Monday, April 23, 2007

Baltimore Sweeps Toronto Aside

Was Toronto at full strength? No. Is it still April? Yes. Forget all the justifications for the experts to dismiss this sweep of the Blue Jays. This weekend the O's sent a message and that message is that they will contend this year. The darkhorse pick in the AL East this year is Toronto and Baltimore took them out like last week's garbage.

If Boston loses tonight, Baltimore will be the hottest team in the AL. (Friday night I assumed the Yankees had won that game vs. Boston). Not everyone has caught on yet but Chris Berman did refer to Baltimore as "red-hot" on Baseball Tonight this evening.

Adam Loewen's performance on Saturday exemplifies what has been so impressive about the "young guns" on this staff. Although Loewen didn't have his best stuff and certainly didn't have a lot of control, he didn't get rattled, he battled and scraped his way through 5.2 innings and let his bullpen come in and protect the lead. (Chad Bradford was huge in relieving Loewen with the bases loaded. Bradford is not a strikeout guy at all but got a big strikeout of Jason Smith to end the inning. Toronto never threatened again.) We have seen this over and over again this season, with Cabrera, Bedard and Loewen not having their best outings but keeping their composure and the club winning the game anyway. It's encouraging.

Also encouraging is that the bats are starting to come around. It doesn't hurt that they are facing less than stellar pitching (save A. J. Burnett) but the O's were struggling to score against anybody a couple of weeks ago. Today you saw a glimpse of what this lineup can do when everyone gets healthy. They didn't ahve to start Jay Gibbons against a lefty and Jay Payton made the lineup a much tougher proposition for Gustavo Chacin. Outside of Alberto Castillo, there was a legitimate major league hitter in the lineup today. Just wait until Ramon Hernandez (and Brian Roberts) come back.

Steve Trachsel got his first win of the season as he held the Jays to one run even though he gave up 4 hits and issued 4 walks over his 5.1 innings of work. Nick Markakis continued his hot hitting with a double and a triple (a near homerun) as he and Miguel Tejada both drove in three. They chased Chacin in the 5th and continued to knock Victor Zambrano around as they bludgeoned the Jays 7-3. Only a two out rally in the 9th against Brian Burres made the score look somewhat respectable.

Now for the reality checks. Adam Loewen needs to find his control. Walking batters like you are the 2005 version of Daniel Cabrera is not a recipe for long term success. The lineup ranks 8th in the American League in slugging. That will also need to improve if Baltimore hopes to keep pace. Steve Trachsel must have a horseshoe stuck where the sun don't shine. He can't possibly keep this up for the whole season. The rotation needs to pitch deeper into games if the bullpen hopes to have season long success. Only the quality start challenged Yankees have more innings logged by their bullpen than Baltimore. Today, the O's will probably face the toughest pitcher they've seen all year.

But am I optimistic? Hell yeah.

P.S. It's sure been weird to be rooting for the Yankees the last two nights. But in a good way.

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