Don’t look now, but the Orioles and Nationals are in first place.
I said don’t look.
As I write this column Friday afternoon, Baltimore (8-5) holds a one-game lead over New York and Tampa Bay in the American League East, and Washington (10-4) has two more victories than second-place Atlanta in the National League East.
Nobody should be making their World Series plans just yet, but the first three weeks of this Major League Baseball season certainly have been more exciting than in recent years.
In the past, it wasn’t uncommon to turn on the television to find both the Orioles and Nationals on the short end of the scoreboard. But only twice this season have the teams lost on the same day.
Turning on the TV to find both teams winning has — surprisingly — almost become the norm. Five times this season, Baltimore and Washington have been victorious on the same day.
So how are they doing it?
For starters, they’re winning the close games. Any baseball fan — or fan of any sport for that matter — knows that’s what good teams do.
The Orioles are 6-2 in games decided by two runs or fewer and the Nationals are 5-2 in games decided by a single run.
The Nationals haven’t lost more than two games in a row and the Orioles’ only consecutive losses came in a three-game sweep came at the hands of the rival Yankees at Camden Yards.
Being able to avoid stretches where you don’t win for a week or more goes a long way to building a ballclub’s confidence.
Both Baltimore and Washington have five wins from their starting pitchers, and the Orioles’ bullpen has six saves while the Nationals’ has five — all very good numbers this early in the season.
Both pitching staffs rank in the top half of the league, with the Nationals sporting an impressive 2.54 earned-run average, bettered only by Philadelphia and Texas. Most everyone expected big things from Stephen Strasburg, but who would have thought he would be third on the team in strikeouts (with 19) behind fellow starters Gio Gonzalez (21) and Edwin Jackson (20)?
The Orioles rank 12th among 30 teams with a 3.60 ERA, and have four wins from newcomers Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Tommy Hunter. They have picked up the slack while Brian Matusz (0-2, 8.38 ERA) has struggled.
Both teams carry a .252 average, which is tied for 15th in the league, but Baltimore is second only to Texas with 21 home runs. The Orioles have six players batting over .300 and the Nationals have five.
I know it’s not the statistics that win the game; it’s the players on the field who do. But it’s been a long time since baseball data this good has been associated with Baltimore and Washington.
I jokingly turned to a co-worker one morning this week and asked him if he was thinking yet about an I-95 World Series.
A longtime Orioles fan, he smiled and replied, “It’s still early.”
And he’s right.
But isn’t it fun to dream?