It's the feel-good story of the young baseball season: the Orioles are 5-1 and in first place in the American League East. I got my first televised glimpse of my team on Thursday evening courtesy of the MLB Network: the final game of their home series with the Tigers. I also got to hear Mike Flanagan doing the color commentary on the very day that I featured him on my A to Z list.
Photo via PRO Rumors
A hot streak is a beautiful thing to watch in any sport. With baseball in particular, where expected failure is central to the game, watching a team with faith that it can and will win is an extraordinary experience. The season is long and this still highly-flawed team in the Majors' most hazardous division is undoubtedly in for some rough patches. But right now, whether it's Showalter or the presence of seasoned veterans like Derrick Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, this team clearly believes.
Good pitching has been the early story but I think that over the course of the coming year, the best thing the Birds have going for them is a high-quality lineup, top to bottom. The Oriole batting order is not likely to terrify the opposition the way those of their division rivals will. But batters 1-9 (when J.J. Hardy is playing short) are all pretty darn good - good enough that you can't pitch around anyone. That's a luxury the organization hasn't enjoyed for a very long time and IF everyone can stay healthy, they'll keep opposing pitching staffs on their toes. Even with César Izturis getting the occasional start at short as he did on Thursday, the defensive upgrade in the middle of the infield helps make up for the weaker 9-spot at the plate.
I've set a personal goal for myself for the 2011 season. I'm going to learn how to keep a scorecard. I watched my grandfather fill one out at my very first live baseball game at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha and have always been intrigued. However, I've never taken the time to learn to do it on my own - until now. The combined advantages of DVR and wireless Internet make it a lot easier. I can pause games and check online to be sure I score an unusual play correctly without leaving the couch. If I fall asleep, no worries - a genuine peril as I don't start watching until after My Wife goes to bed. I can finish the next day, or even the day after. I wrapped up the Orioles-Tigers affair this morning over coffee.
It's really a wonderful way to follow a game and I regret not learning sooner. It isn't particularly complicated, either. The one play I'm not entirely sure I got right was the bizarre outfield exchange in the fourth inning between O's center fielder Adam Jones and right fielder Nick Markakis. Jones bobbled the ball into Markakis's glove. The official scorer called it an assist for Jones and a putout for Markakis. I scored it as 8-9, not something you see very often. Of course, replays showed that the ball hit the wall before either man secured it but no umpire without bionic vision could possibly have seen it.
The one drawback to DVRing a game is that one can't be sure when it will end. Even with a half-hour extension, I only caught the very beginning of the ninth inning. Perhaps I'll set an hour extension for future recordings.
With the Diamondbacks' Miguel Montero sporting a .545 batting average, a statistical analysis of any team's strengths and weaknesses is meaningless at this point of the season. Nonetheless, it's worth checking in on a few of Matt Trueblood's ten things the Orioles must do to win the pennant:
1. Brian Matusz becomes an ace. He's still on the disabled list.
2. Koji Uehara wins the the closer role. Kevin Gregg is the closer for the moment but it's tough to argue with his success thus far: 0.00 ERA over two innings of work with one save. Of course, Uehara also has a 0.00 ERA with 2.2 innings in the setup role. At least for now, it's a nice problem to have.
5. Justin Duchscherer gets healthy. Can't say it's looking too promising at the moment.
7. Zach Britton finds his way. With all of the injuries in the starting rotation, Britton got the call up a lot sooner than expected, pitching the third game of the season. He pitched an absolute gem, too: 1.50 ERA over six innings of work, plus the win. He gets his second start today, in the front end of the doubleheader with Texas.
8. Left field poses a good problem. Six games in, Luke Scott and Félix Pié have each gotten three starts in left. Scott still appears to be the choice when available but Pié was the first man off the bench in the three games he didn't start. Pié's numbers are definitely better thus far, hitting .273 as opposed to a skimpy .100 for Scott.
So, there's some good news and some bad news. Perhaps the best news is that the O's are playing so well, even when conditions are less than perfect.