We’ve reached the quarter pole of the 2011 Orioles season -- well, technically we will get there in the middle of the fifth inning during tonight’s game against the Red Sox -- and the Orioles are doing as well as most of us had expected. At 19-21, they were one bullpen collapse from checking in at the .500 mark.
Thanks in part to a 6-1 start, the Orioles are hanging tough in the most competitive division in American pro sports. The Orioles are in fifth place, but they trail the AL East-leading Rays by four and a half games.
They have looked like they could be contenders at times, as recently as the first five and a half innings of last night’s 8-7 loss. We have seen bright spots for both the short- and long-term in the play of catcher Matt Wieters and center fielder Adam Jones and in Zach Britton’s impressive first month in the majors. And even with the injury to Brian Matusz, the rotation hasn’t been a liability like some analysts had predicted it would be.
It’s been consistency that has really hurt the Orioles this year, with honorable mention going to Michael Gonzalez and the Orioles bullpen. Through 40 days and nights of baseball, the Orioles have clicked on all four cylinders on only a few occasions.
On some nights -- usually the ones that open with Jeremy Guthrie on the mound -- the offense has let the starting pitching down. On others, it’s the other way around.
And then there are nights like last night, when the Orioles got five scoreless innings from Chris Tillman and took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, only to see the bullpen choke it away.
Whatever the reason, this team has simply been streaky. The bad Orioles have had losing skids of eight, four and three games so far. The good Orioles have a four-game winning streak to their credit and have won three straight games two other times.
Which of these teams will we be talking about in September?
It’s too early to tell, which is why it’s understandable -- heck, it’s expected -- for worn-out fans to be waiting for the other cleat to drop. It slammed to the ground in each of the past 13 summers.
But at the quarter pole, the 2011 Orioles are in the back of a crowded pack in the AL East. Their division rivals will probably pull away during the long season, but at least the Orioles are still factors in this race. We'll see how long they can hang around.