Allegany Communications Sports

April baseball is so fickle. In the matter of a week a team can look like the goods, or a fraud; but just two three-game series later? You got it, there’s an entirely different perspective on a team; any team.

Take the Baltimore Orioles, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals, for instance, our 2 Hours Away litmus.

The Orioles are 12-6, one-half game behind the Yankees in the AL East, having started the season with 24 runs in the first two games against the Angels, and the buzz was this offense would be unstoppable day-in and day-out.

That, of course, doesn’t happen in baseball and, sure enough, the Orioles hit a seven-game stretch of averaging just 3-plus runs a game, the last six coming against Kansas City and the Pirates, and suddenly the offense was deemed to be sluggish and impatient.

But then they bounced back to average over 7 runs per game in a three-game sweep of the Red
Sox, then were handled by the Milwaukee Brewers, 11-5 and 11-1, before avoiding the sweep with a 6-4 win. Then it was another three-game sweep of the Twins, with a total of 18 runs in the first two games.

The offense is seemingly back on track, yes, but keep in mind, of the 12 Orioles wins, eight of them have been comeback wins, meaning the Orioles have been scoring needed runs late in games, which likely has manager Bradon Hyde hoping for more consistent at-bats earlier in games, as a team can’t live on feast or famine over the course of 162. Though the O’s clutch hitting from a year ago certainly seems to remain intact.

Orioles fans who were complaining about Jackson Holliday not being in the big leagues for the first 10 games are now complaining that he’s in the big leagues. The less said about this the better, but his game will come to him in time, just as it did for Cal Ripken Jr., Gunnar Henderson and Colton Cowser, who couldn’t buy a hit last year but is now the current American League Player of the Week.

The sweep over the Twins was concluded by a heartwarming yet overpowering performance by 34-year-old starter Albert Suarez, who hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2017; and, of course, by center fielder Cedric Mullins, who started the series by making a one-for-the-ages diving catch, and who finished it by hitting the first walk-off home run of his career.

With that home run, the Orioles have hit at least three homers in five straight games for the first time in 28 years, putting them one game shy of tying the club record of six straight games with at least three homers, which was established 36 years ago.

To start the season, Orioles opponents have a 52-38 record when you take out the Orioles’ 12-6, so the early schedule has been demanding and this club is again trending upward.

The PIRATES are 11-8 in third place, a game out of first in NL Central, which is good. But they have lost six out of their last eight, which is not so good, but not cause for panic no matter how many times someone points to last year’s 20-8 start.

Through the past 12 games, Pirates starting pitchers have averaged over 6 innings per start, which is good, and have an ERA of 2.63, which is terrific. Thus, the problems have been equally divided between the bullpen and the hitters, as fans are already clamoring for longer outings for the starters while understanding the hitting, as it is for every team, is just a matter of wait and see at this point, because the potential to score runs is there.

As the Orioles will attest, the NL Central is playing tough this season and the Pirates have been part of the reason why with good starting pitching, outstanding defense and timely hitting, which was evident when they took two out of three from the O’s.They are a team on the rise, particularly with Paul Skenes counting the days before he arrives from Triple A..

While the Bucs have been good, their pitching still seems a little thin as we saw Wednesday in the 9-1 loss to the Mets. They’re coming, though, as, even if they fall short of the postseason, this could be the Pirates’ breakthrough season (see 2022 for the Orioles) before they begin to contend.

Then there are the NATIONALS, who are 8-10 and in fourth place in the NL East.

The Nats are young, we know that, and they are somewhere between Step 2 and Step 3 of a rebuild, we know that, too. They took a three-gamer in San Francisco, then lost a tough three-gamer in Oakland to the A’s, yet came back to win a series in Los Angeles against the filthy-rich and mighty Dodgers with two outstanding starts by Mitchell Parker, making his MLB debut, and Jake Irvin, who is looking like an ace in the making.

There are other young arms in the rotation such as MacKenzie Gore and Joan Adon, as the Mike Rizzo rebuild has started to take shape.

The Nats are a fun team, as most young and on-the-rise teams are. They are led by their best player, shortstop CJ Abrams, and while they’re still learning how, they have the look of a team that is getting closer to winning.

The hitting is still inconsistent, the bullpen has been decent and the starters have shown flashes of brilliance. They’re definitely getting closer.

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]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT