In fact, Baltimore is 39-27 since Buckâ€™s takeover on August 3rd of 2010. Thatâ€™s the best record of any MLB club from August 3, 2010 to March 8, 2011
So, where does this team go from here? Itâ€™s hard to tell. Remember, sports are unpredictable. What is known for sure comes from the past. In the past the belief in Baltimore was, and had been for some 13 years, that the Orioles were the bottom-feeding team of the American League. The Oâ€™s were a team that accepted the concussive smacks, which amplified throughout the stretches of every ballpark, from opposing teams and never fought back. They were literally the Cleveland Indians from Major League. But that was then and this is now.
A lot can change in 66 games, canâ€™t it?
Hereâ€™s what we learned over the weekend:
- A Texas-sized Task:
The Rangers seriously have a vendetta out after losing the 2010 World Series â€“ the clubâ€™s first World Series appearance in team history. To kick off 2011, they crucified Red Sox pitchers and hitters, alike and then stormed over the Mariners in a three-game series, which included a beat down of King Felix. As a club Texas was hitting .284 and took pitchers deep an astounding 13 times before the start of the weekend. We all knew that the Rangers could hit, but whatâ€™s been most surprising is the pitching in Texas. The Rangers staff held a 2.84 ERA coming into the weekend series and, obviously have helped the club win all of their six games. Derek Hollandâ€™s performance today against the Oâ€™s on Sunday just shows the depth of the Rangersâ€™ pitching staff. Just imagine what this team will look like if Brandon Webb ever makes his way back on the mound. Texas is clearly a team that was left behind when analysts were making their 2011 predicitons. It looks like theyâ€™ve used it as bulletin board material to help motivate their scorching start, because they havenâ€™t once let off the gas. Over the weekend Baltimore only took one win from the three-game series, but it was clearly a true testament to gauge what sort of ballclub the Orioles really are.
- Brittonâ€™s second crack at the bigs:
Zach Britton was fantastic last weekend on the mound in Tampa Bay. He made the Rays look foolish for six innings and picked up the win. He was dealing with a very large task to accomplish on Saturday as he matched up against Colby Lewis and the undefeated Texas Rangers in his second start of the season. But Britton showed that he can clearly back up the hype as took down the mighty Rangers in the first game of the Saturdayâ€™s doubleheader. The young lefty only allowed seven men on base through 7 2/3 innings demonstrating great poise in his second big-league start. He only fanned two, but thatâ€™s saying a lot against a Rangers club that had already scored 42 runs coming into the series. Heâ€™ll face the Cleveland Indians next Friday in a very favorable match up. Â
- Adam Jones is taking big strides to stardom:
Adam Jones, who has gotten off to a slow start (2 hits in 19 AB) made his presence felt on Thursday against the Detroit Tigers, clubbing in three runs including a two-run homer. I hate to judge any guy with just 19 AB, but Jones showed against the Tigers what heâ€™s capable of doing when hitting deeper in the lineup. Over the weekend, Jones broke out for three hits, during the day-night doubleheader, including his third homerun of the year. While he only has two stolen bases, which doesnâ€™t necessarily pad his statistics, expect to see more steals from Jones as he continues to swing the hot bat.
- Canâ€™t question Bad Vlad:
Heâ€™s a machine. Thatâ€™s the best way to put it. I know I ripped him a bit in my last column, but Guerrero is going to hit. He smacked his first home run of the season last night and also knocked in a pair of runs. Hitting Vlad clean up is going to be a big plus and a huge help and will keep the guys in front of him (Roberts, Markakis and Lee) getting better pitches to hit. Guerrero had two straight multi-hit games over the course of the week and looks to have found his form from last season. He only had two hits in eight AB against his former club this past weekend, but whatâ€™s most important is that Vlad is looking healthy he hasnâ€™t been striking out (only five whiffs) in the early goings of the season.
- SS Hardy to the DL:
The biggest hit the Orioles took this weekend, wasnâ€™t dropping the series to Texas, but losing shortstop J.J. Hardy to an oblique injury on Saturday night. Hardy came in to hit on Sunday and after sustaining the injury, but after just one at bat, Hardy obviously aggravated it and was benched for the remainder of the game. The shortstop has been prone to injuries his entire career and was only hitting .227 on the season, but still, if heâ€™s out for an extended period of time (diagnosis recommends six weeks), the Oâ€™s will feel his absence as Cesar Izturis will man the nine spot in the lineup.