Every week, TheMirl.com will pose a question to the contributors of The Writers and the webmasters of The Writers' favorite sites based on the current events of the day. The answers will be posted every Thursday.
Which first place team is most likely to contend for the remainder of the season: Baltimore Orioles or Arizona Diamondbacks?
Pat Calabria: The Orioles. Everyone assumes that the Red Sox and Yankees will catch the Orioles eventually, but Miguel Tejada and Sammy Sosa will keep Baltimore in the race into the Fall. And the Orioles are getting valuable contributions from the second-tier players. If Baltimore doesn't get its confidence dented by an inevitable slump, Lee Mazzilli will still have them around in early September.
Brian Wilmer: To me, this is a no-brainer. The Orioles are in a tough division, with the 2004 World Champion Red Sox, the Yankees (the one team that you KNOW will not stay down all season), and the Blue Jays and Devil Rays. Combine with that the fact that Baltimore is getting a completely atypical performance from Brian Roberts (among others), and you have a recipe for early season hopes fading to late season disaster.
Conversely, Arizona has abandoned their previous mostly veterans and mostly youngsters approaches in favor of a more mixed blend of youth (Chris Snyder, Brandon Lyon) and veteran expertise (Troy Glaus, Javier Vazquez). Brandon Webb has again found his rookie year form, and Lyon is atop the National League in saves. Even though Arizona is not exactly tearing the cover off the ball in early season play (their team batting average is in the mid-.250s), they have a solid amount of pop in the lineup. Along with this, the National League West appears to be the Padres and everyone else.
I'll take the Diamondbacks as the team more likely to contend.
Baltimore not only is an actual city while Phoenix is, well, a sprawling blight but it also has the fair better nicknames. Mobtown and CharmCity come to mind while Phoenix has none.
Along those lines, the Orioles play in the first of many retro stadiums, Camden Yards, a true ballpark with enough character to make even the non-baseball fan (like myself) wistful. The Diamondbacks play in a stadium where the swimming pool is the biggest attraction and the reason that people attend games. 'Nuff said.
Of these two squads, it'll be the Orioles that keep up the fast start.
Eric Caterina: A tough decision, but I'd have to give the edge to Arizona simply because of their divisions. On paper, it looks like the AL East is naturally a tougher division than the NL West just because of the Yankees and Red Sox, making the Orioles' chances at making a run for the post-season that much slimmer. As with recent years past, you could assume that one of those two teams wins the division with the other clinching the Wild Card- thus leaving the O's out of postseason baseball.
In Arizona's case, they're dealing with the Padres, Dodgers, and Giants (I'd consider Colorado to be an irrelevant team in the West), which is no easy task. However, with San Francisco struggling without Bonds & Co. until at least (in my opinion) late July, it'll take many thoughts out of the D'backs minds and, in result, improve their play on the ball diamond.
John Labombarda: I think both teams will be playoff contenders for the rest of the season due to their fast start. The Diamondbacks have a better shot at the post-season due to the division they play in. The mediocrity of the N.L. West gives the Diamondbacks a legitimate chance at a division title. The Orioles of course will have to hold off the World Champion Red Sox and the most expensive team in baseball, the Yankees. I don’t think they will be able to pull of that exacta and reach the playoffs.
Barry Neuberger: Baltimore and Arizona look very similar to me. I’ll give edge to Arizona on the management side, as I have no confidence that Peter Angelos will pull the trigger on a July-August pick up to put his team in better contention. But, I’ll give the edge on the field to Baltimore. Their veteran cast of players can carry the team through the pressures of a pennant/wild card race, while Arizona’s squad doesn’t give me the confidence that they can withstand the charge of the Dodgers and Giants, much less the Padres. The pick is the Orioles.
Eric Mirlis: Who ever would have guessed that these two teams would be in the position they are in right now - entering Memorial Day weekend at the top of the standings.
The bigger shock to me is Baltimore. With all the attention the Red Sox and Yankees get in the AL East, it is very easy to overlook all of the other teams in the division, not just the Orioles. But outside of adding Sammy Sosa in the off-season, they did little to address the improvement of their team, especially the pitching staff that looked dreadful coming into the season.
As for the Diamondbacks, they made a splash with some big ticket signings - Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz to name just the two biggest. And their moves certainly seem to have worked, as the standings show.
Given th apparent on-field improvement of both teams, we need to look at strength of competition to determine each team's chances. The O's have to hold off the Yankees and Red Sox. The D'backs have to hold off the Padres and, well, the Padres. Advantage, Arizona.
Ed Barnes: When I first looked at this question I figured I’d take the Diamondbacks since they play in a weaker division but after looking at the numbers, I like the Orioles to stay in the race.
Baltimore has outscored their opponents by 43 runs as of May 26th, one of the bigger margins in baseball. This team can really hit and is fifth in baseball in runs scored. This potent offense will keep them in any game and will mask some of the shortcomings of the starting rotation. Also, the O’s bullpen has been excellent this year with B.J. Ryan showing he can handle the closers role. The only reason for concern is, despite the great start that the Orioles are off to, they only have a 4 game lead on the rest of the division. With the Yankees playing better and the Red Sox getting their rotation healthy down the line, four games is a slim margin.
On the flip side, the Diamondbacks are in first place by half a game but have actually been outscored by their opponents 228-212 this season. They don’t have the prolific offense that the Orioles do to mask the shaky back end of the rotation. Also, the Diamondbacks have the third worst bullpen ERA in the majors. On top of all of that, the Diamondbacks would have to have a record turnaround from 2004 in order to contend. The red flags are there for this team, their shaky bullpen has let them down night after night this year and teams that contend for division titles don’t get outscored by their opponents.
Joshua Sipkin: Much as the Orioles have carved a soft spot for themselves over the past few years due to fantasy loyalties, still have to say the Diamondbacks are more likely to contend. Baltimore's division is just way too tough, their improved pitching has not done it over a full season and it seems that everything has gone right for them so far.
Arizona has a good mix of youth and veterans, there seems to be an infusion of energy and their division is full of at best, upper middle class teams. Another factor may be surprise, in that teams aren't taking the D-Backs seriously because of their very, very recent past.
Jerry Milani: I think this comes down to the company these teams keep. In the significantly less challenging N.L. West, I don't see another team running away and hiding from the D'Backs. With improved depth from several smart off-season trades and signings, Arizona can certainly hang in there and with a pickup or two to add depth to the rotation and the bullpen, which has been further crippled with a mysterious injury to closer Brandon Lyon, there's no reason why the Snakes can't compete.
While the Orioles, top to bottom, are an even better club than the Diamondbacks, the A.L. East rivals the N.L. East for best division in the game. Behemoths New York and Boston are joined by upstart Toronto in what most would like to see as a four-team race. But in the end, the deepest team usually wins and the O's, while significantly better in most aspects of the game, are still largely unproven in the starting rotation and with three key performers on the DL had better hope that their reserves can stave off the inevitable challenges by the big boys.