March 02, 2011
Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next up is Ed Smith Stadium, where Buck Showalter and his team are trying to end a losing tradition.
2010 RECORD: 66-96, 5th in AL East
BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS: The O's had two big projects this offseason. They traded for a new left side of the infield (Mark Reynolds(notes) and J.J. Hardy(notes)) and rolled the dice by signing two aging sluggers through free agency (Vladimir Guerrero(notes) and Derrek Lee(notes)).
BIGGEST DEPARTURE: It's doubtful Baltimore will miss his 5.10 ERA or anything but his ability to eat innings, but 2010 opening-day starter Kevin Millwood(notes) is still on the free- agent market after spending one year at Camden Yards.
FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT THE ORIOLES
1. Have the Orioles stockpiled enough bats? After they ranked near the bottom of the AL in nearly every major offensive category, I'm not sure the Orioles think there is such a thing as too many offensive threats. The additions of Reynolds, Lee and Guerrero should help up their home run totals (10th in the AL last season with 133) but the tradeoff is the injury risk taken with two old guys and Reynolds' low batting average and high strikeout rate. The trio will no doubt help bolster the lineup, but the offense will only really be improved if previous players like Adam Jones(notes), Nick Markakis(notes) and Matt Wieters(notes) play up to their potential, and Luke Scott(notes) can put together another monster year with an OPS north of .900.
2. Who should Orioles fans be most excited about seeing on the field? If I have birds on the brain, I'm breaking out every lucky charm to make sure that Brian Roberts(notes) plays as many games as possible after only appearing in 59 games in 2010. The 32-year-old second baseman has been an engine on offense in previous years and it's no coincidence the Orioles struggled so mightily when he went down with a herniated disk. Back injuries really never go away, but the O's will take as many doubles from Roberts as they can get.
3. How much of a difference will a full season of Buck Showalter make? The most repeated stat about the Orioles this offseason has been 34-23, which was Baltimore's record after Showalter took over at Camden Yards in 2010. It was a nice run to be sure, but the implication — however serious — that the O's could have played at that clip with last year's collection of talent is misguided.
That said, it'll be interesting to see what Showalter does with this team, which is a hodgepodge of not-fully-realized talent and veteran guys who have been there before. He'll really earn his stripes if he can coax an above-average performance out of a pitching staff that ranks the weakest in the division.
4. How about this Brian Matusz(notes) fella? The 23-year-old de facto ace of the Orioles inspired plenty of confidence in the second half of last season, going 7-3 with a 3.63 ERA after the All-Star break. In a more ideal situation, the lefty would be learning his trade as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, but he doesn't have that luxury in Baltimore. He'll face a lot of pressure at the top of the rotation in 2011 as he waits for fellow youngsters like Chris Tillman(notes) and Brad Bergesen(notes) to start producing.
5. Are there bigger fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates than the Orioles? Hey, if the Bucs' run of 18 straight losing seasons was making your string of 13 years under .500 look like just a bad day at the plate, you'd be a fan, too. But let's get serious here: The Orioles are a proud franchise with a great past and their fans deserve more than what they've been watching. Playing in the ultra-competitive AL East doesn't help matters, but it's time the O's start turning things around. While a division title probably isn't in the cards in 2011, this year should be a good indication of whether the core they're building around is the right one.