We're officially one-quarter of the way through the 2012 MLB season, and the Orioles are looking like an inspired bunch.
Sitting 11 games over .500 for the first time since 2005, Baltimore is in sole possession of first place in the American League East. And if the playoffs ended today, the Orioles would claim the top overall seed.
Led by star outfielder Adam Jones, who, heading into Monday night's game against the Red Sox was on pace for 54 home runs, 112 RBIs and 23 stolen bases for good measure, Baltimore has settled into a groove.
Jones, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy lead the Birds in home runs, and as a unit have guided the team to lead the league in dingers. It's a big reason why Baltimore is winners of five of its last seven games, and has already won a series against each of its AL East opponents.
But it hasn't been all offense. The team's bullpen has been outstanding. Relief pitchers Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Darren O'Day, Matt Lindstrom and Luis Ayala have combined for 100 2/3 innings pitched and a lights-out earned run average of just 1.26.
The starters have mostly pulled their weight, too. Jake Arrieta, one of the organization's top prospects for the last few years, is finally living up to the hype and appears to be working his way into the role of the team's ace. His 51 strikeouts to 13 walks have shown he's taken a step in his command.
Newcomers Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen have been excellent additions, too. Hammel, acquired for longtime starter Jeremy Guthrie, has a 5-1 record behind 46 strikeouts and 16 walks. His 3.12 ERA and ability to be an innings-eater have already given the team significant value, while Guthrie has struggled in Colorado.
Chen, who signed a three-year, $11 million contract in coming over from Japan, has a 4-1 record and could easily be 6-1 if not for a few tough breaks. He's sporting a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 37 to 17 and has a solid 3.35 ERA.
Back in 2005, the Orioles sat at 42-31 before ending up 74-88 and in second-to-last place in the AL East. Baltimore hasn't seen its baseball team in the playoffs since 1997. Ending this season with a postseason appearance would do wonders for the town that has all but written off the O's.