There are a lot of reasons to like the Baltimore Orioles, who lost 96 games in 2009.
One, they finished exceptionally strong. When Buck Showalter took over as manager in late July, the Orioles were sitting on a nifty 32-73 record. Granted, they probably would have played better from that point if I’d been given the managerial reins, but could anyone have guessed the O’s would actually go 34-23 (.596) the rest of the way? That they would outplay the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Rays over that stretch?
There’s no reason to think the Orioles will win 60 percent of their games in 2011. Might they win 50 percent, though, for the first time since 1997? That would be a pretty hefty jump, considering that even with that great stretch run, the O’s finished last season with only 66 wins. Are the Orioles really 16 wins better – or 19, if you prefer run differential over wins and losses for these things – than they were just one year ago?
On the scoring side, the hope lies in six places:
- Left field, where Luke Scott takes over from Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold;
- Center field, where maybe Adam Jones will become the star we once expected;
- Third base, where Mark Reynolds takes over from Miguel Tejada and Josh Bell;
- Shortstop, where J.J. Hardy takes over from Cesar Izturis;
- First base, where Derrek Lee takes over from Ty Wigginton; and
- Second base, where Brian Roberts figures to play a lot more games than the 59 he logged last season.
In all six cases, the Orioles might reasonably expect significant upgrades. Well, maybe not in center field; the jury’s still out on Adam Jones’ true ability. But everywhere else. And at the other spots, the Orioles should hold steady. At catcher, Matt Wieters shouldn’t be worse. Nick Markakis is solid in right field. And Vladimir Guerrero should do reasonably well as Luke Scott’s replacement in the DH slot.
On the pitching side … well, that’s that “secret” to Buck Showalter’s miracle work last season. It was actually sort of phenomenal. Here are the Orioles’ five presumed starters and their ERAs last season through July, and afterward (Showalter took over on the 29th of July) …
Jeremy Guthrie – 4.23 / 3.14
Brian Matusz – 5.46 / 4.06
Brad Bergesen – 6.63 / 2.88
Jake Arrieta – 5.47 / 3.78
Chris Tillman – 11.52 / 4.08
Some of those numbers are derived from relatively meaningless numbers of innings, but the point holds. Before August, these five starters combined for a 5.70 ERA in 418 innings. Afterward, they posted a 3.47 ERA in 291 innings. Yeah, most of that’s probably just luck, statistical noise, etc. But some of it’s probably real talent and maybe a little of it’s Showalter, right?
I’m still not wild about the signings of Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero. I’m not a big fan of spending $15.5 million just to reach (at best) 82 or 83 wins. Still, the Orioles are primed for a big improvement in 2011.