The question is, what got into the Orioles and do they have the staying power?
That is difficult to answer, even for the Orioles.
"There are no Cinderellas, there are no flukes," manager Buck Showalter said a few weeks ago before a game against the Orioles' similarly surprising neighbors, the Washington Nationals. "If you have a weakness, it will show, and if you have a strength, it will show."
So Showalter's philosophy is, let the games play out and see what the Orioles can accomplish.
When Showalter was hired as manager nearly two-thirds through the 2010 season, the Orioles had virtually hit rock bottom with a 35-72 record. Showalter infused life into the team, and the Orioles finished 31-24.
Baltimore couldn't carry the momentum into 2011, finishing 69-93.
So the Orioles didn't exactly generate high expectations entering this season. Yet Baltimore was 32-25 after Thursday's loss to the Red Sox.
"I saw this coming all along," Showalter quipped.
Then he turned serious.
"We kind of raised the bar coming into this year with a lot of our guys, and they understand it," Showalter said.
A positive sign arrived last month, when outfielder Adam Jones, batting .307 with 16 home runs and 35 RBIs and an impressive .936 OPS, signed a six-year, $85.5 million contract extension.
Other than Jones, no position player is having what would be considered a career year. Veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy, the former Milwaukee Brewer, has supplied some power (10 home runs, 25 RBIs).
Matt Wieters is considered among the top catchers in the game, but after a quick start, he has been inconsistent at the plate. He is batting .241 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. Wieters said there is a different vibe with the team this year.
"I feel it is more of a professional locker room, whether we win or lose, the next day we are ready to go, and I think that has been the main thing that has helped us," Wieters said.
The Orioles, who were a season-best 27-14 after a 6-5 win over the host Washington Nationals on May 19, have received great work from the bullpen, beginning with closer Jim Johnson. The righthander has converted 18 of 19 save opportunities and has a WHIP of 0.73.
Matt Lindstrom, the hard-throwing righthander, has pitched well in relief, but he is on the disabled list with a finger injury.
The starting pitching has exceeded expectations, led by Jason Hammel, who is scheduled to start Sunday against the Phillies. The 6-foot-6 righthander is 6-2 with a 2.97 ERA in his first year with Baltimore. Hammel and Lindstrom were traded in the offseason from Colorado for Jeremy Guthrie.
Of course, still looking to catch lightning in a bottle, the Orioles just signed 49-year-old former Phillie Jamie Moyer to a minor-league contract. Moyer had been released by Colorado.
The Orioles look to show their early-season success isn't a fluke, while the Phillies are hoping to play more like Baltimore in the coming months.
Contact Marc Narducci
at 856-779-3225, firstname.lastname@example.org
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