Before the season, there were two decidedly different camps of fans depending on their outlook for this team.  There were those who said that the Orioles were ready to turn a corner (most of the BSR staff included), and those who insisted that this Orioles team was no better than any of the 12 that preceded it (most of our loyal commenters included).  Even so, a direct look at the season doesn’t provide us with a clear answer as to which group was right.  A direct look at the final record would indicate that those who said Baltimore would be a smoking crater were right, but the Orioles .500 record in the second half of the season and incredible record under Buck Showalter indicates those with rose-colored glasses saw the field clearly.  I decided to take a look at some common beliefs held before the season to see how closely each side hit the mark on other issues.

“Dave Trembley needs to be fired” vs. “Trembley isn’t the problem”

Well, this one was answered pretty quickly, wasn’t it?  I don’t think you can ever blame a manager’s in-game moves for more than 5 or 10 wins a season, but Trembley clearly didn’t have this team playing the way they were capable of.  Whether it was due to “respect” or “accountability” or any other amorphous leadership tool, he just didn’t get the job done.  2009 wasn’t the absolute disaster that the first half of 2010 was, but Trembley has to shoulder much of the blame.  Injuries didn’t help, but in hindsight this team could have been playing much better.

“Mike Gonzalez is a waste of a contract” vs. “Gonzo is a solid pickup as closer”

Again, it depends which part of the season you look at.  Mike Gonzalez was an unequivocal disaster before he acknowledged he was injured and even after he came back he was unable to wrest the closer’s job from Koji Uehara.  He didn’t play nearly to the level that he was hoped to when he was brought in, not even close.  His 4.01 ERA might only include a slight increase in WHIP over 2009 (1.30 from 1.20), but he was not consistent from day to day and just did not fit the bill of even a set-up man by season’s end.

“Nolan Reimold’s 2009 season was an aberration” vs. “Nolan Reimold is poised for a breakout year”

Well, Reimold did break out… but not in the way the organization would have hoped.  Whether it was in his head or in his still-recovering ankle, Reimold has just concluded his worst season as a professional baseball player, batting close to the Mendoza line even in Norfolk for much of the season.  He is average defensively, which means his bat has to be exemplary to be a fixture on a major league roster, and it was off all season.  There is no telling whether a year off will see him come back to form in 2011, but this season was terrible even by those who didn’t believe in the O’s young left fielder.

“The Cavalry is just Leowen/Penn/Cabrera 2.0” vs.  “The Cavalry is the foundation for O’s success”

Here we see the optimists take hold.  With the way Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and even Chris Tillman pitched towards the end of the season on a consistent basis, there is plenty of reason for optimism.  Even as Kevin Millwood struggled, Brian Matusz particularly steadied himself as the pitching staff totaled 80 quality starts in 2010 compared to just 58 in 2009.  Brad Bergesen showed late in the season that his 2009 success was not a blip on the radar, and that perhaps he took longer physically to recover than previously hoped.  Chris Tillman was the only pitcher who could be called a bit of a disappointment, but I would be very hesitant to write him off just yet.  Pitchers take time to develop, and there is plenty to like in Tillman right now.

“Matt Wieters isn’t there yet” vs. “Matt Wieters has arrived”

Most of the BSR staff were convinced that after the way Matt Wieters ended last season that he was poised to break out, but he never did.  In fact, he took a step back from last season offensively in every major statistical category except home runs, though he needed 34 more at-bats to get two more home runs than 2009.  Showalter has hinted at it being a confidence issue, and fans have pointed out a need to shorten Wieters’ swing, but perhaps all of the hype is a bit much for the young catcher at this stage.  There is plenty of time for him to come around, but this was definitely not his season.

“Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell are not major leaguers” vs. “Snyder and Bell are the corner infielders of the future”

Brandon Snyder actually did very well at the plate in 2010 in Baltimore, but he only has 20 at-bats to show for that time.  Most of the season both Snyder and Bell were struggling in Norfolk, and when they did arrive they didn’t make much of an impact.  I think all O’s fans wanted Bell to stay at Norfolk for all of 2010, no one really thought he was ready for the show just yet.  However, the Miguel Tejada trade forced the Orioles hand and brought up Bell long before he was ready.  In the 159 at-bats he was given, he failed to make much of an impact aside from his 2-home run day against Texas.  He struck out a staggering 1/3rd of his times at the plate compared to just two walks.  Whatever concerns fans had about his splits have to be set aside until he can cut that down even to Mark Reynolds levels at the very least.  It is fair to say both Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell need another year at Norfolk, and while the jury is still out, it doesn’t look good for the Orioles for 2011.

And finally…

“This team stinks” vs. “This team is poised to compete”

I am going to say that as of right now, as of the end of the season, the optimists take this last category, but only by a nose.  The pitching staff has been incredible since Showalter took over, and while on the whole the team struggled, they avoided the September Swoon that has haunted this team season after season.  Whether this carries into next April I have no idea, but unlike last season, Orioles fans were able to see the second year in many of these prospects’ careers and see their progression.  Felix Pie has cemented himself as a contributor, the starting pitching (and bullpen with Berken, a healthy Jim Johnson, Hernandez, and others) is vastly improved, and Baltimore finally has some players it can count on.

However, the horrific first four months of the season cannot be ignored, as they could easily happen again if in fact Buck Showalter wasn’t a magic elixir for success.  Offensively this team will need a lot of work to compete, and I am certain that many of the same debates will rage on again in February and March.  Call me an optimist, but I am looking forward to it.