Are the Baltimore Orioles for real?

Jason Hammel has been a pleasant surprise for the Baltimore Orioles. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

In a recent post, I mentioned we would get to see how real the Orioles are in May after playing the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. They still have three more games against the Texas Rangers, three against the Tampa Bay Rays and then two more against the Yankees to start the month, but after their recent sweep of the Red Sox it is a justified time to start considering them a real contender.

As of Tuesday, they are tied for the best record in baseball at 19-10 and even with the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. In their five recent wins over the Yankees and Red Sox they outscored their opponents 35-13 scoring at least five runs in every game. Monday’s 14-3 pasting by the Rangers was quite the stumble, so the next three games will be telling.

I don’t think the offense has ever been the question with this team. They have power up and down the lineup with J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Mark Reynolds and Matt Wieters.

Jones is off to a great start hitting .307 and belting his eighth home run on the year in the 17th inning against the Red Sox Sunday to help give the Orioles a win. Wieters is clipping at his heels at .301, with seven home runs and 18 RBIs.

They were also getting great production from Nolan Reimold before he was sent to the disabled list. He was batting .313 with five home runs and 10 RBIs when he hurt his neck. He’s expected to make a couple of rehab starts soon before returning to the lineup.

They’re 11th in the league in hitting and 10th in runs scored. They only trail the Yankees in home runs with 43 on the season. As a team, they still strikeout at extraordinary rate (222/81).

The surprise of this team has been the great pitching it has gotten from its starters and, more so, its relievers. As of right now they own the best ERA in the American League at 2.99 and the Rangers are the closest at 3.25.

After designated-hitter Chris Davis tossed two scoreless innings in that 17 inning affair against the Red Sox, it proved that this staff is for real. Even the position players can go out there and shutdown one of the best lineups in baseball.

While that might be a stretch, Jason Hammel has been a big surprise at the top of this rotation posting a 2.09 ERA through six starts and 38.2 innings pitched. He’s walked 11 batters and struck out 38. Perhaps getting out of Coors Field has helped Hammel settle down, but he’s pitching incredible this year and apparently helping the rest of the young pitching staff.

Jake Arrieta has been solid all season striking out 33 and only walking nine in 38 and one-third innings. He’s currently 2-2 with a 3.52 ERA. Wei-Yin Chen has turned out to be a great pickup as he’s posted a 2.76 ERA in five starts and is 2-0.

The real strength of this team, and something that is becoming a trend in this sport, is the effectiveness of its bullpen. They are tops in the league with a 1.54 ERA and eight wins.

Closer Jim Johnson and setup man Matt Lindstrom have combined to throw 25.2 scoreless innings allowing 16 hits, seven walks and striking out 25 batters. Darren O’Day has been just as effective through 14 innings giving up only one run.

Pedro Strop has worked the most innings at 17 and has only given up three earned runs and struck out 15.

The big question: Are the Baltimore Orioles for real?

As we’ve seen over the past couple of years, a strong bullpen is very important to the success of a ballclub. With all the troubles the Red Sox are having at the backend and with the Yankees losing Mariano Rivera, this could potentially open the door for the Orioles to sneak into the playoffs.

I don’t believe this pitching staff will hold up all season. As good as they’ve been early on, history just doesn’t suggest they’ll stay on this path, and at some point, they’ll wear down that bullpen as the Atlanta Braves did last season.

There is no doubt this offense is legitimate. They will put up runs for the pitching staff and keep them in a lot of ball games. I’m a firm believer in Buck Showalter and his methods, but this would be one miraculous job of coaching if he were to pull this off.

This division is just too difficult. Coming into the season we all thought the Toronto Blue Jays would be the surprise team in the East, and they’re playing well, too, at 16-13. No one is even talking about the Rays who are quietly playing great baseball. I just don’t see the Orioles keeping this up all year.

Ultimately, I believe everyone, except maybe the Red Sox, passes them. But it sure does make this AL East even more compelling with all five teams being competitive. This is going to be a great race to watch unfold all season.



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