After back-to-back series losses to begin the 2014 season, the Orioles tallied one in the win column, taking two of three games at Yankee Stadium April 7-9. And while some of the Birds' early problems reared their heads again during the three-game set, the series also provided several reasons for optimism moving forward.
Let's break down the positives and the negatives from the Birds' stint in New York.
THE OFFENSE ERUPTS
The Birds' bats had been slow to warm up in 2014, plating four or fewer runs during six of their first seven games -- including the opener of this series, which the Orioles lost, 4-2. Several O's regulars began the season in slumps.
But Orioles fans who were hitting the panic button about the offense's early struggles can take a step back from the ledge. (And perhaps someday, I will learn how to stop mixing metaphors.) The team erupted for 19 runs and 32 hits combined during the final two games of the series, highlighted by a 20-hit attack during a 14-5 win April 8.
The O's got contributions from up and down the batting order during those two games, including some from unexpected sources. Delmon Young -- who was projected to play primarily against southpaws this year -- started consecutive games against right-handers Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka. He responded by collecting three hits during each game, including a home run April 8 and a double April 9 -- while batting second, no less. Young is batting .412 with a 1.092 OPS during four games played this season.
The bottom of the lineup broke through, as well. Infielders Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop both entered the series ice cold, and after the April 7 game, Flaherty was batting .048 (1-for-21) and Schoop was at .143 (3-for-21). Some Orioles fans were calling for one or both to be demoted, though with third baseman Manny Machado and shortstop J.J. Hardy out with injuries, the O's don't have many other options in the infield.
Flaherty and Schoop might have made it a moot point with their offensive performances April 8 and 9. The two combined to go 5-for-11 April 8, and they played an even more significant role April 9. Schoop provided an Earl Weaver Special in the second inning with a three-run homer off Tanaka, which landed in the second deck. And Flaherty sparked the Orioles' game-winning rally in the ninth inning with a leadoff double, and later scored the go-ahead run on Nick Markakis' RBI single.
The Orioles started swinging the home run bats, as well. They had homered three times during the first seven games of 2014, then they homered four times during the last two games of the series, with Young, Schoop, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters doing the honors.
One player who hasn't yet found his home run stroke is Chris Davis, who is batting .303, but has yet to go deep. Through the first nine games of last season, Davis already had six home runs.
THE ROTATION STRUGGLES AGAIN
As the offense is heating up, though, the Orioles' rotation continues to scuffle. Miguel Gonzalez gutted out six innings and allowed three runs during the April 9 finale -- the Birds' second quality start of the year -- but struggled early during the game, giving up a pair of home runs and letting a 3-0 lead slip away. He seemed to find his footing as the night went on, which could give him some momentum heading into his next outing.
The news wasn't as good for Ubaldo Jimenez and Wei-Yin Chen. Chen, who was the only O's starter to pick up a win during the series, labored through 102 pitches in five innings April 8, giving up four runs and nine hits. The Orioles' ample run support helped him. Chen has allowed 21 hits in 10.2 innings this year and doesn't seem as crisp as he has during years past, though it's still early.
Jimenez is still looking for his first win as an Oriole after signing a four-year, $50 million contract this past offseason. Jimenez walked five batters and gave up four runs and eight hits April 7, and he couldn't get out of the fifth inning. Two starts into his Orioles career, Jimenez has a 6.75 ERA and eight walks in 10.2 innings. But, again, it's early. Jimenez also got off to a rough start for the Indians in 2013, then turned it around and became one of the best pitchers in the majors during the second half.
MISTAKES ON THE BASES
So far in 2014, the Orioles have looked uncharacteristically sloppy on the base paths, which is unexpected for a Buck Showalter-led team. The Birds made two blunders April 7, as Nelson Cruz was doubled off first base on a flyout to center and Schoop was picked off at second base by Yankees catcher Brian McCann. Steve Lombardozzi also got picked off second the following day. The O's will need to tighten up their baserunning.