Before the 2009 season, several fans tagged the upcoming campaign as a “throw-away year”. A year in which the Birds would not compete, let alone leave a dent in the AL East standings. There was one primary goal: Get the rookies’ feet wet.
With the arrivals of star catcher Matt Wieters, long-time outfield prospect Nolan Reimold, 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Brad Bergesen, starters Jason Berken and David Hernandez, and former Mariner prospect Kam Mickolio, the O’s have done just that. Fans and analysts alike argue that the Orioles could have several Rookie of the Year candidates, with the first three youngsters listed being the leaders of the pack.
Wieters has now assumed the role as starting catcher, Reimold the starting left fielder, and Bergesen the ace of the Baltimore staff. It is clear to many that the Birds have a bright future ahead, and with starters Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and Troy Patton set to arrive later in the season, that future could be sooner rather than later.
Looking outside the window of the youngsters’ individual successes, we must glance at the new arrivals who made their way to Baltimore before the season began. Three names have made their presences known as of late. Shortstop Cesar Izturis has proved why he is a former Gold Glove Award Winner. Utility-infielder Ty Wigginton is beginning to show flashes of the success he achieved while with the Houston Astros. Even starter-turned-reliever Mark Hendrickson has turned his season around (Over his last ten appearances, he has gone 12 1/3 innings, giving up two ER, recording 12 Ks and 3 BBs.).
On the flip side, several names have disappointed since joining the squad. Former Cubs’ top prospects Rich Hill and Felix Pie have had their ups-and-downs, with Hill recording a 6.92 ERA and Pie no longer receiving starts in left. Also, Koji Uehara is now out until September, killing his chances of furthering his impact with the big league club. One final name to remember is Adam Eaton (A shiver just went down my spine.). After one quality start, the O’s were forced to release the struggling veteran, making way for the up-and-coming youngsters to assume their roles in the rotation.
After looking at the newcomers, we must take a peek at those who have been in Birdland before. Outfielders Nick Markakis and Adam Jones have been fantastic yet again in ‘09, as Markakis has racked up 57 RBI by the All-Star break and Jones will be making his first ever All-Star appearance at the age of 23.
The veterans have not been as spectacular, with Brian Roberts’ batting average hovering around .275, Melvin Mora struggling to find the power stroke he possessed at the end of last season, and first baseman Aubrey Huff having his troubles just simply getting a hit to fall in.
For the rotation, Jeremy Guthrie is amongst the league-leaders in home runs allowed, and his 5.35 ERA has made me swipe the “ace” title away from him.
In the pen, George Sherrill has accumulated 20 saves, and Danys Baez has regained his form from early 2007. Setup man Jim Johnson is back to his ways of old, and Matt Albers has been fantastic since his return from Triple-A Norfolk. Life is good in the pen for now.
We cannot talk about the vets, though, without mentioning the breakout season Luke Scott is having. Acquired from the Astros last season in the 5-for-1 Miguel Tejada deal, Scott has been nothing short of spectacular as the team’s regular designated hitter, hitting .305 with 18 HR, 51 RBI, and 39 R.
All-in-all, it has been a year to remember for the O’s. Whether it be a 9-run comeback in the final two innings against Boston, or giving up four against the same team they clobbered just the night before in the ninth to take the loss, this squad has been a fun one to watch.
If I had to give the first half of the year a grade, I would stick with a C+. Being last in the AL East standings never helps your total points, but the fact that they have brought up the fruits of the future franchise is enough to make me smile.
Oh well, there’s always the second half. Here’s to the Birds not breaking down in September!