Zach Wilt: No reason to panic this early in season

Get your finger off the panic button. The Orioles are only seven games into the 2013 season. You're not allowed to worry yet. The old cliche saying goes, "a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint," and right now the Orioles just finished mile one of 26.2.

If this were a movie, we'd be halfway through the opening credits. If it were a football season, we'd be in the third quarter of week one. Sure, three-game losing streaks are nothing to be happy about and Orioles fans haven't seen their team below .500 since 2011, but there's no reason to sound the alarms.

Those who predicted the O's would regress in 2013 will point to their 0-3 record in one-run games and compare it to their 29-9 mark from a year ago, although seven games aren't exactly a large enough sample size to make any firm conclusions. Those same folks criticized the Orioles for their run differential last season. Currently the O's have a plus-5 run differential, better than nine other teams in the American League.

The Birds' offense began the season red-hot, scoring 34 runs and hitting .315 over its first five games. In Sunday's finale against the Twins and Monday's opener in Boston, the O's scored just four runs, hit .190 as a team and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

Orioles designated hitters (Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold and Ryan Flaherty) have combined to go just 1-for-23 (.043) with 10 strikeouts this season. Their 8-9 hitters are hitting .137 (7-for-51) with 17 strikeouts. You have to expect that Flaherty, who is is still searching for his first hit 14 at-bats into the season, will find his swing again after showing some pop this spring (three home runs, 10 RBIs in 51 at-bats) and last September (.318/.375/.773 in 22 at-bats).

Personally, I still think the Orioles will go as far as their rotation can carry them and I have been pleased with what I have seen so far from Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. Hammel was charged with four earned runs and the loss in Sunday's 4-3 defeat to Minnesota; however, a misplayed fly ball to center field drove in two of the four and likely cost the Orioles the game. Hammel has allowed seven hits over 12 2/3 innings pitched and opponents are hitting just .175 off him so far.

Similarly, Chen has surrendered just five earned runs over 12 innings in 2013. He was cruising against the Red Sox on Monday, but was probably kept in the game just a batter too long as Daniel Nava hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh that secured the Boston victory. Tommy Hunter would retire the next three batters in order.

The Orioles look for bounceback efforts from Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, who both surrendered five earned runs in their 2013 debuts. Arrieta surprised many this spring with his dazzling 1.56 ERA over five outings (four starts), while Tillman's clutch second half performance (9-3, 2.93 ERA) helped lead the Orioles to the postseason in 2012.

Of course, the Birds are also led by one of the smartest managers in baseball. A guy who shuffled his rotation around this road trip because he likes the way Chen pitches with the shadows and Fenway Park and wanted to save Miguel Gonzalez for Yankee Stadium, a place where he went 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA last season. Buck Showalter alone is reason enough to not worry about the Orioles seven games into the season.

There's lots of baseball left to be played and plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Orioles chances this season, but there will be highs and lows. The Orioles won 93 games and the American League wild card game last season, but still lost six games straight from May 26-June 1. Don't panic after a rough three games - the Orioles have shown plenty more reasons to be encouraged than disappointed.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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