As the Orioles travel to New York Sunday evening, Dave Trembley will take a deep breath, smile, and maybe even light up a cigar in a brief celebration.
After an exciting weekend at Camden Yards and taking a broom out of the closet to finish off the Red Sox, the Orioles (7-18) will enjoy their first three-game home sweep against Boston since 1974 (a stat that’s a bit misleading as they had a four-game sweep over Boston in 1998, but surprising nonetheless).
“It’s just great for the team, individuals who have gone through a lot of pain and mimicry for 30 days,” Trembley said. “I believe we’ve gotten through the worst. The good days are ahead.”
Maybe so, but reality will set in again Monday morning.
After outplaying a team they went 2-16 against in 2009, the club still finds itself 11 games below .500 and 11 games behind first-place Tampa Bay. As satisfying as the weekend was at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, it was merely a small climb after the Orioles threw themselves off a cliff in the first month of the season.
Make no mistake, it feels good—especially sending the thousands of Boston fans who once again invaded Baltimore home unhappy—but these three wins don’t count any more than the 18 losses accumulated in the first month of the season. As much as we’ll hear the silly claims of being 2-0 in May and it being a new season, the same issues plaguing the club during a 4-18 start—one of the 12 worst in MLB history since 1900—are still there.
Brian Roberts is weeks—or even months—away from returning to the top of the order while Adam Jones struggles to settle into the role. The bullpen remains in flux with the current closer only a year removed from Tommy John surgery and the previously reliable Jim Johnson trying to regain his form at Triple-A Norfolk. And the hitting, while improved, still ranks near the bottom of every significant category in the American League.
The questions surrounding general manager Andy MacPhail’s off-season acquisitions of closer Mike Gonzalez (on the disabled list) and first baseman Garrett Atkins (replaced by minor leaguer Rhyne Hughes) and the front office’s willingness to spend money in free agency are as loud as ever.
Trembley has likely bought himself more time after a very solid week of baseball against the team’s two biggest bullies, but his seat is still too hot to touch.
This is still very much a bad baseball team, weekend sweep or not.
Even with the hope created after sending Red Sox Nation into a mode of panic after being swept by the lowly Orioles, it doesn’t get any easier as the Orioles travel to the Bronx to finish up the current 12-game stretch against the Red Sox and Yankees after going 5-4 in the first nine. Following three at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles travel to brand-new Target Field to take on the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins for four more.
After playing so well against a struggling Red Sox team this weekend, it’s conceivable to think the Orioles might hold their own over the seven-game road trip against two of the best teams in the American League, but they could just as easily go 1-6 without too many batting an eyelash.
If we can take anything away from a fulfilling weekend at Camden Yards, we witnessed an Orioles team finally playing with a pulse and overcoming adversity after coming from behind in two of the three games and winning two extra-inning games.
Veterans Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada continue to swing red-hot bats to lead the offense, but Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, and Adam Jones are beginning to shake off the cobwebs of slow starts and play more like the talents so many in Baltimore are excited about. The team continues to get solid-to-good starts from the rotation, even if the starters have little to show for it in terms of wins.
Will it be enough to sustain the current stretch of improved baseball?
“We’re starting to learn how to win a little bit,” said starter Kevin Millwood, who again failed to register his first win of the season Sunday despite pitching eight strong innings. “I think we’re starting to realize that we’re a better team than people give us credit for. It really was a very good homestand.”
The Orioles will have the opportunity to fly under the radar for the foreseeable future—the national media is already talking about Boston’s embarrassment of being swept by lowly Baltimore—so it will be possible to catch some teams napping if they can play good baseball in the process.
A disastrous April cannot be erased, but the club can slowly begin to regain the cautious optimism that existed a month ago by playing inspired baseball like we saw over the weekend against the hated Red Sox.
It won’t be easy and even if they do, it won’t catapult the team to contention or even a .500 record, but it can create a feeling not enjoyed at any point throughout the month of April. A feeling relished by the Orioles fans who walked out of the ballpark late Sunday afternoon.
A tiny bit of pride.