So far, Orioles passing the test against tough AL East

These games within the division will likely decide who plays in October

April 16, 2013|Peter Schmuck

It's obviously way too early to draw any real conclusions about the Orioles and their chances of reaching the playoffs again this season, but the schedule-makers have provided them with an immediate opportunity to measure themselves against the other four teams in the American League East.

They are in the midst of a 21-game stretch that includes 15 games against their divisional rivals, which is about as front-loaded as you're going to get in baseball's new interleague-infused scheduling format.

So far, so good.

Before Tuesday night's 5-4 win against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles had played three series against AL East opponents — all on the road — and won five of those nine games. If there's any truth to the baseball adage that the key to success is winning at home and playing .500 on the road, they've got things a little bit sideways, but you would think manager Buck Showalter would be satisfied with the way they have stacked up against the teams they'll be battling all year for the right to play in October.

"It depends on if you follow that mathematical equation for the rest of the season," Showalter said. "That's not a given."

Far from it, but the Orioles needed to get off to a decent start against those teams to build on the positive fan sentiment they generated last year and show that their terrific performance against the division in 2012 was not some statistical anomaly.

They had the best record inside the East (43-29), which was probably more important than the otherworldly stats that their disbelievers were throwing around during the preseason to make the case that they probably won't duplicate last year's version of Oriole Magic.

It's probably fair to assume they won't match their major league-record performance in one-run games (29-9) or run off 16 straight extra-inning victories, but the real key to their 2012 success was how well they competed against the Boston Red Sox in particular (13-5) and the rest of the division. The only AL East team the Orioles did not have a winning record against was the first-place Yankees, and they played them to a regular season draw (9-9) before losing a hard-fought Division Series in five games.

To grasp the true significance of that, consider that the Orioles had not won a season series against the Red Sox since 2004 and still have not won a season series against the Yankees since the wire-to-wire 1997 AL East championship season.

Showalter isn't much for comparisons.

"And why is because it's what you've done in the past,'' he said. "The key part of that equation is 'in the past.' Our guys aren't living in that ... guys want to move on. This is a new team, a new season, a new challenge, and our guys realize what happened last year was competitive, but it wasn't where we wanted to go at the end of the day. Nobody's satisfied with that."

The same apparently goes for their solid — but unspectacular — performance during an opening two weeks spent largely on the road.

"It's a short sample,'' Showalter said before Tuesday's game. "We've got 150 more. Somebody said, 'Would you have signed up for that before the season started?' No, our guys wouldn't have. They wanted to be 12-0 right now. We look at it as a given that the other four teams in our division are going to be good and competitive the whole way. We've just got to know who we are and know how we've got to do it, stay true to that and see where it falls."

The Red Sox have broken out on top, but nothing has happened during the first half of April to really hint at how the division will ultimately shake out.

"It seems like every year that happens early on,'' Showalter said. "Everybody's kind of jockeying, finding out who they are and what they're going to be. You don't really know that until later on in the season when things start taking shape. Then, it seems like always, things start to separate themselves a little bit. I don't want to say the cream comes to the top. Just sooner or later you're going to be who you are."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at

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