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Orioles’ first loss reveals Cubs as young season’s best team

With the Red Sox handing the Orioles their first loss of the year, the mantle of "best team in baseball" on the young season now passes, unsurprisingly, to the Cubs.

The last undefeated team in the major leagues this season lost Wednesday night, as the Orioles took their first defeat b y falling 4–2 to the Red Sox at Fenway Park, dropping their record on the young season to 7–1. Meanwhile, in the only other century-old ballpark in the major leagues, the Cubs obliterated the Reds, 9–2, to push their record to 7–1 on the season and take their rightful place—at least as far as preseason prognosticators such as myself are concerned—as the best team in baseball in 2016.

Breaking down Orioles' perfect start and Twins' winless skid

Yes, the Cubs and Orioles are tied in terms of wins and losses, but the Cubs boast by far the best run differential in the game, with their lopsided win over Cincinnati pushing their scoring advantage to +36 on the season. Second-best in that category are the Giants, whose differential fell to +19 with their 10–6 loss to the Rockies and Nolan Arenado, who went 4 for 5 with a double, two home runs and seven RBIs in that game. The Cubs and Giants are tied with the most runs scored in the majors with 56, but the Giants have had one more game to accumulate that total. Meanwhile, only the Nationals, who have played one less game than the Cubs, have given up fewer runs than Chicago (20) has.

Add it all up: Through their first eight games, the Cubs have had the most potent offense in the majors, averaging exactly seven runs per game; the stingiest pitching staff, allowing just 2.5 runs per game; and have successfully converted that production on both sides of the ball into wins and losses, posting a .875 winning percentage against a .887 Pythagorean mark.

The Cubs have accomplished all of that, in an admittedly tiny sample of the season, despite losing one of their most potent bats in sophomore leftfielder Kyle Schwarber. That points to the depth and resiliency of this Cubs team. Schwarber’s replacement in leftfield, 24-year old sophomore Jorge Soler, hasn’t hit much, but he had his best game of the young season Wednesday night, going 2 for 2 with a walk, a run scored and another driven in as, remarkably, the only Cub with a multi-hit night in a game in which Chicago scored nine runs.

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Even more encouraging was the performance of starting pitcher John Lackey. After getting smacked around in his first start of the year, Lackey rebounded in his first home start of the year, holding the Reds to two runs over 6 2/3 innings and striking out seven. Lackey’s teammates helped out by taking the pressure off right away, scoring five runs in the bottom of the first, with Lackey singling in the fifth run to drive Reds starter Alfredo Simon from the game.

History on side of 7–0 Orioles, but not for 0–7 Braves, Twins

As for the Orioles, they took an early lead in the top of the third on a two-run home run by Chris Davis off Red Sox starter Joe Kelly. Baltimore starter Ubaldo Jimenez gave those two runs right back, however, before getting the first out in the bottom of the third, then gave up two more in the fourth keyed by Jackie Bradley Jr.’s RBI triple to rightfield. Baltimore also ran into trouble, literally, by being overly aggressive on the bases. J.J. Hardy led off the top of the second with a drive off the wall in centerfield but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple (by, it should be noted, outstanding relay work from Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia). In the sixth, trailing 4–2, Manny Machado hit a two-out double to bring Davis to the plate as the tying run, only to get caught stealing third. The vaunted Red Sox bullpen allowed just one more Oriole to reach base in the final three innings, with Craig Kimbrel, who gave up a three-run home run to Davis to take the loss in Boston’s home opener on Monday, striking out the side in the ninth inning of this game.

As for this season’s biggest losers, the Braves and Twins both fell to 0–8 on the season and were both shut out by identical 3–0 scores. The Braves failed to score a run against the Nationals despite missing scheduled starter Stephen Strasburg, who was scratched due to illness; Tanner Roark worked seven scoreless frames in Strasburg’s stead. In Minnesota, meanwhile, sophomore lefty Carlos Rodon did the bulk of the work for the White Sox against the Twins with six scoreless frames. The Twins have scored just 13 runs in their eight games this season; no other team has scored fewer than 20 runs on the season, not even the Indians, who have played just six games due to bad weather.