O What a Week
When I started writing this post four weeks ago, I figured I’d be writing “what a great week for the Orioles” about as many times as “That new Adam Sandler movie looks like a return to form” and “I really enjoy the taste of a good olive” (I f***ing hate olives). And yet here I sit, and really: wow. What a great week for the Orioles. On a road trip that would have been a success at 3-3, the Orioles will land at BWI with series wins over two of the better lineups in baseball, and the best record in the sport. In other news, the elevator in the warehouse has a newly installed stop at Cloud Nine.
I said last week that what would make the media start to take stock of Baltimore would be solid pitching. This trip to the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s had everything from serviceable (Chen’s workmanlike 5 IP vs Boston) to downright dominant. Jason Hammel was very good against New York, and ace-like against Boston. David Ortiz waving at a 2-seamer that was about a foot off the plate and then asking the ump if it was a strike stands out. Hammel turned a .371 hitter into a confused little leaguer. Mark that down as good.
Jake Arrieta and Matt Wieters found 9 separate marks in New York for a three-pitch monty game, and took them for all of their substantial worth. Brian Matusz might as well have moonwalked on the tight rope against the Yankees, busting fastballs in on lefties and burying changeups and curves like an undertaker.
Last week, I said the key to keeping up with the Yankees and the Red Sox would be minimizing walks and errors. In the Bronx, free passes were about as easy to find as free parking (4 BB issued by O’s pitchers in 27 innings) and errors were as common as cheap beer (0 errors by the Orioles the entire series). The trip to Fenway was definitely sloppier (6 errors in three games), but was saved by what has become the best firefighting unit in baseball: the Orioles bullpen. I hate to interrupt the parade coming down Eutaw, but it’s time to reach for your umbrellas.
Series wins in May do not win divisions (last year’s Indians team can tell you that). As impressive as the last 6 games were, think of the Yankees and the Red Sox like the main bad guy in a video game.
When you first face Bowser in Super Mario 64, it’s actually relatively easy. Then the second time, the easy strategies you used at first stop working and maybe you die once or twice. By the third time, the platforms are smaller, Bowser spews fire in every direction, blasts seismic waves in between, and it takes you half an hour of joystick mashing to come out on top.
The Orioles just strolled into the Bronx and took out Bowser #1. The Yankees will adapt: the firepower will get heavier (Cano and Teixeira will start putting up numbers befitting their names) they’ll be harder to hit (CC Sabathia’s ERA will dip under his weight), the weak spots will be smaller (Phil Hughes will not be in the rotation the whole season) and there will be a few new wrinkles to get used to (they’ll cut some checks and prospects to get starting pitching at the deadline). Beating the April Yankees is a good feeling, beating the July Yankees is tougher, and beating the finished product in September is only for advanced players.
The biggest test left for the O’s is some real adversity. Whether it’s a big injury or a prolonged cold streak, it’s going to happen. The Yankees won 97 games last year and lost 4+ in a row on three separate occasions. In a 162 game season, leaks spring up on the row boats and the cruise liners just the same. Buck will earn his paycheck patching those holes. For a lot of the players, this season is the first that they’ll face the legitimate outside pressure that comes with expectations. How will a group that has known so much failure hold up to being in the #1 spot?
At the 30 game mark last year, the division leaders were New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Colorado. Half of those teams made the playoffs. Am I buying on the Orioles yet? No, and it’s mainly because it’s difficult to accept some of the apparent truths this season has produced. If I wrote a preseason preview saying Jason Hammel is an ace, the new look Baltimore Bullpen (the Baltimore Bullets?) is the best in baseball, Chris Davis will finally find the directions on how to put it all together, and Robert Andino will hit .300, you sure as shit wouldn’t bother reading me anymore (well, at least until this week probably, by which time I would have invested all my time and money in the lottery industry).
But, at this very moment, I can see the home of the winningest team in baseball from my window. And if I were an Orioles fan, I’d be running through the streets spreading the good word of the Birds, clothes optional. So ride the black and orange wave until you hit the doldrums, and then – for your sake as fans and my sake as a writer – hope there’s another one behind it.
