This is no time to be looking for the cloud inside the silver lining, but the Orioles have won their first four games of the 2011 season without a lot of help from the three big sluggers who were brought in over the winter to beef up the offensive lineup.
The O's celebrated their home opener at Camden Yards on Monday with a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers, and it was pretty obvious that the excitement level at the sold-out ballpark was off the charts, but the fans will have to wait at least until Wednesday for the heart of the lineup to start pumping out all those home runs and RBIs we've been hearing so much about.
This is the first time the Orioles have opened with four straight wins since they went wire to wire in 1997 to win their most recent AL East title, and they've done it with an offensive attack that has been fueled largely by the guys at the top and the bottom of the lineup.
Brian Roberts, whose second three-run homer of the season was the big blow Monday, came out of the game leading the major leagues with eight RBIs. No. 2 hitter Nick Markakis is batting .429. No. 9 hitter J.J. Hardy had a big two-run double to help complete the sweep over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday and has scored four of the Orioles' 17 runs.
The big boppers haven't been completely silent. Mark Reynolds had a pair of run-scoring doubles in Sunday's game, and Derrek Lee is getting on base fairly regularly, but Reynolds, Lee and Vladimir Guerrero were 1-for-11 in the home opener and are batting a combined .178 (8-for-45) with no home runs and just Reynolds' two RBIs so far.
Of course, you can look at that two ways. Their slow start can be viewed as either the cloud or the silver lining, because the Orioles have done just fine without them.
"I think it's just a testament to how good this team is,'' Lee said. "That's the beauty of having a great lineup. There's not a team in baseball where everybody gets hot and stays hot at the same time. Right now, the top of the order is doing it. Brian is on fire. We'll ride him for a while and, hopefully, the middle of the lineup will take over.
"When we get some of the other guys clicking, it's going to be even more fun."
It's hard to imagine the Orioles having much more fun than they're already having. The first turn through the starting rotation has produced four high-quality starts, and the offense has been timely, if not tremendously productive. The big guys in the middle of the order — and that group also includes a struggling Adam Jones — can't be too happy with their early returns, but manager Buck Showalter thinks they may be pressing to make a good first impression.
"We feel real good about the track record of our offensive guys if we can keep them on the field," Showalter said. "They'll be there for us over the long haul. They've got a lot of 'want to,' and sometimes you can have too much of it."
Showalter has bigger concerns. He's got to find a way to keep that red-hot starting rotation on a roll in the face of two significant early losses. Brian Matusz will be out for several weeks with an intercostal strain, and Jeremy Guthrie had to be scratched from Wednesday's game after he was hospitalized Monday with pneumonia.
Brad Bergesen is scheduled to start in place of Guthrie after his spring was interrupted by a line drive off his pitching arm, so it might be a good night for the new guys to take the pressure off him with a breakout performance.
"This lineup is very deep,'' said outfielder Luke Scott, who also has been sidelined the past few days with a groin strain. "Most of us — the meat of the order — we've been pitched tough and haven't caught fire yet, but look at the bottom of the order and the top, especially Brian and Markakis. It just proves that any part of our lineup can beat you."
Listen to Peter Schmuck on "The Week in Review" every Friday at noon on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com. Also check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.