Baseball Magazine

Are the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays Rising in the AL East?

By Beardandstache @BeardAndStache


Are the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays Rising in the AL East?

Photo: Getty Images/Greg Fiume

- Adam Parker
I'm right there with you.
I'm having trouble believing it, too. But believe it, because its happening before our eyes.
The Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles are currently at the top of the usually New York and Boston-dominated American League East.
Both teams have been considered underdogs in the division, and in the Orioles' case -- bottom feeders. But that doesn't change the fact that both squads seem to have found a winning formula and are getting it done with just over a fifth of the grueling 162-game schedule in the books.
How is it that the Rays and Orioles -- teams with historically low bankrolls -- are not only hanging with the big boys, but grinding out enough victories to be leading the charge?
Is it a fluke? Is it "Moneyball" at its finest? Or does it have something to do with the impact of Rays' manager Joe Maddon and Orioles' skipper Buck Showalter getting the most out of their respective ball clubs?
It's difficult to say seeing as how it's only May, but the Rays and O's seem to have figured out something. They may not have the same monetary resources of the Yankees or Red Sox, but they're making wise investments with the greenbacks they do have.
The two fiscally responsible clubs are getting it done in an age of baseball where 'championships are bought.'
So what is their secret?
How do the Rays and Orioles find themselves atop the leaderboards?
Pitching, Defense and timely power from their lineups seem to make the most sense.
The Rays, who last won the division in 2010, have had solid starting pitching ever since the arrival of southpaw staff ace David Price to pair with James Shields. They've continued to build on that success with the addition of 22-year-old Matt Moore to the rotation. As for the Rays' bullpen, you have to love the renaissance of Fernando Rodney, who is currently second in the American League with nine saves.
The run support, like usual with Tampa Bay, seems to always come from the most unlikely of sources. Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria (once he returns from the Disabled List) will be the cornerstones of their offense. Center fielder B.J Upton, utility man Ben Zobrist and left fielder Matt Joyce, who's off to a phenomenal start, should help hold down the fort until Longoria returns to the lineup.
Oh, and they have Hideki Matsui aka Godzilla under contract as well.
As for the Orioles, I'll be honest -- if their play thus far proves less of a mirage and more of a premonition of what the Baltimore birds will look like down the line, I'm inclined to give Showalter a boatload's worth of the credit. This team hasn't made any noise for a long time, almost to the point that, as a Yankees fan, I had forgotten they were even in the division.
Time will tell if Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter and former Rays prospect turned Orioles reclamation project Jason Hammel are the real deal in the O's starting rotation. Luckily, while Baltimore figures that out they have young studs and franchise cornerstones like catcher Matt Weiters and outfielder Adam Jones to shoulder the load offensively; with cameo appearances from Nick Markakis, shortstop J.J. Hardy, slugger Mark Reynolds and hopeful bounce back candidate Chris Davis.
And if that wasn't good enough, longtime veteran and former Orioles star Miguel Tejada is on the verge of rejoining the Orioles for his third stint with the team.
The Rays and O's are making a lot of noise early on in the season, but can their play stand the test of time? Once we hit August, will Tampa Bay and Baltimore still be the twin powers atop the AL East or will one or both teams sputter out and run out of gas?
I'm guessing the latter, but for competition's sake, I hope I'm wrong.

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