The just-concluded road trip had the potential to be something special after the Orioles took two of three games in Toronto and three of four in Chicago. They lost two of three in Anaheim, removing some of the luster, but they finished above .500 on a three-city jaunt that could have sent them tumbling down the American League East standings.
I think we can all agree that going 6-4 on the trip was a nice achievement, especially after the Yankees swept the Orioles at Camden Yards. And being 9-7 after 16 games is more than acceptable for a team that is being touted nationally as a 100-loss mess.
The Orioles are tied with Tampa Bay for third place, a half-game behind the division-leading Yankees and Blue Jays. Toronto comes to Camden Yards tomorrow. The Jays have won three in a row and are 5-1 on the road.
I'll slap the "important" label on this series. It's never too early.
Here's another record worth noting: The Orioles improved to 4-0 yesterday when they don't commit an error. It's a simple formula. Play good defense, win more games.
Quality starts also help a team reach that goal, and Wei-Yin Chen turned in the Orioles' sixth of the season, and only their third in the last 13 games.
We still don't know how Chen will hold up over the grind of a major league season, when he'll normally work on four days' rest, but he's been pretty impressive through three starts. He has stretches where batters can't touch him, and he keeps giving the Orioles a chance to win. He has good stuff.
He also pitched into the sixth inning yesterday, which was important. And he hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in his three outings, which you'll gladly take from your No. 5 starter.
The rotation still brings two concerns. Brian Matusz is dragging along a 7.98 ERA and 2.25 WHIP, and Tommy Hunter is dealing with soreness in his left side that so far hasn't kept him off the mound.
No wonder manager Buck Showalter kept waiting for Hunter's "work day" before mapping out his rotation for a particular series. He had to make sure Hunter would still be in it.
Anyone campaigning for Matusz to be optioned to Triple-A Norfolk must come up with a replacement for him. We know it won't be Tsuyoshi Wada, who's having his left elbow examined by team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens.
There's another concern. Wada hasn't been right physically since the early days of spring training. The Orioles are paying him $8.15 million over two years and they still haven't established if he's a starter or long reliever, and whether he's durable enough to stay off the disabled list.
As for a starter-in-waiting, a quick check of Norfolk's roster shows that Jason Berken has allowed one earned run in 15 innings over three starts. Dana Eveland is 1-1 with a 2.41 ERA in 18 2/3 innings over three starts. Steve Johnson is 1-0 with a 2.30 ERA in 15 2/3 innings over three appearances (two starts). Chris Tillman is 1-2 with a 4.73 ERA and nine walks in 13 1/3 innings over three starts. And Brad Bergesen, who started the opener for the Tides, is 0-1 with a 7.02 ERA and 28 hits in 16 2/3 innings over four starts.
As long as I'm rambling, and as long as I'm writing about the Tides, Dontrelle Willis was transferred from the disabled list to the restricted list. The Orioles haven't said much about it, but as I tweeted yesterday, Willis has concerns about being a reliever and the effect it's having on his left arm. Perhaps that's the reason.
Willis went on the DL with a sore forearm after allowing two earned runs (four total) and four hits, with two walks, in 3 2/3 innings over three appearances. The Orioles are trying to make him a lefty specialist. Apparently, Willis isn't sold on the idea, though he seemed to be on board after signing with the club in spring training.
We'll see how this one plays out.