Just down 295
The Nationals pulled off a similar but slightly less impressive feat than the Orioles this weekend, knocking off a weakened incumbent with some timely hitting and great starting pitching. It was not without a price though, as it appears they’ve lost Jayson Werth for about three months to a broken wrist. Werth was 2nd on the team in RBI’s and the all-important clean-up hitter for a lineup laboring to produce even a single run.
I still think the Nationals are a playoff team because of their insanely talented (and deep) starting rotation. Fortunately, it looks like the lineup will get their face (Ryan Zimmerman) back on Tuesday, and boom stick purveyor Michael Morse should be returning at the beginning of June. Those two should provide consistent production. But between the volatility of Adam Laroche and the big gamble that is Bryce Harper, the Nationals have to acquire a bat at the deadline if they’re serious about contending into September.
I recognize that Strasburg is (for now) on the innings limit this year, and maybe some people think next year is a safer time to push the chips to the middle.
But you don’t fold great hands, and you don’t wait a year when your starting pitching is producing at a borderline historic level. The Nationals have the 2nd or 3rd best top 3 in the league, and definitely the best 5-man rotation. If there’s a big bat available at the deadline, I think it would be hard to resist the temptation to swap some prospects in return for putting the Nationals firmly amongst the contenders in the N.L.
One last note on the Nats: It’s impossible not to like Bryce Harper the baseball player. He plays the game with his hair on fire (which might look better than what’s on his head right now), throws lasers from the outfield, and his BP sessions are just as awe-inspiringly ridiculous as you would think. Some people may not be big fans of his personality (Cole Hamels’ welcoming gift last night confirms that), but I know it pisses me off to see million dollar athletes dog it to first base. That will never happen with Harper who plays like a guy on a one day contract, except that he has prodigious talent, and baseball smarts (the steal of home last night took equally large brains and balls that 95% of MLB players don’t have). He’s here to stay. The next time he sees Syracuse will be if he decides to take in an Orangemen game.
Notes on Other Stuff
Great for Jered Weaver picking up the season’s 2nd no hitter. The strike zone he was given had its own zip code, but it just felt wrong that human pitching machine Ervin Santana had one and the best pitcher on the Angels staff didn’t. Problem solved.
Matt Kemp got off to one hell of a start, but it looks like Ryan Braun has heard about enough of the KeMVP talk (Braun last 5 games: 4 HR, 7 RBI, 1.050 SLG). Having them both in your fantasy outfield (along with All-Star starter and Darnell McDonald life ruiner Adam Jones) is a lot of fun.
For two quarters, the Amar’e Stoudemire – Carmelo Anthony dynamic actually worked. Considering the Mets are in 3rd place with a negative run differential right now, it was mighty white of the Knicks to get their first playoff win in their last 13 playoff games. Be forewarned: If I’m still talking about the Knicks in next week’s post, the whole damn thing will probably be about them.
Speaking of the Mets, their rollercoaster of mediocrity has been nothing if not surprising. Ruben Tejada is outplaying Jose Reyes, Minor League enigma and spelling bee nightmare Kirk Nieuwenhuis has somehow completely adjusted to major league pitching, and I don’t have to look at Jason Bay every day. It’s nice. But with a run differential worse than the 9-20 Padres, anyone buying on the Mets right now would have to be completely crazy and/or the Wilpons.
3 Things to Watch
1) God I love Between Two Ferns.
3) It came out a while ago, but if you didn’t see Fight For Your Right Revisited, do yourself a favor. Make Some Noise showed that Beastie Boys were literally still as sharp in their 40’s as they were in their 20’s (Pass me the scalpel, I’ll make an incision, and cut out your part of the brain that does the bitchin). Awesome video with a cast of comedy all stars directed by the late Nathaniel Hornblower (MCA). Definitely sad that MCA is gone so young, but the Beastie Boys put out enough great music (and music videos) that they’ll be remembered for a long, long time.