The team which has spent the first two months of the season in command of the toughest division in baseball – the American League East – is not the New York Yankees, not the Boston Red Sox, not even the Tampa Bay Rays.
It is the Baltimore Orioles.
This is the team that finished last in the division the past four seasons and second-to-last in the division nine out 10 seasons before that. The Orioles have had 14 straight losing seasons since last making the play-offs in 1997.
But something has got in to the Orioles. They entered this weekend at 28-17, with the second-best record in the majors behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (30-14) and one game ahead of the Rays in the AL East.
The Orioles have the second-best road record behind the Texas Rangers at 15-6. They just won two of three against the Washington Nationals in inter-league play in a showdown between two upstart teams.
The Orioles have established themselves within their division, too, winning at least one series from each of their four opponents already. Two of their keys to success have been power – the Orioles lead with 69 home runs – and their bullpen. Their relievers have a combined 2.31 ERA, second only to the Rangers' 2.03.
Their most valuable player is outfielder Adam Jones, who entered the weekend on a career-high 15-game hitting streak and leading the Orioles in batting average (.311), home runs (14), RBIs (29), on-base percentage (.357) and hits (57). His 14 homers tied him with four others in secondbehind Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.
The Atlanta Braves expressed interest in trading for Jones last July but talks never got serious, and the Orioles have to be happy about that now.
Jones can become a free agent after the 2013 season and might price himself out of Baltimore by commanding US$15 million (Dh55m) per season. He could draw significant return in a trade come July, especially if the Orioles want to bolster their pitching staff.
But if the Orioles are still contending then, their front office would have a hard time justifying trading Jones when an excited fan base is more interested in immediate results than long-term rebuilding. "We like Adam Jones, he is a good player and he is established with our fans," Orioles general manager Dan Duquette told the Baltimore Sun.
"And he plays every day. He has unique skills in terms of his capability to play the outfield and throw and also to hit and hit with power."
That is good news for the Baltimore fans, for now.
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