When the New York Yankees took the field at Camden Yards on Tuesday night for the first time this season, this question hung like a fat curveball.
Were the Orioles catching the struggling Yanks at just the right time or was it the other way around?
Time obviously will tell, but there's no question both teams have been reeling. The Yankees arrived at the final stop on three-city road trip on a five-game skid, their 8-15 start the franchise's worst since 1984. The Orioles had lost five of their last eight before Tuesday night's 4-1 victory but, more importantly, they lost a key player in each of the previous two games.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, speaking to reporters before the series opener, wasn't exactly thanking his lucky stars that J.J. Hardy will be out at least a month and Zach Britton is unlikely to pitch in this series.
"They're still extremely talented," Girardi said. "Clubs are going to go through injuries. It's how you handle those that determines what your year is. It's unfortunate for them, but I'm sure everyone is going to go through it at some point."
The Yankees are going through something else altogether. They have been struggling to score runs at a time when they do not have a typical Yankees starting rotation. There are only two teams in the major leagues that have scored fewer runs so far and the Yankees arrived here ranked 24th in the majors with a 4.79 team ERA.
To break down their pitching problems even further, the starting rotation's 5.16 ERA ranks 27th in the majors and is significantly worse than an Orioles rotation that is considered to be the club's major weakness.
If all that wasn't bad enough, Alex Rodriguez — the guy leading the Yankees in both home runs and RBIs — pulled up with an apparent leg injury on Tuesday and had to be removed from the game.
Still, if you're looking for the Orioles to do a premature victory lap this week, you're going to be disappointed. Orioles fans hate the Yankees and the Orioles enjoy beating them as much as any other team, but there is no lack of respect. They know there are a lot of superstar-caliber players on the Yankees roster and it's probably just a matter of time before they get their act together and climb out of the American League East cellar.
"The Yankees looked pretty good in the spring," Orioles baseball operations chief Dan Duquette said. "They haven't got their team clicking yet, but the Yankees have a long tradition of winning teams. They know what it takes to be competitive, and they're doing everything they can to get their team going."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman didn't sugarcoat the situation when he met with reporters Tuesday, but he also refused to send the blame for his team's frustrating April performance downstream. It's never too early for managerial speculation in New York, but Cashman wasted no time shutting it down.
"I think Joe and the coaches are doing everything they can," Cashman said. "That's the bottom line. They're not responsible for this. If anything, I put this roster together and it's underperforming, so it's my responsibility. I'm looking forward to these guys … obviously they have five more months to show what they're really capable of, so I don't think this is a coaching issue or a manager issue in any shape or form."
Still, the level of frustration at the top of the Yankees organization is obvious and Cashman did nothing to try to hide it.
"The bottom line is, I'm the general manager," he said. "I'm not used to sitting there and watching this type of baseball and our fans aren't used to watching this type of baseball. It's certainly a reflection on me and I take it personally. I know this is a very difficult game and it's a very humbling game and anticipating periods of time where things don't go as anticipated, that's part of the game. But for the collection of talent that we have to have it go on for this extended period of time, that's abnormal, so obviously we need to make changes in terms of that type of performance or we'll be forced to have to do something about it."
Girardi also took responsibility and deflected it from his coaching staff, but he didn't let his high-priced team off the hook.
"These are the guys that need to get it done," Girardi said. "We got it done to a certain extent last year. We didn't go quite as far as we wanted to, obviously, but there's more than enough talent in that room to get it done. We've struggled. There's no doubt about it. We've got to turn it around and these are the guys to do it."
Cashman summed it all up when he was asked how Yankees ownership is feeling right now.
"It's a catch-all," he said. "There's no one who would be happy except our opponents."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.