The Baltimore Orioles entered this season with questions about their starting pitching. While those concerns remain, the offense has done much more than its share.
Winners of five straight, the Orioles will look to continue their torrid hitting when they open a three-game set against the visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Baltimore has been one of baseball’s biggest surprises in the first month, sitting in first place this late in the season for the first time since their last AL East title in 1997.
Since getting shut out in consecutive games by the Red Sox last week, the Orioles have rebounded with five straight wins, capped by a come-from-behind 11-8 victory at Boston on Tuesday.
While the starting pitching has been better than expected, Baltimore is winning with plenty of offense. During their 5-0 road trip to Toronto and Boston, the Orioles scored 43 runs, hit .360 with 11 home runs and stole nine bases.
“Every day, we find someone else to do the job,” said Orioles catcher Javy Lopez, seventh in the AL with a .356 average. “From one to nine, we’re all hitting good. There’s no window for any pitcher to relax.”
If the Orioles don’t have the best offense in the AL, they certainly can claim to be the most versatile.
They lead the league with a .303 team batting average and .489 slugging percentage. They also lead in runs, and are second in homers (29) and stolen bases (22). The last team to lead the league in both home runs and steals was the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.
“The way the offense is, you have speed at the top, speed on the bottom and you have thunder in the middle,” Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. “Guys are aggressive on the bases. They are running, they’re stealing and they are making things happen.”
Several of the Orioles are off to fast starts, none better than second baseman Brian Roberts, who is second in the league in average (.368), tied for second in homers (seven) and steals (nine), first in runs scored (19) and fourth in RBIs (23).
Shortstop Miguel Tejada, also among the league leaders with a .341 batting average, is tied for second in RBIs (25). He went 9-for-24 with two home runs and drove in six on the 5-0 trip.
Even first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, one of the few Orioles who has struggled with the bat this season, is showing signs of coming around. He finished the trip 7-for-18, raising his average 47 points to .247.
“I feel pretty good so far this year,” Palmeiro said. “The more at-bats, the better I am going to feel. And I made some adjustments, and I think they are going to carry through.”
Tampa Bay squandered a three-run lead in a 7-4 loss at Toronto on Wednesday, its fourth straight defeat.
The Devil Rays, swept in a three-game series for the second time this season, dropped to 1-7 on the road. Only Kansas City has a worse overall record in the AL.