Where the Orioles stand right now…

We are just about at the quarter mark of the season with the 2014 edition of the Baltimore Orioles.

As of this morning, they are 21-18 and are atop the American League East. The Orioles hold a ½ game lead over the New York Yankees, and snapped a four-game losing streak with a victory over the Kansas City Royals last night.

Right now, the division seems to be fairly evenly matched as the difference between first and fourth place is only 1 ½ games. The Tampa Bay Rays – expected to be contenders, but are struggling due to injuries and other factors – occupy last place in the American League East; however, they are only 4 ½ games back.

I figured that the division would be a dog fight this season; thus, even in the middle of May, this team needs to win as much as they can. It feels like the race for the division will go into the final weeks of the season, but the Orioles should stay competitive.

The sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers could have hurt the Orioles, but it did not and they have to get back on track against the Royals.

So far, the team has played as expected. Although the Orioles have seen their share of injuries – mainly to Chris Davis and Manny Machado – early on, the lineup seems to be back to what they envisioned. The offense struggled against the Tigers this week; however, for the most part, they are doing the job.

A main key to the offense has been the contributions of Nelson Cruz. I was very skeptical of him considering his role in the Biogenesis scandal and his age, but has he ever been swinging the bat.

With that being said, perhaps the Orioles might want consider his extending his contract and maybe adding another year or two. If he keeps his offense going at this torrid pace, Cruz will be in line for a huge pay after the season, assuming he decides to hit the free agent market.

I guess the biggest concern facing this team now is – the pitching. This is a recurring theme each year, and this one is no exception.

The starting rotation has looked better recently as Ubaldo Jimenez – possibly a key in everything that will happen this season – rebounded from an awful April and seems to be earning his pay now; meanwhile, Chris Tillman is back in gear after a few mediocre starts. Bud Norris has also looked solid, as well as Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez has been serviceable as of late.

However, the closing situation seems to be troublesome with Tommy Hunter at the helm. I’m sure manager Buck Showalter and his staff are looking at other options down the road. Closers may be over-rated, but if the Orioles want to win the close contests, they’ll need Hunter to do better.

I do expect the Orioles to compete this summer and beyond, but with the way the division is shaping up, there’s no dominant team at the moment.

They’ll need to play with regular consistency in all facets of the game if their playoff dreams want to come true.