May we see many more similar pictures.
Ah, April. The ground is still springy with winter thaw, the weather not yet in full spring mode, and the sounds of baseball finally back in the air. Our beloved Orioles begin another journey towards the promised land (slightly ahead of the Blue Jays); and while hope springs eternal, 14 consecutive years of sub-.500 baseball has a way of dampening even the most jovial spirits.
April has not been kind to the O's in the recent past. You have to go back to 2008 to find the last April of above .500 play. But never you mind that! Slap on your orange-tinted glasses, lean back with a bucket of the Kool-Aid, and let's review the first winning April the O's have had in 4 years.
Series #1: BAL v MIN
Opening Day was back in Baltimore after a two year hiatus and OPACY was in fine form with some significant renovations improving the best ballpark in baseball during its 20th anniversary celebration. A sellout crowd of 46,773 was on hand to watch two of the worst teams in the AL last year duke it out.
The obvious storyline of the opening series was the starting pitching with Jake Arrieta (7 IP, 0 ER, 4 K, 2 BB), Tommy Hunter (7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K), and Jason Hammel (8 IP, 2 H, 1 R) all put in very solid performances to lead the O's to a season opening sweep. After last year, the pitching staff in general and the rotation especially were a source for concern on CC; particularly after Jeremy Guthrie, the rock of our rotation, was traded to Colorado for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom. However, early on in the season our starting pitchers have been pitching well and deep into games, allowing Buck to use only the good parts of the bullpen (namely, NOT Kevin Gregg).
Series #2: BAL v NYY
The following series proved far more challenging for the Orioles; as the Evil Empire swept in from its hometown of Mordor. The O's couldn't continue their momentum from the previous series and were swept by the MFY.
This series featured Brian Matusz falling apart quickly after his strong spring, Wei-Yin Chen's solid debut and more defensive miscues than I'd like to recount. Suffice it to say that the O's could have, nay, should have, won at least one of the last two games as they both featured extra inning losses brought on in part by shoddy fielding.
In summary, F#$^ the Yankees.
Series #3: BAL @ TOR
Call me weak hearted but I was pretty pessimistic going into this series. Our recent sweep and former complete inability to win games north of the border got me down. The O's had other plans.
For me, this series was the swallow announcing the arrival of Nolan Reimold. In a series featuring mediocre starting pitching, strong hitting was needed and Moldy answered the call going 5-for-10 with 2 HR and 2 2B in only two out of three games. His clutch two-run homer in the top of the 9th in the first game gave the O's a much needed victory. He's started hot and hasn't slowed down much. Leaving with a series win felt good, even after Matusz and Captain Chaos decided that winning is silly in game 3.
Series #4: BAL @ CHW
This was a crazy series. We had three good starting performances, one crappy one, a bunch of fielding goofs and one outstanding performance by Matt Wieters in the first game of the set.
The wins in this series were hard fought with one game going into extra innings and a couple more being the kind of tight games that the O's just don't usually win. Maybe something is different this year since even with all the errors in the field, the O's found ways to win. Mad props to the bullpen this series. Except for the loss (which was a lost cause early on with Hunter getting hammered) the relief pitching for the O's was stellar. The only reason I didn't praise all four games is because I had to see the abomination named Kevin Gregg in that loss.
Series #5: BAL @ LAA
The last leg of our cross-country road trip landed the O's in sunny SoCal to face the Angels. The Angels have one of the strongest starting rotations in the AL and it showed on this trip with the O's being held to exactly 3 runs in each game.
Brian Matusz and the defense continued their horrid start to the season, Jake Arrieta melted down after 4 strong innings and Dan Haren got a generous K-zone to hold the O's to one win squeezed out in extra innings. Nick Markakis gets my vote as series MBP for his clutch hitting late in game 3. After being squeezed all night at the plate, Nick got 2 critical base hits and knocked in all three O's runs, including the winning one. Not a great way to finish up a road trip even though it ended up as a 6-4 cross country swing.
Series #6: BAL v TOR
Good starting pitching is a beautiful thing to behold. All three games featured quality starting performances by the O's, even one by Brian Matusz (!) en route to a sweep of the Blue Jays and a return to first place in the AL East.
It's quite lucky that the arms came on time since the bats were mostly silent during this series with only 10 runs scored over 3 games. Tommy Hunter earned a win despite living dangerously up in the zone; Jason Hammel continued to impress with a fourth solid outing lowering his ERA to a minuscule 1.73. Brian Matusz was this close to getting his first pitching win in almost 10 months and only gave up two unearned runs on a Nick Johnson error. Matusz showed a lot of improvement this last outing and we all hope we get to see that guy some more.
Series #7: BAL v OAK
The O's rounded out April with a 3 game series against the second weakest hitting team in the majors: the Oakland Athletics. Luckily for them, their pitching almost makes up for it. Sporting a 3.02 ERA and a 3.68 FIP led by Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon and his enhanced repaired shoulder, the O's needed their bats to come alive in order to finish the month on a high note.
After an opening game that was just to meh to describe, the Orioles celebrated the first of six unveiling of statues of the O's greats. Saturday was Frank Robinson's turn. In the game, the O's pounded Tyson Ross early and often and gave Chen an eventual 9-run cushion en route to an easy 10-1 win. Chris Davis, who finally has been hitting consistently with his newfound playing time, went 3-4 with 4 RBIs and the 59th Eutaw Street HR.
The rubber game matched Colon and Hunter against each other and a pitching duel of sorts emerged. While neither pitcher was dominant, the offenses were kept in check until the A's tacked on a run in each of the 6th and 7th innings. O'Day and Strop kept the A's off the board for the rest of the game but it seemed like the O's hitters wouldn't crack Colon. Then, with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles managed to tie the game on a double by SHJ, driving in JJ and AJ. Tie game! Two batters later, Wilson Betemit homered to give the Orioles the walk-off win and the series.
This April seemed different to me. Not just the winning part, but how the O's won. To be successful a team needs to beat the weak teams, be OK against the good teams and hold their own against the mediocre teams. The O's now sit 6 games above .500, a mark they haven't reached since July 20, 2005. That's far too long. All in all it's been a good month and if some of the performances are sustainable (Davis, Hammel, AJ) we might be in for a fun season. So remember this feeling because May and it’s much tougher schedule is right around the corner.