Is the Future Finally Here For The Baltimore Orioles?
- Updated: April 2, 2011
After more than a decade of mediocrity and a continual “building for the future” mentality, it appears that the future has finally arrived for the Baltimore Orioles.
Buoyed by the 34-23 (.596) record posted once Buck Showalter became manager in August of last season, the Orioles’ front office decided in the off-season to make moves designed to help the team take immediate steps toward contention in the difficult American League East.
The result is an everyday lineup that is comparable to the other powerhouse lineups in the American League.
For the Orioles in 2011, the key to success will be on the mound where the Orioles are relying on their young crop of talented hurlers to compete against the powerful American League lineups.
Below is a look at the 2011 lineup for the Orioles
After a promising rookie campaign in 2009, catcher Matt Wieters struggled for much of the 2010 campaign and finished with a .249 average, 11 home runs and 55 RBI. He has all the tools to be an All-Star and will look to have a breakout campaign in 2011.
First base was a black hole for the Orioles in 2010, but the position should be in capable hands in 2011 with the acquisition of veteran Derrek Lee. The three-time Gold Glover and two-time All-Star hit .260 with 19 home runs and 80 RBI a year ago. He will be playing in the American League for the first time after a 14-year career terrorizing National League pitchers.
Often you don’t know someone’s true value until they are gone. That was the case for the Orioles last season with second baseman Brian Roberts. Spending the first half of the season without their table-setter, the Orioles had trouble scoring runs and were the worst team in baseball. Though he was never at top form, the return of Roberts in late July coincided with the return to respectability.
Shortstop Cesar Izturis has been a steady defensive performer and occasional offensive threat for the Orioles over the last two seasons. However, the team signed veteran J.J. Hardy in the offseason with the hope that he will provide more offensive spark. If both players remain on the roster, the Orioles should be well positioned at this important position.
Another disappointing position for the Orioles a year ago was third base. They are hopeful that Mark Reynolds, who hit 32 home runs for the Diamondbacks a year ago, can fill the void and give the Orioles another powerful offensive weapon.
The outfield duo of Nick Markakis (.297 BA, 12 HR, 60 RBI) and Adam Jones (.284, 19, 69) is as solid as any centerfeld and rightfield combo in baseball. Both players struggled when Brian Roberts was out of the lineup because the Orioles were unable to get men on base. However, the additions to the lineup this season should help take offensive pressure off both players.
The third outfield spot will likely be split between Felix Pie and Luke Scott. After struggling with injuries for much of the season, Pie was healthy for most of the second half of 2010 and showed that he could be an everyday fixture in leftfield. Scott hit .284 with a team-high 27 home runs last season and could see time at a variety of spots in 2011.
Newcomer Vladimir Guerrero could be the addition that puts the Orioles lineup over the top. A proven winner, Guerrero has been in the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons and Baltimore is hopeful that he can deliver similar magic for the O’s like what he did for the Texas Rangers a year ago. Now 36-years-old, Guerrero hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI a year ago.
It will be left to see if the decision not to bring in a quality veteran to go with the young starting rotation was a smart move or a regrettable one.
Instead, team president Andy MacPhail spent significant money on upgrading the offense and will look for the pitching staff to continue the strides made over the final two months of the 2010 season.
Though veteran Jeremy Guthrie (11-14, 3.83 ERA) is the opening day starter, the success of the Orioles in 2011 will go hand-in-hand with the performance of the young starters in the rotation.
Brian Matusz (10-12, 4.30) showed glimpses of brilliance a year ago and has the ability to be a number one starter.
Brian Bergesen (8-12, 4.98) was never as good in 2010 as he had been during his rookie campaign of 2009. He is a solid control pitcher who puts the ball in play. However, last season he allowed 26 home runs and more than a hit per inning. If he can regain his 2009 form, Bergesen will be a solid third starter.
Both Jake Arrieta (6-6, 4.66) and Chris Tillman (2-5, 5.87) are talented hurlers who could become staples of the rotation. If they can harness that talent, the Orioles will have a solid starting staff.
The one veteran brought into the mix is former Oakland A’s All-Star Justin Duchscherer. Primarily a reliever with the A’s before moving into a starters role the last three years, he serves as a backup plan if one of the young guns falters.
In the bullpen, the Orioles have a number of solid arms led by closer Kevin Gregg. Koji Uehera, Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson and Jason Berken are all solid pitchers who give the Orioles important pitching depth.
The key for the pitchers in 2011 will be for the starters to go deep enough into games that the bullpen isn’t asked to pitch four or more innings per game. That was a big difference after Showalter’s arrival in 2010 as the starters went an extra inning per game and the bullpen was no longer over-burdened on a nightly basis.
If the Orioles can replicate that situation for the entire 2011 season then they should have enough quality arms to contend.
There is little doubt that the Orioles will be able to score runs, but the offensive key will be for the top of the lineup to get on base enough to allow the power hitters to drive them home.
The pitching staff is young, but if the glimpse of promise displayed in the final months of the 2010 campaign can be duplicated then the Orioles should post their first winning season since 1997.
Unfortunately, since the Orioles live in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, they may end up as the best fourth place team in baseball.
However, while that won’t excite the Orioles’ faithful, the fact that the team is starting a season thinking about this year instead of the future should bring a renewed excitement to Camden Yards.