The Baltimore Orioles find themselves in a strange position today. At 19-9 they hold the best record of any major league team. True, we’re through just 28 games, less than 20 percent of the season. But it’s still a remarkable feat for a consensus last-place team.
It seems like forever ago, but just seven years ago the Orioles found themselves in nearly the identical position. In 2005 they surged out to a 19-9 record through 28 games; only the 22-7 White Sox owned a better record. At the same time the Yankees got off to their infamously poor start, going 11-19 through the first 28 games. It certainly seemed like an odd twist of fate.
I’m not certain what the expectations were for the 2005 Orioles, but with the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox in the division they couldn’t have been too high. The O’s had finished six games below .500 in 2004, despite having RBI leader Miguel Tejada and doubles leader Brian Roberts powering the offense. They made few changes on the offensive side of the ball in 2005, and it appeared their pitching staff could improve. Perhaps their performance wasn’t so out of line, then.
As we know, though, the Orioles slid heavily after their hot start. From Game 29 through Game 162 they went 55-79, done in by an underperforming outfield crew and horrible starting pitching. They avoided a last-place finish, however, due to Tampa Bay’s still-inept team; they finished 67-95, still two full seasons of losing away from their first winning season.
This isn’t so much to rag on the Orioles’ inevitable fall from the top as it is to put the Yankees’ record in perspective. At 15-13 they’re still fourth in the AL East, but in 2005 they were tied for last with the Rays. They also had a negative-19 run differential through 30 games in 2005, while through 28 games this year they’re plus-12. Things aren’t so bad from that vantage point.
From Game-31 through Game-162 in 2005 the Yankees went 84-48, the best record in the AL by four games. Yet this year they appear perhaps better equipped for a surge. The pitching staff is solider and deeper — there will be no Sidney Ponson appearances this year. The offense, too, has a few more weapons than the 2005 team. They might have had the heavy hitters, and Jason Giambi’s second-half surge certainly played into the Yanks’ winning ways, but the 2012 Yankees have a bit more speed to go with their power. The current team also doesn’t have to overcome one of the worst defenses in baseball history.
Slow starts are never fun, but sometimes it just takes the Yankees a while to click. It’s happened plenty of times in the past, and it’s likely to happen again this year. Hell, through 28 games in 2009 the Yankees were 13-15, again with a negative run differential. The Yankees have the right players in place; it’s just a matter of time before they start rolling.