The Orioles left Camden Yards on Sunday to embark on their most important road trip in a decade! No, this road trip isn’t important because they are defending first place in the American League East, or because they are challenging for the position. This is an important road trip because they are attempting to build on momentum that has not existed for the franchise in some time. Momentum that had Camden Yards filled with thousands of Orioles’ fans for three days this weekend against a Detroit Tigers team that is not known for their drawing power in markets outside of their home state of Michigan. Momentum that had the yard filled just a few short days after drawing the smallest attendance figures in Camden history. Momentum that has the town buzzing about the near destitute franchise for the first time since Cal Ripken retired at the end of the 2001 season.
The momentum comes from the most talented crop of young players the Orioles have brought up in several generations. While Matt Wieters is the player who is receiving all of the hype, and all of the praise, it is the young crop of pitchers who will make the difference for this franchise. David Hernandez, Brad Bergessen, and Jason Berken have all come up from AAA throwing strikes working fast, and for the most part, challenging hitters. It is far too early in their careers for any long-term predictions, but it has clearly been a lift to the entire team to see pitchers who have a sense of how to manage the strike zone, and keep the game moving quickly performing while wearing the black and orange. Add the offensive potential of Nolan Reimold, and yes…Matt Wieters to the mix, and there is a lot to be excited about for Orioles fans.
Rich Hill continued the charge tonight as he threw seven scoreless innings in Seattle to help lead the Orioles to a 1-0 victory. Tonight’s game begins a two city, seven day road trip where the O’s will battle the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland A’s. Both teams have struggled to begin the season. A winning road trip would give the Orioles the chance to begin the month of June with nothing but positives working in their favor. The Orioles will spend all but the last two games of the month playing competition outside of the AL East. While teams like the Mets, Braves, and the world champion Phillies are certainly not cannon fodder, the month of June, more than any other month this season, will see the O’s routinely going against competition they should match up well against.
This is clearly not an accident of fate. GM Andy McPhail has engineered these moves well, and has put his young players in the most comfortable position to get their feet wet, before they are tested by the pressure cooker that is AL East play. If the Orioles can take advantage of these factors, and continue to play well during the month of June, they could find fans returning to the ballpark just in time to take at least some of the seats that our visitors from Boston and New York occupy during Red Sox and Yankee games. It will be important for young players still new to the big leagues to see friendly colors in the home stands this summer.
As Earl Weaver liked to say, momentum is only as strong as tomorrow’s starting pitcher. The Orioles found that adage to be true this weekend when Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson threw back-to-back gems against them. If this is to be a renaissance in the annals of Oriole baseball, it will not be built on the bat of rookie Matt Wieters, but on the strong arms now manning the rotation, and perhaps the leadership qualities that Wieters can show behind the plate. The very early returns are strong. Lets hope that momentum continues tomorrow and the days after that, with Oriole starting pitching.