May 14, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) is congratulated by Adam Jones (10) and Chris Davis (19) after hitting a three-run home run in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Tigers defeated the Orioles 7-5 completing the three game sweep. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles – The Worst First-Place Team

Who would have thought that about one-quarter of the way through the baseball season the American League East would be the division where the leading team would have the worst record of any of the six teams leading divisions? That first-place team is the Baltimore Orioles at 20-18. Of course the Yankees and Red Sox are only a half-game behind at 20-19, and the Jays likewise have 20 wins but against 21 losses. And finally the Rays are last at 18-23.

The Baltimore Orioles, like everyone else in the league, can point to varied injuries and missing players as an explanation for some of the problem. Lineups are about as varied as the total number of games. Get Machado back, lose Davis; get Davis back, lose Wieters, etc.

But the issue is not limited to this. Inconsistent play is at least as large a factor. Adam Jones has only recently warmed up. Nick Markakis hit through a consecutive games streak, but went completely hitless against the Tigers. Even Nelson Cruz was in a 7-for-35 (.200) prior to his two hits and homer yesterday. J.J. Hardy can’t find any way to hit a homer.

That is the offence. I’ll not even go into the pitching, since so much has been written about it by everyone, along with it being the area of greater concern going into the season. Who would have expected this offense to struggle so much, especially at home?

A mark of a team simply being out of sync and not playing well is an inability to put the offence and defense together. For some reason, it simply happens this way. A team will lose three close, low-scoring games, but then finally have a breakout day at the plate, only to have the opponent score even more. And that sort of describes the current four-game losing streak. The Orioles score four runs in three games, only to score five in one inning against none less than Justin Verlander, yet still lose 7-5.

The good news for the Orioles is that even with all of the scuffling of the early season, a record of 20-18 is the best in the AL East, if only by a slim margin. The bad news is that an opportunity has been lost to gain some separation from those opponents at what might prove to have been their most vulnerable time. Another way of saying this is to turn this article title around and say that the AL East has the best, last-place team!

Maybe it is good at this juncture for the Baltimore Orioles to head out on the road where they have a better record than at home. This trip will begin today with four games in Kansas City – no hitters’ paradise for sure.

And the Orioles will again face a young pitcher in Yordano Ventura who totally shut them down on April 25th with no runs in eight innings, giving up seven hits with striking out eight. He is 2-2 for the season with a 2.34 ERA and WHIP of 1.11.

The Birds will turn to Wei-Yin Chen and hope he has some good stuff working. Chen is 4-2 with a 3.95 ERA. However, over his career, he has had some difficulties with the Royals. In five starts he is 0-1 with a 4.60 ERA. A number of Royals hitters have good numbers against him: Billy Butler is 8-for-15 with two home runs, Eric Hosmer 6-for-14 with two home runs, Alex Gordon 3-for-13 with 1 home run, and Alcides Escobar 4-for-15.

Tags: American League East Baltimore Orioles

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