When the Twins got swept in their season-opening series at Camden Yards, it seemed like an embarrassingly bad way for Minnesota to start the season. But the Orioles were no mirage.
After 14 consecutive losing seasons, Baltimore would have been a wild-card team had the postseason started at the All-Star break. The Orioles are bound to fade with so many second-half games inside the relentless American League East.
But as the Orioles return to Target Field on Monday, make no mistake: The tide is turning in the Chesapeake. Buck Showalter's team is competitive now and should be better soon, when two of baseball's best prospects -- Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado -- arrive in the Inner Harbor.
In its midseason rankings, Baseball America listed Bundy as the No. 1 prospect in the sport, with Machado at No. 9.
Bundy, 19, was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft. A righthander listed generously at 6-1, he's 195 pounds of solid muscle and has three standout pitches, including a fastball that sits 94-98 miles per hour and a knee-buckling curve.
He started the year at Class A Delmarva, and it was almost comical, as he posted a 0.00 ERA in 30 innings, with 40 strikeouts, two walks and five hits allowed. He is at Class A Frederick now, and the Orioles are being extremely careful with his pitch count.
"They're trying to protect me and look out for my future, not what happens this year," Bundy said last Sunday at the Futures Game.
The Orioles have been more aggressive with Machado, the No. 3 overall pick from the 2010 draft behind Bryce Harper and Jameson Taillon.
Machado, 20, is a wiry, strong, 6-3 shortstop with a good arm and quick bat. In Class AA, his OPS has increased each month since May, from .712 to .803 to .906. By next year, he could be in the majors, though it's unclear if he or incumbent Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy would move to third base.
"Once I get that call [to the majors], I want to know that I'm ready to go up there and stay for a really long time," Machado said.
He found a good mentor in Adam Jones, Baltimore's All-Star center fielder. They talk several times each week. Jones, who recently signed a six-year, $86 million contract extension, knows it's his turn to start taking younger players under his wing.
"I'm 26; I haven't experienced that much, but I've experienced a lot more than them," Jones said.
As General Manager Dan Duquette looks to bolster the roster before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, Bundy and Machado are pretty much untouchable, and the Orioles are otherwise thin on prospects. They need starting pitching and a leadoff hitter. The Twins could package Francisco Liriano and Denard Span, and it still wouldn't get them Bundy.
Baltimore needs to stick to its plan. In four years under former Twins GM Andy MacPhail, the Orioles stole Jones from the Mariners and drafted All-Star catcher Matt Wieters, but they kept finishing in last place.
Owner Peter Angelos took a chance by giving Duquette his first job in organized baseball since he left the Red Sox in 2002. Duquette quickly made one of the league's best offseason trades, getting starting pitcher Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom from the Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie. Duquette also signed Taiwanese lefthander Wei-Yin Chen, the team's second-most reliable starter in the first half after Hammel.
No matter how this season ends, the Orioles have to feel like their organization has finally turned a corner.
"Oh yeah, we feel it down through the system," Machado said. "It's a winning vibe, from the major leagues to rookie ball."