* ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield lists the Orioles being in first place as No. 2 on his list of Biggest Surprises So Far:
“The Orioles bounced back from losing three of four to the Texas Rangers by winning their weekend series against the Rays to maintain a one-game lead over Tampa. The Orioles live and die by the home run on offense – they lead the majors with 54; their .310 OBP, however, ranks just 17th in the majors.
“Jake Arrieta got pounded again on Sunday and has allowed 13 runs his past two starts after that eight-inning shutout performance against the Yankees. That means three-fifths of Baltimore’s rotation has an ERA over 5.00. So, yes, there are obvious question marks here. But for now, the Orioles have Matt Wieters and Adam Jones mashing, a lights-out bullpen and Jason Hammel pitching like an ace.”
* Tom Verducci of SI.com says the Orioles are reaping the benefits of manager Buck Showalter’s second full season at the helm:
“Few managers run a more efficient, productive spring training than Showalter. Give him two spring trainings with a club (consider the first a writeoff for evaluation and culture shock) and you’ll see the payoff. Showalter took over Baltimore mid-season in 2010, so this season the improved Orioles are showing the Showalter stamp from two spring trainings.
“Look at it this way: Showalter’s managerial career broken down to three distinct segments: what his teams have done in the season with a second spring training with Showalter, and what they have done before and after such signature seasons.”* Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com says if the Orioles want fans back at Camden Yards -- only 11,938 showed up for the first game of the series against the Texas Rangers a week ago -- the solution is simple. They must win:
It’s difficult to remember now, but the Orioles led the AL in attendance for four straight seasons from 1995 to ’98. Since then, they’ve effectively lost a generation. Their average attendance dropped from 38,686 in 2001 to 21,395 in 2010 before rebounding slightly last season.
“’I remember watching on TV when I was a kid and (Cal) Ripken was breaking the (consecutive games) record, how this stadium was jam-packed,’ center fielder Adam Jones said. ‘I’ve seen it packed. But it comes down to the product on the field.’