After taking a pair from the Tigers, the Sox now welcome in the Baltimore Orioles for a 4 game set. How do we feel about the state of our guys so far? I don’t see how a Sox fan could feel anything but positive about what has been seen on the diamond in 2012. 3 reasons this year 2012 is looking up:
1. The pitching staff. There were a lot of worries coming into the season with the departures of Sergio Santos, who has had some troubles in Toronto, and Mark Buehrle, who is trying to go about his business in Miami amid the soap opera that is Ozzie Guillen. The front 5, or 4 as it were since Philip Humber is yet to have the opportunity to prove himself, has been efficient and done an excellent job of keeping the team in the game. The bullpen has also exceeded expectations. Joining Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton and Will Ohman, Nate Jones and Addison Reed have stepped in and made positive contributions immediately. The biggest surprise has been the naming as closer and performance of Hector (The Alchemist? Finito Santiago? Screwgie?) Santiago. Unblemished so far in save opportunities, which was unfortunately not the case for Sox closers this time last year.
2. Adam Dunn. Dunn hasn’t blown anybody away, he’s not launching multiple homers every game, but he’s also clearly not 2011’s Adam Dunn. He looks more comfortable, less helpless and has been contributing in between his many strikeouts. With a productive Adam Dunn batting in front of an always reliable Paul Konerko, the middle of the Sox order isn’t something to be treated without extreme care.
3. Shining defense. Sure there have been some ugly moments. Alejandro De Aza letting the wind be his guide, Alex Rios executing his patented easy fly drop routine, but some dazzling plays have helped the team out greatly. Alexei Ramirez is creating web gems on a daily basis, along with Gordon Beckham who is strong enough at second to keep himself afloat as he continues to struggle at the plate. Even Dayan Viciedo, a “rookie” as far as left field is concerned has managed to reach balls and make plays that a couple of weeks ago I would have been sure were laughably out of reach for him.
Simply put, we’re looking good. If you were of the minority that had high hopes coming into the season, you’re pleased to see the team play competitively against some excellent opponents. If your expectations were tempered coming in, that guard may be starting to come down a bit. Maybe these guys have what it takes after all?
The Orioles are looking to also prove prognosticators wrong and not fall victim to ever expanding sample size. As the birds descend upon US Cellular, I exchanged some thoughts about the state of the team with Fansided’s Birds Watcher writer Randy Buchman:
“There is a good deal of encouragement here in Birdland, as the Orioles have gotten off to a reasonably decent start by going 5-4 – even though suffering a sweep at the hands of the Yankees. The difference has been that the team is truly competing in every game, coming back even from deficits that in the past would have caused them to fold. Starting pitching has been an especially difficult aspect of recent Orioles teams, causing the bullpen to get overworked. But through the first nine games, the starters have performed quite well. Apart from an inability to get a critical clutch hit in the two extra-inning losses to the Yankees, the offense has also performed admirably – especially Nolan Reimold and Adam Jones. Two major questions coming into the season were who would bat leadoff and cleanup, and Reimold and Jones have answered. The team remains unsettled at 3B, as Mark Reynolds appears unable to shake the ghosts that caused him to lead the universe in errors last year with 31. Varied options are being explored, and it is likely that you will see very different lineups for each of the four games.”