Despite dropping four in a row the Orioles still remain a half game up on the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East. Given the fact that J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters have all missed significant time, the Orioles are fortunate to be where they are. The last few games have been ugly for the Orioles. The bats have cooled off significantly, and the closer situation is worrisome to say the least. However, regardless of their recent struggles the Orioles have had their share of bright spots.
The biggest surprise this season has been Zach Britton. Two months ago Orioles fans would have traded Britton for a bag of bats. However, through the first month and a half he’s been the best pitcher on the team. There was news out of spring training he had worked hard in the off season and so far it looks like it has paid off.
Coming into Thursday’s game Britton has an ERA of 0.84. Moving into a relief role has seen his velocity increase, and allowed him to focus on bounding the bottom of the strike zone with his heavy sinker. With Tommy Hunter’s recent struggles it won’t be long before he’s in the closer role.
Jonathan Schoop worked himself onto the opening day roster with his strong spring, and so far Orioles fans have gotten a glimpse at what could be a future star. It’s true at times this season Schoop has struggled to adjust to the Major League level. Manny Machado’s injury forced him over to third base, a position he never looked comfortable at. However, back at second now he looks much more relaxed in the field and could be a plus defender.
At the plate he’s had his struggles as well. He has 34 strikeouts in just 33 games and has at times looked over-matched. However, despite his struggles it’s easy to see why the Orioles have been so high on him. His athleticism and bat speed jump off the screen, and he has tremendous power for a middle-infielder. If he can continue to adjust to major league pitching he could be an incredible boast to the lineup as the season continues.
The Orioles MVP so far would have to go to Nelson Cruz. The Orioles surprised fans when they signed Cruz late in the off-season for what now looks like a bargain at 8 million. Coming off his suspension last season Orioles fans didn’t know what to expect, and probably nobody predicted the start he has had.
Cruz has at times carried a lineup that looked to be one of the best in the American League. However, that lineup has yet to gain any momentum, and without Cruz the Orioles would probably looking up at the rest of the teams in the East. His 11 homeruns and 33 RBI’s are among the elite in the league, and his strong start will probably have him representing the Orioles in the All-Star game.
It’s safe to say the Orioles can’t be happy with the results of the last few games. However, the roster has too much talent to continue to struggle this much. If a few other players can follow the lead of guys like Britton and Cruz, the rest of the division will continue looking up at the Orioles.