Yankees series could serve as an early measuring stick

So far this season, the Orioles have looked like contenders, a team that on any night can compete with the top rosters in the American League.

They swept the suddenly hapless Rays, took two of three from Detroit, and hung with the defending AL champion Rangers - with the exception of that ugly Saturday night beatdown.

But nine games is a pretty small sample size. We've seen Orioles teams get off to hot starts in the past, and then fall apart down the stretch.

It's impossible to predict what will happen in August and September. If I knew for a fact whether the O's would be competitive late in the season, I'd be out in Vegas right now, cashing in at every casino in town. Unfortunately, I'm stuck here in Baltimore, with rain spitting down on me and without loads of cash in my hands.

But the O's three-game series with the Yankees, which starts tonight, might be a nice window into finding out whether the Birds will be able to consistently hang with the league's best this season.

We hate to admit it or discuss it, but the Yankees are the Yankees. They've controlled the AL East for the better part of two decades, and have dominated the O's over that time. The last three years, the Bronx Bombers have manhandled the Orioles, going 37-17 against the Birds, including 20-7 at Yankee Stadium.

Of course, much of that damage was done before Buck Showalter got to town. In the O's lone trip to the Bronx with Showalter at the helm last year, the O's won two of three and held the Yankees to just seven runs combined. Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen outpitched A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova, and only a blown save by Koji Uehara prevented a three-game sweep of the boys in pinstripes.

The Birds won't be intimidated as they head into the Big Apple today. They've gotten solid starting pitching to begin the season, have seen big hits come from all areas of the lineup (although that .216 team average sure could use a bump), and the back end of their bullpen has been pretty darn impressive.

In this series, the O's will again send three young pitchers - Chris Tillman, Bergesen and Arrieta - against one of the most powerful offenses in the league, and will face a pitching staff which dominates the Birds' when it comes to major league experience.

All the positive signs which we saw down the stretch last year and have seen through this season's first nine games will be put to the test up in New York.

Can the O's hang with the best this year and be playing competitive baseball into the fall? We don't know.

But this series against the Big Bad Yankees - in a stadium which has been a house of horrors for the O's - might give us an early indication of what to expect down the road.

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