The past few weeks, the Baltimore Orioles have been able to rocket past the New York Yankees in the AL East race and now hold a 1.5 game advantage on the Bronx Bombers. There are three main reasons the Orioles have been able to take a somewhat-comfortable lead in the East early on in May.
1. OF Nelson Cruz has continued his hot start to the season
Nelson Cruz just belted his tenth bomb of the season this weekend, as he continues to pace the Orioles with 10 homers and 30 RBI so far as we head into the middle of May. Cruz trails only rookie Jose Abreu for the AL lead in both home runs and RBI.
Cruz has been the glue to the Orioles offense early on this year, and has been an extremely vital part of the lineup since many regulars have missed time on the disabled list. In fact, just as Chris Davis returned, the Orioles lost All-Star catcher Matt Wieters to an injury that could possibly cause him to require Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season.
2. A surprisingly consistent starting rotation
All the Orioles really need from their starters are decent performances; with the offensive attack they have, it doesn’t take much to give the team a chance to win. That is exactly what the Orioles pitchers have been doing recently. It has been rare to see a starter such as Wei-Yin Chen or Bud Norris get absolutely shelled.
Along with consistency throughout the rotation, Ubaldo Jimenez has been able to really turn it around in his last two starts, as he has only given up 1 run in his last 13 1/3 innings pitched. It is worth noting however that he was in and out of trouble in his most recent start versus the Tampa Bay Rays, but he was able to limit the damage well.
3. Nick Markakis has been consistently getting on base
Since a rough start in the beginning of April, Nick Markakis has been red hot the last half a month or so. His batting average has skyrocketed from the mid-.200s all the way up to .317.
In my opinion, though, Markakis’ most valuable trait at the plate is his ability to put the ball in play. He has struck out only 15 times all season, which can be extremely important in today’s game when there have been an excess of strikeouts. He is also fourth in the American League in base hits (46), and twelfth in on base percentage (.375).
Hitters like Markakis are a must to have a balanced lineup that continues to produce even during slumps that power hitters like Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz can be susceptible to.