Passing Judgment – April Fools’ Day is over, right?

The great thing about spring training and Opening Day is that every major league baseball team starts off on equal footing and thinks they have a chance at making the playoffs.  Everyone has a clean slate, so the past is forgotten and the future is is pursued.  Coming into the 2011 season, most “experts” predicted that the Boston Red Sox would win the American League East and likely represent the AL in the World Series.  These same “experts” also likely prognosticated that the Baltimore Orioles would finish in the basement of the American League East and be a stepping stone for the contenders.  And come October, they may be right.  But as we sit here on April 4, 2011, just a few days into the season, what was up is down, and what was in is out.

The Red Sox just got swept out of Texas by the defending American League champions and did not look good in the process.  Boston’s starting pitching did not live up to the hype over the first three games.  Additionally, Carl Crawford, one of the prized free agent acquisitions, didn’t show much to justify his enormous contract either.  It is only three games, but everything the Red Sox do is viewed under a very narrow microscope.  On the flip side, the Orioles are now 4-0 after sweeping the defending AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays and the defeating Detroit in their home opener in Baltimore.  This is the first time since 1977 that the Orioles started 4-0.  They didn’t make the playoffs that year, but the point is driven home that this is not a common occurrence for this once proud franchise.  The thing is that, on paper, Baltimore has one of the more explosive lineups in baseball.  With the additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy, the Orioles have provided solid depth to complement Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters.  The problem is that the O’s pitching is young, inexperienced, and very shallow. 

So after all the moves were made in the off-season and then analyzed to death, look where we are after just four days.  The Orioles are already three and a half games ahead of Boston in the standings.  I don’t think anyone would have predicted that and not been committed to an insane asylum.  But that is what is so great about baseball.  In the end, the law of averages will likely prevail and the Red Sox will hit their stride, likely leaving the Orioles well behind in their rear-view mirror.  But for now, it is fun to see the standings look upside down.  Props to Buck Showalter who once again proves that he knows how to change the culture of a young, losing team.  Hopefully he’ll have the chance to see it through if Baltimore can somehow maintain this pace.

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