Apr 8, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez (50) is taken out of the game by manager Buck Showalter (26) in the during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. The Rays won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The regular baseball season is underway! The Baltimore Orioles will be home on Friday for their season opener. There is no bad news that is bigger than this good news. Now, if we can just get some cooperative weather in Maryland, that would be awesome.
So what can we take away from the opening series against the Tampa Bay Rays, beyond the fact that the Orioles are 2-1? And though we may have wished for a sweep, we all know that winning two out of three games over the course of a season is more than enough to end up with the best record in MLB.
As always with the Orioles (and I suppose this is true of most teams at most times), it is a mixed bag of results and trends. But here are five takeaways that are going through my mind right now …
The Baltimore Orioles can be a very explosive team.
On several occasions over the first two games we saw the O’s going on an offensive feeding frenzy. Three home runs in game one remind of the firepower on this team. Beginning the second game with four consecutive hits and situational hitting to bring them all home; this is the stuff of winners. There is definitely more speed on this Orioles squad than we have seen in a while. The Birds are indeed a team that can score runs in bunches and in a short time.
The Baltimore Orioles can go into extended hitting funks and be shut down by good pitching.
Just about the time you start to get excited with the Orioles getting on base and scoring runs (like 12 of them in 11 innings), they go into an offensive funk and pass through 16 innings with zero runs and only four hits. They also strike out 13 times in one game. Over the series, the Birds’ batting average was .185, so it really is pretty awesome that they were able to win two-of-three ballgames. Even with some exciting moments from Alejandro De Aza, it is not encouraging that the leadoff hitter is already leading the team in strikeouts (though my money is still on Chris Davis to do that in the end).
The talent is on this O’s team to sufficiently replace the Losses of Cruz and Markakis.
The first game of the year was such an interesting and affirming exhibit that the combination of De Aza, Steve Pearce, and Travis Snider can make some things happen. In total, they are not going to even be a downgrade in the field. And when it is all said and done, I am going to guess that the total number of home runs from outfielders and designated hitters in 2015 may not lag honestly that much behind the stats from the same positional personnel last year. At the same time, I will bet that the batting average is actually higher and offsets the power losses. We’ll see; the talent is there.
For championship success, the Orioles are going to need a strong majority of players performing at the top ends of their historic performances.
That last sentence is just about the least analytical piece of mere common sense as I’ve ever written. This is true of any team at any time. The Orioles had this happen in 2014, especially with pitchers. The Red Sox had it occur in 2013.
So far we have seen Chris Tillman and Zach Britton clearly display this. We could say the same for Sinder, De Aza and Pearce. However, the majority of the others are looking to still have some rust to shake off. How well they do that, and do it fairly quickly, will determine the team level of success for this year.
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The Orioles were overdue to get out of Florida.
Though most of us who are stuck in the north in late winter and early spring would look at ballplayers in Florida as living the good life in paradise, it can get really old and long in the tooth after about six or more weeks of it. Apart from those who have permanent homes in or near Sarasota, it is extended hotel life. Ever have the experience of looking forward to a vacation, but then after a while looking forward to getting back to your own home and bed?
Spring training can become a tedious experience. The pitchers certainly need the length of it in order to be ready for the stresses of the season. The hitters?… not so much. The journalists covering it also find it to be very, very long (not that I don’t still envy that particular piece of suffering).
So it is sort of insult to injury to add the first series of the season against a team just an hour north of one’s own training facilities. After the second inning of the second game, the Orioles REALLY look like a team that needs a change of pace and scenery.
Final thought – All of this is to say that, at this point, I do have some conflicted feelings about where this season could go. I still think the chances are better than average that it is another successful campaign at the top of the AL East. But this team is not free of warts and cracks… though what team really is? And that’s why they play the game. There are 159 remaining.