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Patrick Hruby

Atlantic Sports Roundtable: Baseball's Wacky Start

The Baltimore Orioles lead the league. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are a bigger factor on ESPN than in the American League East standings. The Washington Nationals are no longer a joke. Black is white, up is down and Major League Baseball at the 2012 season quarter-turn has gone through the looking glass. (Even the Kansas City Royals have morphed from putrid to just plain bad).

In this week's Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we discuss what it all means:

Jake Simpson: ... Texas and St. Louis, last year's World Series participants, are holding serve at the top of the AL West and NL Central, respectively. But the other four divisions all have surprises at the top, none more so than the AL East, where the Baltimore Orioles are tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for first place while the Yankees and Red Sox fight to avoid the cellar. The Orioles are the latest example of Buck Showalter's magic touch—the veteran manager previously brought the Yankees and Diamondbacks from the doldrums to the brink of a World Series title. Tragically, Buck left the Yanks and D-Backs a year before they won the World Series, so I guess Baltimore owner Peter Angelos' plan is to give Buck a couple more years to prime the team for a postseason run before bringing in a managerial closer ...

Hampton Stevens: ... when you love a losing team like the Royals, baseball season is a schizophrenic experience. After a first week beyond anyone's wildest expectations, the club swooned at home, then swooned more on the road for massively deflating 12-game losing streak. They've since gone 13-6 and clawed back to near-respectability at 15-21. We even took two from the Rangers. Yay. But these are the Royals of David Glass, after all, an owner who would rather win by losing, Pittsburgh-style. Losing so much for so long changes you, changes how you approach the game. Like the revocation of my irrevocable rule about never leaving before the final out. When you get used to seeing the hometown team down 5-0 in the 1st inning, principled baseball fandom gets chucked out the window ...

Patrick Hruby: ... speaking of hype: Bryce Harper. The one-time Sports Illustrated coverboy—remarkable because Harper was, in fact, a boy when he appeared on the magazine's cover—has been called up ahead of schedule, and is actually playing better in the bigs than he did in the minors. Harper has a cannon arm. He plays with Pete Rose hustle. He steals home. He gives himself stitches. He's a little brash, a lot charismatic and all of 19 years old. He just might be baseball's Next Big Thing—and in a town that traditionally makes a mockery of promising newcomers and hard-charging insurgents, both athletic (pretty much any Washington Redskins free agent) and political (pretty much every elected official), a little hope and change that actually sticks would be a welcome development.

Read the full article at the Atlantic online