In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves, “Whoa”.
Thanks to an impressive sweep of the Minnesota Twins, the Baltimore Orioles are in a tie for first place with the Tampa Bay Rays. Earlier in the week I did an official Rant Sports Power Rankings, and the Orioles were listed as the 29th team. It’s early, but it’s clear that the Twins are even less impressive than I gave them credit for, and the O’s just might surprise us in a good way this year.
The big key to the sweep was the rebirth of Nick Markakis. In the offseason I took a look at Markakis’s struggles and realized that in order for him to show off the power that had been missing for the past few years, he would need to start driving fastballs again. It sounds simple enough, but Markakis has really struggled against fastballs during the past couple of years. He showed significant improvement in his ability to drive a fastball against the Twins, and as a result three of his five hits went for extra bases. He hit two home runs and a triple, and even added in three walks. While a 1.447 slugging is slightly unrealistic, if Markakis has continued success against fastballs in 2012 his fast start won’t be a fluke.
Adam Jones also got off to a strong start, hitting a solo home run and batting over 300. There’s been talk for years now that the Orioles will trade him, and given that he doesn’t have a long term contract a big year can only increase his value. The rest of the offence wasn’t very productive, but given the Twins struggles they didn’t need to be in order to win.
Entering the season it was the pitching that was full of question marks, but only Jason Hammel and Troy Patton allowed runs against the Twins. Hammell had a near no hitter against the Twins, while Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter managed to shut down Minnesota for 7 innings each. The bullpen got the job done, and thanks to the starters going deep into games they will be rested for their next series against the New York Yankees.
After a disappointing season, it’s nice for the Orioles to get off to a positive start. Even if it’s just a mirage, the Baltimore Orioles are currently the division leaders of the American League East. And that’s the best start to the season that anybody could have asked for.