Over the course of a 162-game MLB season, almost every team in the league will rip off several victories in a row. Baseball is such an up-and-down sport that it’s nearly impossible to avoid a multi-game winning streak or a several-game losing streak. However, when one of those streaks occurs at the beginning or end of a season, they become much more notable. Here in 2016, the Baltimore Orioles did just that by winning seven straight games to start the season.
The now 7-2 O’s, whose lone loss came against the Red Sox on Wednesday, are far from perfect, but they own the best record in the AL, so they’re doing something right so far. Even though they haven’t necessarily played the best teams in the league to this point, the Orioles have displayed a level of excellence that may allow them to be a playoff competitor all season long.
It’s not to say that Baltimore will roll to the best record in MLB lore or anything like that, but we have three reasons why the O’s are more than just a hot start fluke. Instead, they are a team that deserves to be in the discussion among the American League’s best.
Production at the plate
The Orioles do a majority of their damage on offense. With hitters like Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and the newly acquired Mark Trumbo, the team has power and run-scoring ability throughout the entirety of their lineup. So far in 2016, Machado has three homers and Davis has four, picking up where they left off last season when they each ranked in the top 10 in the AL in homers.
Trumbo has adjusted to his new home quickly with two home runs in his first eight games as an Oriole. He could very well join Machado and Davis with around 30-home runs this season. Overall, Baltimore’s offense has proven to be one of the most productive in the game, which is the main reason they jumped out to such a nice start.
However, offense hasn’t been the issue in recent seasons for the O’s, as they ranked in the top 10 in all of baseball in runs scored just last season. Their pitching is what has held them back in the past, but that could all change if their arms continue to perform like they have in the early going.
Stronger in the rotation
The Orioles don’t have the best pitching staff by any means, but a couple of their key guys on the mound have started the season off as well as the team could’ve hoped. Ubaldo Jimenez has been around the big leagues for 10 seasons now, but with the way he pitched in his first start of the year, he could be set up for his best season since 2010 with the Colorado Rockies.
That year, he threw no-hitters and earned the nod as a starter for the All-Star game. That first start in 2016 came against the Minnesota Twins and Jimenez excelled in throwing seven innings with nine strikeouts and just one earned run. Things didn’t go as smoothly in his second start against the Red Sox, but Jimenez has the stuff to dominate lineups throughout the league when he’s on his game.
Alongside Jimenez in Baltimore’s rotation is Chris Tillman, who is also looking for a rebound season of sorts after his ERA swelled to nearly 5.00 last season. On Opening Day, Tillman’s start was limited to just two innings thanks to rain delays, but he was outstanding against the six batters he faced, striking out five.
In start No. 2, Tillman stayed on the mound a bit longer, as he pitched five innings of four hit, one earned run ball with another five strikeouts against the Tampa Bay Rays. Tillman has looked locked in so far and if they can get offseason addition Yovani Gallardo to come along, this rotation will have plenty to support their powerful offense.
Since manager Buck Showalter arrived prior to the 2011 season, the O’s have become a consistent team that is usually in the hunt for a playoff berth come September. Prior to his arrival, the team hadn’t won more than 78 games since their ALCS season of 1997 (when Cal Ripken was still manning third base) and had missed the playoffs in 13 straight seasons.
Showalter has won at least 81 games in four of his first five seasons with the team, though, culminating in two playoff appearances in 2012 and 2014 (when the team won the division title and reached the ALCS). He’s changed the culture in Baltimore and now the team expects to win. Couple that with the talent they’ve accumulated over the past several seasons and the result is what we are seeing so far this year.
The Orioles have become a threat in the American League and have the ability to beat any team on any given night. While their hot start doesn’t guarantee them anything, it serves as proof of the work the franchise has put in to get better and produce a consistent contender on the field. Anything short of a playoff berth would be disappointing, but Baltimore has the talent to win the AL East and reach the ALCS for another shot at a World Series appearance this season (somewhere the team hasn’t been since 1983).