Tag: AL East
In last year’s BOP, I sarcastically made a “bold” prediction that my favorite sports team would not lose 98 games, and they promptly went out and damn near lost more than that! If not for a miraculous performance in the last two months of 2010, they would have threatened the 1899 Cleveland Spiders’ all-time futility mark of 134 losses. So my sarcasm proved umm…unwarranted, to say the least.
So what went wrong? In short, everything. Leadoff man Brian Roberts and closer Mike Gonzalez were both injured on Opening Day (although Gonzalez foolishly tried to play through his elbow tendinitis, which resulted in four heartbreaking blown saves in Week One alone). Young pitching failed to take the next step, normally reliable hitters had down years, free agent signings didn’t come close to panning out, severe injuries struck throughout the roster, and the Orioles went through three managers in six months. It wasn’t pretty. It was one of the most painful seasons in Orioles history.
But they didn’t lose 98 games. They lost 96, thanks to an incredible resurgence and return to health over the final two months of the season. Put that together with some big offseason acquisitions, and new manager Buck Showalter has good reason for the recent spring in his step (if not his recent inflammatory remarks to Men’s Journal). Let’s take a look:
Lots of fresh faces here, as the Orioles acquired 1B Derrek Lee, SS J.J. Hardy and 3B Mark Reynolds during the offseason. In keeping with the “grow the arms/buy the bats” mantra, it would appear that the Orioles infield should be a strength, on both offense and defense. The player with my full attention is Reynolds. He’s an intriguing slugger (50 HR potential) who is also the majors’ undisputed all-time strikeout king (no one has ever had more strikeouts in three years than Reynolds from ‘08 to ‘10). Personally, I don’t mind if he strikes out 200 times as long as he also walks a lot (he always does) and hits 35+ dingers. Given the embarassing lack of production from corner infielders at Camden Yards last year, I think I can speak for the entire city when I say “we’ll take it.” Swing away, Mark!
Orioles fans know the names: Markakis, Jones, and Scott. All three are solid defenders (Markakis has maybe the best arm in the game) and all three can hit. Jones is a five-tool player whom I expect to turn the corner this year. Don’t be surprised if he ends up hitting .275 with 20 homers and 20 steals in 2011. This man is a star on the rise.
Five years ago, the Orioles were serious bidders in the Vladimir Guerrero sweepstakes but barely lost out on him when he signed with the Angels. History did not repeat itself this offseason, as the birds finally got their man. Sure, he’s 36 now, sure he’s always an injury risk, and sure they overpaid, but if he drives in 100 no one will care about any of that. Vlad had a terrific spring and looks ready to contribute to what could well be a top-10 offense in Baltimore. This future Hall of Famer is going to do some big things at Camden Yards if he stays healthy. Here’s hoping he can!
Two years ago, Matt Wieters joined the big league club amid more hype than Jesus. He has been a terrific backstop and leader, but the power he displayed in his minor league days has not surfaced in the majors as of yet. Many experts are predicting a big year for Wieters in 2011, but what else is new? We’ve been hearing this kid’s name since he was 18! Time will tell, but the worst he can be is an above average catcher with a rocket arm and perfectly acceptable offensive production. The upside? Well, the sky’s the limit, hence the hype.
Well, we’ve grown the arms and now the promising pitchers that the Orioles have been excited about on the farm for years have the fate of the franchise on their strong young shoulders. Matusz, Arrieta, Tillman, Britton, Bergeson. The O’s are banking on these five guys in their early to mid 20s fulfilling their potential all at the same time like a Chia-Rotation (just add water). They have all shown flashes of brilliance (Matusz in particular pitched to a 2.16 ERA after August 1st last year) but can these kids lead this team to the playoffs now? Or will they take another year or two to develop? If these young guns rise to the next level, these Orioles can compete with anyone. I say “why not” and fully expect the Orioles to shave nearly an entire point off their team ERA in 2011 (last year’s mark of 4.59 was the fourth worst in baseball), and join the top ten in this category with a shocking 3.68! If I am right about that, this is going to be a great year indeed.
The Orioles’ bullpen should be very solid this year, with three former closers (Gonzalez plus Koji Uehara and newly acquired Kevin Gregg) in the mix. I am not expecting too many late leads to be coughed up, and I think we had quite enough of that last year anyway.
Virtually no one is returning from last year’s regime. Manager Buck Showalter is at the helm now and so far is the star of the team (last year’s late season resurgence coincided with Showalter’s joining the club, but it also coincided with about five regulars coming off of the DL, so the “Showalter Effect” is probably being overstated in the media). All of the new coaches are proven winners, from pitching coach Mark Connor to bench coach Willie Randolph. The coaching staff could be the “X-factor” the Orioles have been missing during their franchise-record 13-season losing streak.
