The Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers are all undefeated after the season’s first weekend of action.  162-0 may not be the final record for these teams, but there is reason to believe that they all can make the playoffs.

(Even the Orioles?)

Yes.  The Orioles can too.

Since you objected right out of the gate, let’s start with the kids (and the old guys) from Camden Yards that started their season by sweeping the ever-trendy Tampa Bay Rays.

Do You Believe In Buck?

If any general manager across baseball could craft their dream starting rotation consisting of only number three starters, would they take any of these guys?

Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman,  Zach Britton and Jake Arietta

I’d say no and who could blame them?  Several of you, including myself, had to look up who the heck Chris Tillman was in the first place. However, between the four of them, they have yielded a grand total of two runs and twelve hits, while facing lineups chalked full of hitters like Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Ben Zobrist, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez  

To add to their early pitching success, a Baltimore lineup blended with young prospects and aging superstars has Orioles fans brimming with a confidence that hasn’t been seen since Hairspray was filmed. Or since Cal Ripken Jr. took the field for the final time. Take your pick on the metaphor.

The key thing to consider when pondering the future success of the Orioles is whether they can keep winning at a pace that is required of AL East members.  Remember, the Red Sox won’t finish 0-162, the Yankees will be the Yankees, the Rays will compete, and even the Blue Jays could finish over .500.  

So, where does this leave the Orioles?

Instead of shooting for the top of totem pole, why not aim after the second rung known as a Wild-Card berth?  It can be argued that the AL West has a surefire champion (we will discuss them in a minute) followed by a group of mediocres.  It can be argued that the AL Central has a bunch of teams that could finish with 85-88 wins, with one of them winning the division.

To me, all the Orioles need to do is win around 90 games and beat the Yankees with a good deal of frequency.  Is it likely?  Probably not at this point.  Could it happen?  Sure, especially with a manager like Buck Showalter running the show.  

Stay tuned and watch as many games played at Camden Yards as possible.  It’s a beautiful park occupied by an intriguing team.

Phed Up With the Phillies? I’m Not.

Spring Training came and Spring Training went.  Chase Utley was seen fielding soft grounders while sitting on a ball bucket and all of the sudden, everyone started picking the Atlanta Braves to be the “sleeper” team in the NL East.

Two complaints with that previous paragraph.

1. The Braves aren’t a sleeper team. Their lineup is really good. They have good starting pitching. They have a dynamite bullpen. They are better than last year and last year’s team went to the playoffs. Enough already.

2. The Phillies have a legitimate shot on four out of five nights to throw a complete game shutout.

During their opening series with the Astros, the Phils beat up on an inferior team (that should get used to being beat up on this season) and proved that they are still the complete package, even without the services of Utley.  

Let’s put it this way.  If you coupled the Phillies starting rotation with the worst offense capable of being assembled in 2011 (a lineup that would feature Carlos Pena as its clean-up hitter), that team would still win 90 games! I guarantee it.

Opponents of the Phillies should get used to three-game sweeps (and start praying that a clubhouse sickness develops when they arrive in town).

Really? The Brewers? Really?

Last time I checked, a team with a bad defense up the middle, an even worse bullpen and a terrible pickup basketball player NEVER wins a division title.  The Cincinnati Reds (my favorite team, just so everyone knows) put that on full display this weekend in front of three great crowds at the Great American Launching Pad.

After being shocked by last year’s results, this year’s version of The Oldest Franchise In Baseball was dealt the burden of being the team with a target on its back.  So far, so good.  After a tumultuous top of the first inning by Edinson “I’m Not Sure What The H%^$ Is Going On Out Here, But I Still Have Good Stuff” Volquez, the Reds allowed only eight more runs in 26 innings, while scoring 23 of their own.

While sitting in the ballpark on Sunday and staring up at the lineup on the massive LED board in leftfield, it suddenly dawned on me that there is no gaping hole in the Reds’ offensive lineup.

Quick recap time.

Stubbs: Last year, he was one of only two MLB players to hit 20+ HR, steal 30 bases, and score 90 runs.  The other? Perennial All-Star Hanley Ramirez.

Phillips: Once upon a time, he was a 30/30 guy.

Votto, Rolen, Bruce, Gomes: NL MVP, A Professional, An Emerging Star, The Engine

Hanigan/Hernandez: Combined numbers in 2010 fell behind only the perennial All-Star, Brian McCann.

Janish: Ok, maybe a gaping hole, but even he has four hits in only two games.

The NL Central is the Reds for the taking. Not to mention they are currently missing two of their five projected starting pitchers.  If they stay healthy, put them in the playoffs in October.  

Really? The Red Sox? Really?

Everyone (literally everyone, at picked the Red Sox to win the AL East and almost everyone picked the Red Sox to win the World Series.  The Rangers had something to say about that and spawned a state of panic in Boston.

The Rangers return many of the same pieces from the 2010 AL pennant winners.  However, the key to this year’s team is the overall health of one Ian Kinsler, who is currently on pace for 162 HR.  Last year, he was not at his healthiest and the team suffered because of it during the regular season.  

Also, Kinsler will be responsible for driving in the runs the same way that the resurgent Vladimir Guerrero did last season.  The really cool part about Kinsler’s game is that he doesn’t have to shoulder the major offensive burden that a Ryan Howard, Joey Votto or Brian Roberts has to on an everyday basis.  

He has so many other strong parts behind him, including a bonafide superstar (Josh Hamilton), a bonafide semi-star (Nelson Cruz), a bonafide aging star (Michael Young) and a dazzling young gun (Elvis Andrus).  

Furthermore, the Rangers won’t have to deal with the rigorous schedule that the Red Sox, the Yankees or designated AL Central “Flavor of the Week” team has to face. Instead, Texas gets the Mariners, A’s,and Angels.  Sure, these teams are decent, but nowhere near as strong as the AL East or the level-playing field in the AL Central.  

The Conclusion:

Kudos for this piece go to the Baltimore Orioles, as their win this afternoon allowed this piece to be relevant today and to MLB’s schedule-makers for giving the Reds, Rangers and Phillies the day off.  

In Buck We Trust. 

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