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Seats are filling quickly on Orioles bandwagon

May 01, 2005|by MARK KELLER

That noise you hear is the back end of the Baltimore Orioles bandwagon dragging the ground as fans who had given up on the team in recent years scramble to jump back on for the ride.

Yes, the magic is back for Orioles fans. The O's finished out the month of April in first place, a position only the most optimistic of fans could have guessed they would be in after 23 games.

The question now is: Can they stay on top?

Conventional wisdom says that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will eventually start playing the kind of baseball that they always play and that sooner or later the Orioles will cool off.

I think the conventional wisdom is wrong this year.

Nobody doubted that the Orioles would be able to hit this season. They added Sammy Sosa to an already potent lineup, and Brian Roberts has come out of nowhere to make himself into a five-tool player.

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Miguel Tejada is showing himself to be the best free-agent acquisition ever by the Orioles and Melvin Mora is making New York Mets fans wonder why their team gave up on him.

The concern, as it has been for the last seven years, has been whether or not the pitching would be good enough.

So far, it's been good enough. Still, it has to be a concern.

Orioles starters are 10-5, a more-than-respectable mark. Erik Bedard has been better than advertised, as shown in his eight shutout innings Friday against Tampa Bay. Bruce Chen has been surprisingly good and Rodrigo Lopez has been sharp in his return to the rotation.

The concern has to be with Sidney Ponson and Daniel Cabrera.

Ponson is 3-1, but his ERA is 6.67. Cabrera, who was outstanding in his rookie season last year, has struggled also, going 1-1 with a 7.65 ERA.

If Ponson and Cabrera can settle in, give Lee Mazzilli five to six good innings each start and turn the game over to an underrated bullpen, the O's will find themselves in outstanding shape.

I've got a sneaky suspicion that the Red Sox, once they are healthy, will win the American League East.

But the Yankees are aging quickly at every position, particularly in their pitching. If the Orioles' pitching holds up - and if they can make a move for a top-notch starter before the trade deadline - Baltimore will make a serious run at the Wild Card berth.

And I'm saying the O's will get into the playoffs.

You might not have read it here first, but it's the first time you've read it here.




Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears on Sundays. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com

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