As the Orioles take the field today at Minnesota, they do so as the first-place team in the American League East. They are 14-8 since starting the season 1-4 and they are looking for a fourth win in a row this afternoon.
Will Nelson Cruz continue his hot streak today?
Cruz, who hit a 424-foot homer last night, is on a real tear over the last 13 games. In that stretch, he is batting .340 with six homers and 20 RBIs. He has seven multi-RBI games.
Cruz has two homers over his last four games and six over his past 11 games.
In 26 games for the year, he's batting .297 with eight homers and 27 RBIs. He has 38 percent of the team's home runs and 23 percent of its RBIs.
Cruz currently ranks tied for second in the AL in RBIs, and is tied for third in homers and slugging. He is also among the AL leaders in at-bats per homer.
10.91 - Jose Abreu, Chicago
12.63 - Nelson Cruz, Orioles; Jose Bautista, Toronto
12.78 - Albert Pujols, Los Angeles
15.40 - Jasmil Pinto, Minnesota
Cruz hit 27 homers in 413 at-bats in 2013. He averaged a homer every 15.3 at-bats then and would have ranked fifth in the AL in the stat if he had enough at-bats to qualify. That is a 39-homer pace over 600 at-bats.
No doubt Cruz has been bashing the baseball and is one of just a few Orioles that has been swinging consistently well all year.
So should the O's now look to sign Cruz past this season?
My initial thought is it's too soon to go there. What is the rush? Plus there is also that little matter of potential long-term deals for players like Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy.
If the O's don't or can't re-sign Cruz at some point this year, they could make him a one-year qualifying offer and either retain him for 2015 or get a draft pick as compensation if he signs elsewhere.
Cruz has been huge for this team so far, but I think it's too early to think about his contract status yet beyond this season.
As Wei-Yin Chen (3-1, 4.34 ERA) takes the mound today, his last three starts this year have been much better than his first two. He had an ERA of 6.75 and a .412 batting average against after two starts. Over his past three outings, he has an ERA of 2.95 and an average against of .261. Chen is 2-0 with an ERA of 2.25 in two career starts at Minnesota, both at Target Field.
Justice served for O's?: Few writers size up a team better than former Baltimore Sun Orioles beat writer Richard Justice, who is now with MLB.com.
In this column today, Justice wrote this:
"In a division race that looks different every 48 hours or so, the Orioles believe they're going to finish first, and is there a team you'd definitely pick to finish in front of them? The Rays and Yankees have been hit hard by injuries. The Red Sox are fighting to get their mojo back.
"So why not Baltimore? Don't question the Orioles, at least not around the Orioles. That confidence is what happens to a club with a great manager, a manager who instills confidence in his guys, fights like crazy for them and organizes a roster and runs a game as well as anyone.
"That's also what happens in a clubhouse with Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy and a bunch of guys who trust and respect one another and who've been through plenty together.
"In a city that loves its baseball team, this is the kind of group that's easy to root for, and perhaps just as important, easy to respect in terms of work ethic, preparation and competitive fire."
Markakis showing more pop: Nick Markakis doubled in the fifth inning today and that extends his hitting streak to 11 games. It was also the latest example of some pop returning to his bat. Over his last 14 games, Markakis now has six extra-base hits with four doubles and two homers.
Tides roll: The Triple-A Norfolk Tides beat Scranton 10-0 last night as Eddie Gamboa pitched seven innings and Norfolk set season highs in runs and hits. The 10-run margin of victory was the largest for Norfolk since the Tides defeated Gwinnett 13-1 on Aug. 26, 2013.
Brett Wallace hit a two-run homer for the Tides and has now hit .346 (9-for-26) with a home run and seven RBIs over his last seven games.
Steve Johnson (0-0, 5.87 ERA) is slated to come off the disabled list tonight and make the start for Norfolk.