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David Brown

Team snapshot: Orioles Magic needs to pull more wins out of hat

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Everyday in spring training until we're finished with the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in Florida and Arizona. First up, the 1983 World Series champions, who haven't finished with a winning record since 1997.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

'09 RECORD: 64-98/5th in AL East

BIG ACQUISITIONS: Right-hander Kevin Millwood(notes) takes over as the team's ace, allowing Jeremy Guthrie(notes) to settle into the No. 2 slot; Lefty Mike Gonzalez(notes) signed to close; Miguel Tejada(notes) returns to Baltimore to play third base and presumably hit cleanup; Garrett Atkins(notes) switches leagues, leaving Coors Field and third base, to take over at first. He's not an acquisition, per se, but Matt Wieters(notes) (right) might become one of the best sluggers in the AL as soon as, well, now.

BIG DEPARTURE: Gone after 10 seasons of dependable performance, Melvin Mora(notes) coincidentally replaces Atkins' roster spot in Denver.

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FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT THE ORIOLES

1. Where has that old orange and black magic gone? The Orioles are working on 13 straight losing seasons, a current futility streak surpassed only by the Pirates' 17-season-long hell in the NL. The O's franchise used to be to the AL what the Cardinals are to the NL; perennially well-run, classly and usually a contender. The Orioles still have a deep tradition, it's just deeper in their past.

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2. Is Nick Markakis(notes) going to break out? He seemed on the verge after terrific seasons at age 23 and 24 before slipping on offense and defense in 2009. If all goes right, a 30-homer, 50-double, 100-RBI, 100-run, .320-batting average, 20-assist season is possible. The guy has all of the tools for it. And he shaved at least 300 percent of his hair before coming to camp. He has spoken of a willingness to hit second or third in the batting order, but shied away from being considered for cleanup. Does that make him a guy who knows his limitations, or just someone who lacks confidence?

3. How much can the Orioles expect from their young pitchers this season? It's easy to salivate over the likes of Chris Tillman(notes) and Brian Matusz(notes). Just don't full-on drool, OK? David Hernandez's(notes) overall minor-league numbers show he'll probably be better. And Brandon Erbe seemed to make a breakthrough at Class AA in 2009. If the Orioles are patient, this part of the team is going to flower, but probably not all at once, and probably not yet.

4. Despite handing Brian Roberts(notes) a contract extension with a no-trade clause, should they try to deal him anyway? In other offseasons, the Orioles frequently seemed on the verge of dealing Roberts, one of the best middle infielders in the majors. Other than Markakis or Adam Jones(notes), Roberts is the biggest chip with which team president Andy MacPhail to bargain. If the Orioles are floundering at the trade deadline, it would make sense to move Roberts to a contender — as long as he can't block it. Roberts will be a 10-and-five man in 2012 and could completely block any deal then. He also turns 33 this October and has a history of back problems.

5. Is manager Dave Trembley the right man for the job? Who knows with managers, really? But the Orioles might be on the brink of ... something. If the AL East weren't so stacked, they'd probably be an "it" team. But little of their promise has come to fruition yet. Trembley can prove himself with this bunch, a mix of youth and experience.

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