Is it too early to say that the Baltimore Orioles are for real?

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The Orioles were tied for first place in the AL East going into Tuesday’s game with a 22-14 record, but there’s a long way to go if they are to end a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons.

Baltimore began the year by sweeping Minnesota followed by the reverse against the New York Yankees. The Orioles went 6-1 in their next seven series, including taking all three games in a series at Boston, before getting pummeled by Texas 24-6 in the first two of three games. But they bounced back by winning two of three at home against Tampa Bay last weekend.

The win on Saturday gave Baltimore the distinction of being tied for the best record in the AL with the Texas Rangers.

“We found people that we can play with and we can win (with),” Orioles reliever Pedro Strop said, after pitching a perfect eighth inning of a 5-3 win over the Rays. “A lot of people are asking me, ‘Are you surprised at this team?’ We’re not surprised. We’ve been doing what we were hoping. A lot of people are surprised, but we’re not. We are going to keep winning games.”

Although their starting pitching (4.23 ERA) is not stellar from top to bottom, the Orioles have gotten solid efforts from Wei-Yin Chen (3-0, 2.43 ERA through Monday) and Jason Hammel (4-1, 2.68). But it’s the bullpen that’s really made its mark. Darren O’Day (3-0, 1.56), Matt Lindstrom (1.29) and Strop (3-1, 1.35) have been the leaders of a relieving corps that ranks second in the major leagues with a 2.28 ERA. Jim Johnson went into Tuesday’s game tied for second in the majors in saves with 11.

Offensively, the Orioles have been able to slug it out with anyone, leading the big leagues with 57 home runs (through Monday), while ranking fifth in slugging percentage at .448 and sixth in runs scored with 168. Adam Jones (10 HRs), J.J. Hardy (9) and Matt Wieters (8) have been the big boppers.

It’s early, but if the Orioles keep pounding balls out of the park while their bullpen holds onto leads, they just might stay in contention.

Hamilton’s four-homer game: It’s been more than a week since Josh Hamilton slugged four home runs in Texas’ 10-3 win at Baltimore, but it’s still worth talking about. Hamilton is the 16th major league player to hit four homers in a game, and the sixth AL player to do it.

All of his homers were two-run shots, off of three different pitchers. Hamilton’s eight RBIs were a career-high, and his 18 total bases set a new single-game AL record.

“History was witnessed tonight,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said after the game.

Hamilton went 5-for-5, getting just a double in his other at-bat. His five extra-base hits set a Texas single-game team mark.

“He’s the best athlete in baseball,” Rangers right-fielder Nelson Cruz said.

Hamilton is off to a tremendous start, batting .400 with 18 home runs and 44 RBIs through Monday, leading the majors in each category. The question is, will he ever cool off?

StatsWatch: Home run leaders (through Monday) —

  • Josh Hamilton, Rangers, 18
  • Carlos Beltran, Cardinals, 13
  • Adam Dunn, White Sox, 12
  • Curtis Granderson, Yankees, 12
  • Matt Kemp, Dodgers, 12

Diamond Notes: Los Angeles Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson became the first pitcher to start consecutive games on Saturday since the Texas Rangers Aaron Myette on Sept. 3-4, 2002. Wilson threw to just five batters because of a long rain delay last Friday, then went 5 2/3 innings the next day, allowing five hits and two runs in the Angels 4-2 win over the Rangers…Oakland’s Brandon Inge became the first player to have four games with four or more RBIs during a five-game stretch since Lou Gehrig in 1931…Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte made his first start in the majors since 2010 in a 6-2 loss to Seattle on Sunday. Pettitte gave up four runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. “I felt good,” Pettitte said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. It came back really quick.”…The Dodgers placed outfielder Matt Kemp on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with a strained left hamstring. Kemp’s consecutive games streak, the longest in the major leagues, was snapped at 399 on Monday. He is eligible to return on May 29 against Milwaukee…Baltimore hit three homers in its first three at-bats in last Thursday’s game against Texas. Ryan Flaherty, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis started the bottom of the first inning by hitting home runs off Colby Lewis in the Orioles 6-5 win. It’s the first time that has happened in the AL. The last team to do it was the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 9, 2007.

Copyright © 2012 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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