October 23, 2017

Orioles defy odds early on, sit atop AL East

Chris Davis (right) has slugged 5 home runs in the first 11 games of the season. Photo courtesy of Zimbio.

After an offseason that most experts left Baltimore at the bottom of the AL East, many feared that the Orioles would miss the playoffs for the 17th time in 19 years.

In March, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci predicted the O’s to go a dismal 69-93 in 2016, bringing up the rear of the division. He quoted a lack of pitching and an inability to get on base his main justifications.

Just 11 games into the season, with the Orioles standing at 8-3, Verducci may be wrong.

The bullpen in Charm City is hot, and the bats are even hotter.

The Orioles relievers are off to one of the best starts in the MLB, ranking second in the American League with a 2.03 ERA over 40 innings of work. The triple threat of Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Zach Britton has already shut the door in more than a few games, preserving early key wins.

Brach has been astonishing thus far, giving up no runs while recording 10 strikeouts on 7.1 innings pitched. If Brach was qualified, he would lead the majors with a microscopic .045 BAA.

Additionally, Dylan Bundy has completed his long journey back to the majors and his mechanics are looking as polished as ever. He has only pitched 3.1 innings, yet it’s obvious to see that he has stronger command over every one of his pitches.

This January, it seemed as if it was a foregone conclusion that Chris Davis was not going to return to Baltimore. Davis had recently turned down a seven-year deal worth an estimated $150 million, and many believed that the Yankees were going to submit an undeniable offer.

The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck reported that Davis was “in a holding pattern”, with his agent waiting for a better offer to walk through the door.

General Manager Dan Duquette prepared for the worst, signing free agent 1B/OF Mark Trumbo in a move that many believed signified the end of contract negotiations with Davis.

However, the two sides eventually came to an agreement and Davis signed a whopping seven-year, $161 million contract – largest in Orioles history.

Although Davis would return to the club, Trumbo’s signing would become a major key for the early season success.

As of April 18th, Trumbo leads the American League with a .386 batting average, with his teammate, and early-season MVP candidate, Manny Machado second in AL batting with a .383 average. Trumbo, Davis and Machado are also all at or near the top of AL in regards to HRs and RBIs to start the season.

Amid all of the astonishing numbers posted so far by his teammates, J.J. Hardy seems to have found his bat again after posting a dismal .219 average in the 2015 campaign. Even Adam Jones, who just missed nearly a week with a torso injury, looks poised to return to all-star form this season.

Rule 5 draft pick Joey Rickard is arguably the biggest surprise out of the gates, impressing Buck Showalter enough to get moved up into the leadoff role.

Rickard, once a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, is batting .304 with 1 home run in his rookie year. Most Rule 5 picks usually spend their first season in the majors by meddling in the dugout with opportunities to play being few and far between.

The next year, these players typically find themselves on AA or AAA teams, struggling to get an actual shot in the big leagues.

Rickard doesn’t look like he’ll follow that same path, though Rickard looks like he could become a major part of the Orioles future.

With the pieces appearing to come together, and sitting atop of the division due in large part to a 7-0 start, the O’s look like they’re ready to take the next step.

The bullpen in Baltimore is hot — the bats are even hotter — and expert opinions, like Verducci, are being defied.

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