MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

Based on nothing but the eye test and feel of watching baseball every day since late March, it’s clear the Baltimore Orioles are one of the best teams in the major leagues. Truthfully, they have been since Adley Rutschman arrived as the rookie catcher, as their overall record since is one of the best in baseball and, remarkably, they have not been swept in a single series in that time, the streak now standing at 76 series, the fifth longest in major league history.

Being a baseball traditionalist (i.e. old guy), I have been quick to be critical of Major League Baseball for nearly everything it does, particularly for the tinkering it does with its schedule, the most sacred and truth-telling schedule in all of sports, as 162 does not lie. That said, I must admit I have enjoyed this year’s schedule in that every team plays every other team in the big leagues rather than every team in its own league and different combinations of teams from the other league.

Certainly, here in 2 Hours from Everywhere, we are fortunate (and for $300 a month for cable, we better be), as we’ve had two National League teams and one American League team available to us every single night. But this MLB schedule is a keeper, because it allows fans to see how their favorite team matches up with every team in baseball.

The great Washington Post sportswriter Thomas Boswell, who should have been in the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame long ago, always said the best way to follow the totality of a baseball season is to follow it through one team, because you know, understand and have a better feel for your team’s strengths and shortcomings. Thus, you’re able to gauge the progress and the standing of other teams peripherally. Yet with this current MLB schedule, you’re able to see every team match up at some point against your own team.

So how do the Orioles match up ? Pretty well, as they currently have the best record in the American League and the second-best record in all of baseball, 4.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves, who get everybody’s vote for being the best team in baseball.

The Braves are just a machine, rolling everyone in their path, though they did stub their toe against the Cubs and the Pirates coming out of the break; fortunately, the New York Mets awaited. At this point, the only thing the Braves have to avoid is getting in their own way while they coast the rest of the way to the postseason.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be challenged the rest of the way and then in the postseason, because there are many excellent teams capable of winning the whole thing, including the Orioles if their pitching doesn’t run out of gas, which seems to be a big if.

To me, the Los Angeles Dodgers are easily one of those teams, as they bring a Men vs. Boys persona to just about every game they play; and, trust me, they ain’t the youngsters in the equation. The Dodgers, offensively, defensively and pitching, are both deep and very, very good. Legit World Series contenders.

Like the Dodgers, the defending world champion Houston Astros follow the lead of their manager, that being Dave Roberts of the Dodgers and Dusty Baker of the Astros. They just take care of business with a swag. Offensively, the Astros are a terror, as I have not seen a team turn over its lineup the way they do since the late 1990s New York Yankees. Just as it used to seem Derek Jeter batted in every inning, it now seems Jose Altuve bats in every inning.

The Astros are defending world champs, and now with Justin Verlander back in town, they seem to have every intention of being world champs again. Don’t sell them short.

The Texas Rangers are impressive as well, as they withstood Houston’s recent run on first place in the AL West by winning eight games in a row. The additions of pitchers Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery have already paid off and could be huge difference-makers the rest of the way.

The Tampa Bay Rays, who had us all remembering the 1984 Detroit Tigers with their 13-0 start, have since relinquished first place to the Orioles, but remain just two games (three in the loss column) back.

Tampa’s starting pitching has been injured all season and shaky of late and was dealt a huge blow with the loss of starter Shane McClanahan for the rest of this and all of next season. On top of that, it doesn’t appear star shortstop Wander Franco is coming back any time soon, if at all, given all that surrounds him.

The Rays have long been the most creative team in baseball. They’re going to need every ounce of that creativity to continue to run with the big dogs. Of course, that’s something they’ve always been able to do.

P.S. – Don’t discount the defending NL champion Philadelphia Phillies, or the volatile Toronto Blue Jays.

There clearly is a best team right now, but it all remains so wide open for any of the many very good teams that get hot and lucky at just the right time.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT