Major League Baseball
 
Bizarro start to the season


Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is the Bizarro Jerry one, where Elaine breaks up with her "soulmate" boyfriend, Kevin, but decides to stay friends with him, like she did years ago with Jerry.

Kevin then introduces Elaine to his friends and she quickly realizes the dynamic is eerily similar to the one she shares with Jerry, George and Kramer, only Kevin, Gene and Feldman, are the exact opposite of the original trio.

It eventually all becomes too much for Elaine and she goes back to her usual routine, but looking at the MLB standings today, particularly in the American League, I have to admit that I feel as if I have entered the same sort of weird parallel universe.

The Baltimore Orioles, a team I predicted to win about 50 games on the radio a little over a week ago, are already more than 10-percent there and sit atop the AL East and tied for the best record in baseball at 6-1.

According to everything I knew, read, saw, etc., the Orioles should not have won their sixth game until some time in May. Not in a million years would I have thought - at any point in the season - that the O's would be alone in first place and three games up in the loss column on both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, which is exactly where they are as I write this.

How are they doing it? Well, there are a couple of factors, but mainly it has been their bullpen, which has been absolutely tremendous.

Baltimore's bullpen posted the second-worst earned run average in the majors last season at 5.71, but this year the O's relief corps has pitched to an 0.74 ERA, surrendering just two runs in 24 1/3 innings while allowing 11 hits and five walks.

George Sherrill, picked up in the Erik Bedard deal, has more than filled the bill as the team's closer, saving all four of his opportunities. He has had plenty of help, too. Dennis Sarfate, who had a total of 15 major league appearances coming into the season, has racked up a pair of wins and has pitched 3 1/3 hitless innings, while his fellow set-up men Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker and Matt Albers have combined to allow five hits in 12 scoreless frames.

At the plate, newcomer Luke Scott, part of the ransom the team received from Houston for Miguel Tejada, has fit in better than expected, and enters action on Wednesday hitting .500 thanks to a 9-for-14 clip over his last four games.

Things are so good in Baltimore these days that Aubrey Huff is even getting (a few) cheers. Of course, it was Huff who this past offseason made negative comments about the city of Baltimore on the Bubba the Love Sponge show on Sirius satellite radio.

I am a firm believer that fans have short memories and will root for anyone as long as they help their team compete. Huff is the just the latest example, but he seems to be rejuvenated after a disastrous first year in Baltimore. Huff, thanks to his four-hit, four RBI day on Tuesday, now leads the AL with 11 RBI.

Add that in with the incredible Nick Markakis, as well as a dugout that is gaining confidence by the day, and you have your 6-1 start.

Speaking of Markakis, I am predicting this right now - at some point in the next five years Baltimore will have all three of its outfielders playing in an All-Star game at the same time. We already know how good Markakis is, but Scott and Adam Jones are just starting to realize their potential.

I and a lot of other people scratched our heads last season when manager Dave Trembley was given an extension after taking the reigns from the fired Sam Perlozzo. I probably should have given Andy MacPhail more of the benefit of the doubt, though, since he is one of the smartest minds in baseball and all.

Trembley has seemingly changed the whole attitude of the team. I guess that's what happens when you unload some veteran players that have just been losing for so long and replace them with opportunistic and hungry youngsters.

This O's team has people thinking of the 1989 "Why Not?" Orioles bunch that went into the season with similar comparisons to this year's crew after losing 107 games the previous year, but wound up winning 87 games and finishing two games back of the Toronto Blue Jays for the AL East crown.

Who knows if they can sustain this kind of play over the course of 162 games, but baseball is definitely back in Baltimore...for now anyway. Keep this in mind, though, after seven games last season three of the division leaders at the time made the playoffs. So you never know.

Baltimore's quick start isn't the only surprise, though. At the other end of the spectrum there is Detroit, which was picked by nine of the 12 Sports Network prognosticators to reach the World Series, but has yet to win a game and is off to its worst start since 2003 when it lost nine straight to open the year en route to an AL-record 119 losses.

Everyone fell in love with the Tigers when they acquired Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, and rightfully so. Most people figured the addition of Cabrera to a lineup that already included Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Guillen could produce close to 1,000 runs.

Instead, the lineup many figured to be the most imposing from top to bottom has a collective .234 batting average, and ranks last in the AL in runs scored.

The lineup, though, is far from the only problem in Motown. The rotation, aside from Justin Verlander, is just not that good. Kenny Rogers is 43 years old. You can't count on him to give you a consistent effort every fifth day. Jeremy Bonderman has loads of potential, but has been too up and down in his career. Nate Robertson stinks, and Willis is overrated. He is a big name, not a big arm.

And sadly, their rotation is light years better than their bullpen, at least at the moment. The Tigers were dealt a big blow this offseason when flame- throwing righty Joel Zumaya injured his shoulder in a freak accident while helping out during the San Diego fires. The injury required surgery, and Zumaya is expected back sometime after the All-Star break.

Fernando Rodney opened the year on the DL and there is no telling when he is going to be able to pitch again. Even when Rodney returns, the likes of Jason Grilli, Bobby Seay, Denny Bautista and Zach Miner won't instill all that much confidence.

The biggest problem in the pen, though, may be the guy they have closing games for them in Todd Jones. How they ever got to the World Series in 2006 with him is beyond me. Now 39 years old, Mariano Rivera he is not. The Tigers are probably better off that they haven't had to use him in a big spot yet this year.

I know we are only a week or so into the season and I am sure the universe will right itself at some point. Baltimore, as predicted, will probably finish last in the AL and the Tigers will start hitting and cruise to the postseason, but it just goes to show you that preseason predictions mean nothing. As they say - that is why they play the games.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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