I say the streak ends now! I believe the 2011 Baltimore Orioles have enough pieces in place to be an extremely intriguing team. I predict a winning record for the boys in orange and black, and I think there will be meaningful games in August and September this year. While I do not predict that the Orioles will make the playoffs, I wouldn’t bet the farm against it. I think this team will win 86 games, which in Baltimore will feel like Ed McMahon knocking on the door.
The real obstacle is the impossibly competitive division in which the Orioles play, the AL East. I think there will be more parity in this division this year than we have seen at any point in my life. I predict that four out of five AL East teams will all have winning records but the division champ will have fewer than 94 wins. That’s parity, stiff competition that will make for an exciting season from start to finish.
Here’s to our national pastime, and all that she brings! PLAY BALL!!!
This time last year, I predicted that the Orioles would not suck forever. They sucked last year, but that’s not forever.
And they did not suck for all of last year, either. After finishing the first half only six games under .500, the 2009 Orioles began to suck hard after trading away their closer, best hitter, and several other pieces of an already incomplete puzzle. The second half of 2009 was really about calling exciting young prospects up to the big leagues to see what they could do. The growing pains were obvious and Baltimore finished 2009 with 98 losses.
I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the Orioles will not lose 98 games in 2010! This team is young, hungry, and talented. Every area in which the Orioles disappointed last year has been improved for 2010. I believe they have done enough to finally break the 12-year losing streak and turn the corner into respectability.
After enduring 12 consecutive losing seasons (The O’s have not made the playoffs since going wire-to-wire in the AL East in 1997), fans have the right to be skeptical. But I feel there is much cause for optimism. Hey, it’s February! My prediction? 87 wins! Same total as the “Why not?” season of 1989. Hey, as we said back then between bites of Jack’s corned beef on Lombard Street, “Why not, hon?”
The Oriole starting pitching staff is greatly improved from last year. Kevin Millwood is a proven horse. Jeremy Guthrie is coming off a down year, but he put up good numbers in 2007 and 2008 and is looking to rebound. Brad Bergeson was looking like a Rookie of the Year candidate last year before a line drive to the shin ended his season in July. Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz have been on every scout’s list of hot prospects for several years, and both gained big league experience in 2009. This young, intriguing staff could surprise the world right out of the gate!
The Orioles ranked fifth in the AL in batting average and doubles in 2009 but were below average in most other statistical offensive categories. This year, the improved offense could be a lot of fun to watch!
The Orioles’ outfielders can match up with any team in the majors. Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are budding superstars, five tool players the likes of which the Orioles have not had in my lifetime (with apologies to Ken Singleton and Al Bumbry).
At catcher, Baltimore boasts last year’s most talked about, and perhaps history’s most overhyped, rookie in Matt Wieters. Wieters is a true stud at the position, with a great arm and sky’s-the-limit offensive potential. He batted .362 with 14 RBI in September, and if he looks anything like that this Spring, you will see a lot of smiles in Sarasota.
Two more players to watch are new corner infielders Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada. Atkins returns to his natural position after yielding the post to Todd Helton in Colorado, while former Oriole (and former MVP) Tejada will make the transition to third base that so many other great shortstops (including Cal Ripken) have done around his age (36).
Up the middle, the Orioles have one of the best double-play combinations in baseball with Brian Roberts and Cesar Izturis. Both are terrific infielders who may not always make the Sportscenter highlights but who almost always make the play.
The bullpen is also improved, with new closer Mike Gonzalez. Gonzalez is one of the top lefty relievers in the game, and his addition allows setup man Jim Johnson to return to his proper role after inheriting closer duties from George Sherrill after he was traded to the Dodgers for Josh Bell. And do not forget Koji Uehara, the Japanese import who in 2009 was forced into a starting role and subsequently shut down due to injury. Uehara should thrive in the bullpen, as he is not built for the endurance required of MLB starters.
“Well, if the Orioles look so great, let’s just bet the farm they win the World Series, Clayton!” Not so fast, hypothetical respondent! While the Orioles are greatly improved, they still have many question marks. A team this young may struggle with endurance, focus, personality, variance, emotion, and health. Additionally, the Oriole offense lacks a true cleanup hitter and is wanting for power throughout the lineup. Two corner infielders not playing the same position as last year raises a red flag as well.
And then there’s that little detail of playing in the toughest division in sports, the AL East! I am convinced the Orioles could win the AL Central, but guess what? That’s not where they play. If the Orioles do not improve their record within the division it is very hard to imagine them finishing over .500 in 2010.
I for one am truly excited about the product Peter Angelos and Company are putting onto the field this year. Much remains to be seen, but that is the fun of having a fresh, young, up and coming team like the 2010 Baltimore Orioles. I say let’s party like it’s 1989.