If you thought the first few weeks of the new baseball season would give some indication of how the Orioles fit into the American League East, or deliver some clarity about the overall quality of the division, guess again.
The Orioles have played a series against each of their divisional rivals and certainly held their own — winning two of the series and splitting the just-completed four-game set against the Red Sox — but the only thing we really learned from that first sampling of AL East competition is what we already knew.
There is no super team that is going to sprint away from the field and leave only wild-card drama in its wake.
There is no divisional doormat that will serve as a rest stop for the rest of the AL East contenders.
There is, as Buck Showalter has been drilling into his players since he arrived in Baltimore, only today and maybe tomorrow. Trying to focus on anything beyond that is a fool's errand, especially for a middle-market team that seems to change its roster for every series.
So, the Orioles have moved on to Toronto for their fifth consecutive series against a division rival — the only AL East team to play exclusively inside the division. Their AL East preview will continue with a home series against the Red Sox this weekend before finally playing their only April series outside the division against the White Sox next week.
The Blue Jays certainly looked formidable when they showed up at Oriole Park for the second regular-season series of the year and scored 22 runs in the two victories they wrapped around Ubaldo Jimenez's terrific 2015 debut. They had just taken two of three at Yankee Stadium, and completed their 4-2 season-opening road trip with a victory that featured some more testiness between Jays outfielder Jose Bautista and O's reliever Darren O'Day.
Their strong first week, after an offseason in which they added slugger Josh Donaldson and good-hitting catcher Russell Martin to an already explosive lineup, had to send a shiver through the rest of the division, but it only took a week for them to tumble all the way to the bottom of the standings. They got beat up by the Rays in a four-game home-opening series and then lost two of three to the Braves in their first interleague competition of the year.
Of course, the standings don't mean anything in the third week of the season, and they definitely don't reveal anything in the AL East, where all five teams entered Tuesday no more than two games apart. But if any team was going to break out early, it looked like it might be the Jays, who scored 39 runs in those first six games before their scary lineup went to sleep against the Rays.
The Red Sox also opened with a pair of series wins on the road and won their home-opening series against the Nationals before the eventful four-game set they just played against the Orioles at Fenway Park. Like the Jays, they also added some big bats to their lineup during the offseason and were high in a lot of preseason power rankings. But questions persist about their starting pitching and defense in spite of their strong start.
No doubt, it was fun for Orioles fans — and plenty of experts — to discount the Yankees all winter and enjoy all the angst about the Alex Rodriguez situation, but neither the team nor A-Rod seem ready to go softly into the long summer. The Yankees, who were supposed to be challenged all over the field, entered the week ranked the highest (12th) of any AL East club in team ERA (3.56) and ranked ahead of the Orioles in runs scored. A-Rod isn't cooperating either. He's leading the team in just about every relevant offensive category.
The Rays are supposed to be a soft touch this year with a rookie manager, a tiny payroll and some devastating pitching injuries … but they might be poised to overcome all the adversity that has befallen them. Even with the heart of the Rays lineup in a deep funk, they have bought some time as promising starting pitcher Drew Smyly (sore shoulder) nears a return to the decimated rotation and Alex Cobb (forearm tendinitis) prepares to resume throwing off a mound.
Showalter would insist that his guys always knew what they would be up against, but now that some early returns are in, it should be obvious to anyone that it will be awhile before anything shakes out in the balanced AL East.
Guess we already knew that.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.