By Ryan Decker
Heading into the 2017 campaign, there were plenty of things going up against the Baltimore Orioles (4-0) getting off to a good start.
Ace Chris Tillman is on the disabled list until May; his absence makes an already shaky starting rotation incredibly thin; there’s likely a rotating door in the corner outfield spots; a month of April in which the team will play 20 of its 23 games against divisional opponents.
This and more made starting the season off on the right foot extremely important for the Orioles.
So far, they’ve succeeded.
Baltimore started the year on with a 3-2 victory in extras over Toronto on Monday. Kevin Gausman pitched good enough to keep a potent Toronto lineup largely at bay, the Baltimore bullpen did exactly what it’s expected to do, and Mark Trumbo ended the game in the 11th with a walk-off blast to left.
After another off day, the O’s pulled off consecutive comeback-wins over the New York Yankees.
Home runs by Manny Machado and Seth Smith erased a 5-1 deficit Friday evening, and a bloop-single by Hyun Soo Kim completed the comeback Saturday. Zach Britton earned his 52nd consecutive save in yesterday’s 5-4 victory.
Britton starts 2017 a perfect 3 for 3 in save opportunities, and has seen action in all four games.
He and the rest of the Baltimore bullpen already look to be in midseason form.
Not only has the bullpen yet to surrender a run, but the Baltimore relief pitchers have also struck out 20 would-be hitters and only allowed 12 hits in 16.2 innings pitched.
The pen pitching well has helped Baltimore earn a trio of one-run wins, games in which Baltimore had a winning record (21-16) in last year.
Coming out on the right side of four games decided by two runs or less not only shows that the Orioles can win tightly contested ball games, it also leaves the O’s as the only team in the majors yet to lose a game this season.
Things don’t get any easier, though, after the series-finale Sunday, as Baltimore hits the road for nine straight games to be played away from Camden Yards.
“There are 158 games left,” manager Buck Showalter told media members after Saturday’s game. “I’d rather win the first four than lose the first four but … we’ll take each challenge as it comes.”
Perhaps it’s harder for Showaler to get too excited about the 4-0 start considering his club started out winning its first seven games of the season a year ago. Even though it’s probably a lot to ask of this year’s squad to do the same, it would obviously be beneficial.
Questions about the starting rotation will continue to linger until it gets back to full strength next month upon Tillman’s return, and short outings that continue to tax the pen will ultimately come back to haunt the team late in the season. Also, with all but three games this month against AL East foes, each win means a little more in terms of the standings.
A bad month of April could dig a hole in the division that’s ultimately too big to get out of.
Only the first week of the 2017 Major League Baseball season may coming to a close, but the following three weeks will prove a lot about the Orioles. Baltimore needs to continue to play well the rest of the month.
The O’s are off to a good start for now, though.