Tag: why not
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.