Once a week for the next month, I will preview a team in the American League East that is a roadblock between the Jays making the post-season. Today, we start with the Baltimore Orioles.
A team that won three World Series from 1966 to 1983, making the playoffs seven times during that span, then making it again in 1996 and 1997 with stars such as Cal Ripken Jr., Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, and Mike Mussina, have now gone 14 consecutive years without a winning record. This year will be 15.
On paper, the offense is capable of scoring runs, but injuries have played a big part in their lack of production. Second baseman Brian Roberts has constantly battled back injuries, and did not play after May 16 of last season. When your table setter at the top of the lineup only plays in 39 games, it is a void that is usually difficult to fill.
A healthy Roberts would significantly help the O’s, as they have a powerful middle-of-the-order, led by the free-swinging Mark Reynolds and his 37 home runs and 86 runs batted in. Add to that the numbers of Adam Jones (25,83), J.J. Hardy (30,80) and Matt Wieters (22,68) and runs should be easy to come by.
The wild-card for this team is right-fielder Nick Markakis, who last year had only 15 home runs and 73 runs batted in, almost career lows for a player that the franchise is building around and at only 28, seems to be regressing from his 23 home run, 112 runs batted in season of 2007. A .300 average, 20 home
runs, and 100 runs batted in should be the norm for this player.
Pitching is the main problem for Baltimore, where not one starting pitcher on the roster would start for a good team. The roster is made up of veterans hanging-on for one last shot and prospects trying to make it and find consistency.
Zach Britton led the staff last year with 11 wins, and is joined by a group of young pitchers trying to find their way in baseball?s toughest division. Among the young Orioles pitchers are Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Brad Bergesen.
Combined this group went 27-40 with a 6.31 earned run average. When the team fails to bring in some veteran pitchers (Kevin Millwood no longer with the team), and the young pitchers are forced into the fire and they burn, winning is going to be hard to come by. Other teams such as Tampa Bay have brought along young pitchers who have succeeded in the division, so blaming the division is not an option.
When the biggest off-season story for this franchise was the announcement of new uniforms and a new public address announcer, it is not a statement to the fans that a winning season is in the cards.
The patience is wearing thin on this fan base that once packed Camden Yards but now 9,000 or so show up. The team needs to give the fans a reason to come down to the yard. Judging by this off-season, they have not.