There is a huge bottle of champagne on the shelf at Pickles Pub with a note that says, “This will be opened, and on the house, the day that the Orioles win the World Series.” I want nothing more than to be there when that happens. Born in August of 1983, two months before the Orioles won the World Series, my baseball fandom has been filled with nothing but disappointment as my beloved O’s have been relegated to the laughing stock of the league. Certainly this season I am hoping Kevin Lynch is right and that the Orioles can contend, but the prognosticators think differently and expect another last place campaign for the Birds.
With pitchers and catchers already in Florida and the postion players heading there soon, there is optimism, as there always is, but also many questions about the 2012 Orioles. Here is my take on some of the burning questions regarding the Orioles coming into the season.
Who will be in the starting rotation?
They say there is no such thing as too much pitching and the Orioles certainly have a lot pitching, albeit not a ton of household names. Certainly the “locks” in the starting rotation, if healthy, are Zach Britton and Brian Matusz. That’s two spots filled if those players can stay injury-free. But who takes the other three?
Tommy Hunter has had success in the major leagues and should find his way into the rotation. So that’s three. And then there is a long, and not exactly distinguished, list of players vying for the final two spots. You have to think that if the Orioles traded their former “number one” starter to Colorado they would certainly use the pitchers they got in return. If that is case, Jason Hammel, who has never faced hitters who he will compete against in the AL East, will be penciled into the rotation. The Japanese imports Wei –Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada, as well as Jake Arrieta, Dana Eveland, Brad Bergesen, Alfredo Simon and Chris Tillman, are also vying for entry into the starting rotation. Ironically, the Orioles most talented pitcher, Dylan Bundy, will not set foot on a major league mound this season, or likely next season.
Ideally I think the best starting five for the Orioles, in order, are: Britton, Matusz, Hunter, Arrieta and Chen. One thing is for sure, we have absolutely no idea who will be toeing the rubber every fifth day for the Orioles, but there are certainly a ton of options…at least we know we won’t have to suffer through starts from Mitch Atkins and Chris Jakubauskas this season.
Who will play the corner infield positions?
The person who the O’s fans wanted to play first base, Prince Fielder, is currently in Detroit, now leaving three guys for two infield spots. I know he strikes out a ton, but his 37 homers last year make it a must to have Mark Reynolds’ bat somewhere in the lineup. I mean he is nicknamed the “Sheriff of Swatingham” for a reason, right? In addition to Reynolds, there are two more high-strikeout but big power-potential guys in Chris “The Deputy” Davis and Josh Bell. Like Reynolds, both of these two are known more for their bats than their gloves. Newly acquired Wilson Betemit is also in the mix and certainly will compete for the starting third base job. When the dust settles, I believe Reynolds will be the starting first baseman with Betemit at third and Davis at DH (though Davis will probably see time at both positions.)
Is Brian Roberts the best option at second?
That is the million dollar question. Roberts is the catalyst of the Orioles offense, but he is 34 and has a combined 98 games in the last two years. Roberts is a sure-fire Orioles’ Hall of Famer, but many would clearly seem to think that his most productive days are behind him. I think Roberts can still be effective and, if healthy, he is still a better player than Robert Andino. However, I do not think he can, or should, play 150+ games. He has been one of my, and certainly the ladies’, favorites, but it is time to address the future at second base. That future second baseman is likely L.J. Hoes, Manny Machado or Jonathan Schoop, but Dan Duquette has already indicated that he doesn’t want to rush players to the majors.
Can the bats duplicate 2011’s success?
The reason for the Orioles’ poor showing last season was not because of their bats and they will look to repeat that offensive success at the plate again this season. Reynolds, Hardy, Jones and Wieters combined for 122 home runs last season. While it is unlikely that Hardy duplicates those power numbers again (although 20-25 is more than possible), the other three should improve on their numbers.
Matt Wieters has emerged as the best defensive catcher in baseball and I expect his bat to catch up and for his power numbers to reach the lofty numbers people expected when he was drafted. Jones is clearly a star and his plate discipline should continue to improve, which will lead to a higher OBP and batting average. A healthy and productive Brian Roberts would help set the table for the Orioles and should increase RBI numbers as the middle of the order will be coming to the plate with ducks on the pond. Nolan Reimold getting the full-time gig in left field should help the offense and hopefully Chris Davis can hit at least 20 bombs.
It is certainly not the Yankees’ lineup, but the Orioles can be a more formidable offense. I expect them to score a lot of runs – and hit a lot of balls onto the flag court and into the bleachers at Camden Yards!
Certainly it would be a crazy notion to think the Orioles can contend for a division title, but I do expect them to be better. It will be interesting to see how the roster shapes up over the course of the 162-game season.
One thing I know is that there is nothing better than Natty Bo’s, girls in O’s jerseys and summer nights at the Yard. Now hopefully the O’s can make things even better by playing some entertaining baseball.
Here is a little something to get you excited!
Follow Marco on Twitter @mromanell