It won't last, but the start to this Orioles season is a breath of fresh air

April 03, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

Is it too early to print playoff tickets?

What, am I rushing things?

A 3-0 record and first place in the American League East doesn't automatically get you into the postseason?

OK, fine. Maybe the Orioles should wait a few more days. Maybe they should wait to see what happens in this three-game series against the Detroit Tigers that begins with Monday's home opener at Camden Yards.

But remember how the Orioles started last season?

Remember 2-16? And 9-24? Remember closer Michael Gonzalez blowing the save in the season opener to get the horror show started, then doing it again in the home opener and getting booed off the mound?

Remember poor Dave Trembley sitting in the dugout day after day for months with that thousand-yard stare, looking like a man making plans to jump off a bridge?

Compared with that, this three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays has Orioles fans ready to throw a ticker-tape parade.

Look, I bow to no man in my skepticism of how far the Orioles will go this season.

I have them winning about 75 games. And finishing no higher than fourth or fifth in the eat-your-young jungle that is the AL East.

Sure, if you're guzzling the orange Kool-Aid, I'm bumming you out right now.

But that's a realistic assessment. And a nine-game improvement in the win column is nothing to sneeze at anyway.

Having said that, let me also add that this sweep sure was fun to watch.

Let's begin with the three lights-out pitching performances by starters Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman and rookie Zach Britton.

This kid Britton — does he even have a pulse? He makes his first major league start — as an emergency call-up, no less — and gives up just three hits and one earned run while striking out six in the Orioles' 5-1 win Sunday.

And even with 30 family members and friends in the stands, he looks about as stressed as a guy puttering around his tool shed.

All Tillman did in Saturday's 3-1 win was throw a no-hitter for six innings, even if his control was all over the place. And Guthrie, the old man of the staff (he turns 32 on Friday), showed maybe the best stuff of his career in the season-opening 4-1 win.

If you think this game is all about pitching — and I do — Orioles fans have to be thrilled with what they've seen so far.

The rest of the team hasn't been too shabby, either.

Brian Roberts is off to a nice start at the plate and has even managed to stay out of the trainer's room. Nick Markakis made that highlight catch in right field Saturday night to save the win, just one of several outstanding defensive plays the Orioles made against Tampa Bay.

And a couple of the new guys at the bottom of the order, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy, drove in four runs in Sunday's win.

Incidentally, is there any chance of the Orioles' having more games with the Rays added to the schedule?

I say that because the Rays sure look nothing like they did last year.

Losing superstar left fielder Carl Crawford and dependable starter Matt Garza was going to leave them diminished anyway, even with the questionable additions of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.

But with all-world third baseman Evan Longoria on the disabled list with a strained oblique and Damon nursing a sore calf, that's a lineup that looks like it'll be lucky to score 20 runs all season.

Unfortunately, the Orioles will also play lots of games against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, teams with big, hairy guys who can smack the ball, as Buck Showalter says in those new Birdland commercials.

Hey, and look at that, we made it all the way to the end of the column before mentioning the Orioles' manager, the rock star who's been the focus of attention on this team for months.

So far, Showalter appears to be pushing all the right buttons. And his swagger and intensity and attention to detail are exactly what this organization needed after losing for 13 years.

It's a long season though. And we'll see how a guy who's known as the ultimate control freak wears on his players and the front office — especially if things start to go south.

Still, that figures to be a nice moment at Camden Yards on Monday when Earl Weaver, the iconic manager from the Orioles' glory years, throws out the ceremonial first pitch to Showalter, the brash new manager trying to restore Orioles Magic.

Not since 1997 have the Orioles started a season 3-0. Who knows how long this little roll will last? But it's been fun to watch so far.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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