Thursday, April 5, 2007

Orioles Fever, Catch It?

At least at some point before the season started, I planned to write a preview for the Orioles before the opening series against the Twins, but I got a little side-tracked with some work. Anyway, here it is now:

There probably isn't very much you haven't heard about the Orioles if you either read their main site or any local newspapers, watch local TV or Comcast, or listen to local sports radio. The Orioles spent the offseason primarily overhauling an extremely overworked and overmatched bullpen from last season. I believe the front office of GM Mike Flanagan and Vice President Jim Duquette did a pretty good job of that, and it definitely had to be done.

Meanwhile, in addition to the bullpen, the Orioles added Aubrey Huff, Jaret Wright, Steve Trachsel, Paul Bako, Freddie Bynum, and eventual starting LF Jay Payton. Through 3 games, Huff has been the most formidable Orioles hitter, forming a tough combination in the 4-5 spots with Miguel Tejada. But the bench really stinks and Kevin Millar brings very little to the table no matter where he's hitting in the lineup. It'd be nice to see him stop talking so much and getting some hits when they count.

I think I'll really like the lineup when everyone on the team is healthy, but when will that happen? Hernandez may be placed on the DL soon with a strained left oblique muscle. Neither Paul Bako nor Alberto Castillo (WHO??) can replace his offense or defense. Hernandez can't return and get healthy soon enough. Also, Jay Payton is currently headed to the DL with a hamstring injury and may be out for a few more weeks.

I haven't been able to watch any of the first 3 games because Frostburg doesn't get MASN. Great! I don't know what to think about that, but all I know so far is either what my friends who can watch the games tell me or what I see on stat-tracker and box scores. However, when I see- E: Gibbons(1, dropped fly ball in four territory) or hear about Castillo trying to gun runners who fall down midway to 2nd base and they STILL beat the throw, obviously the Orioles don't appear to have changed very much.

Is it really possible to tell that much from just 3 games? Yes and no. Every team has flaws, and it's the job of the coaches to try and hide them while exploiting those flaws of other teams. But whenever the Orioles play, it always seems like they are the ones being exploited. Case and point- with Daniel Cabrera on the mound in the 2nd game against the Twins the other night, the Twins runners were stealing at will. I know that Cabrera is extremely slow to the plate and has a very slow delivery, but have the Orioles ever heard of a pitch out? I'm pretty sure that Castillo didn't even catch 1 runner stealing, and it seemed like every time the Twins got runners on first, they'd steal. Even Joe Mauer got a stolen base! Is the problem mostly Cabrera's fault for being slow to the plate? Sure, the catcher can only do so much. But there are things that can still be done to stop such problems from happening. Either way, getting caught like that is just unacceptable.

Still, though, I believe that the bullpen and lineup will both be improved. The bullpen added Walker, Baez, Bradford, Williamson, and Guthrie to decent lefty Parrish and Ray, a great young closer. The bullpen has looked (or so I've heard) pretty good, and that may even be the strongest part of the team now. As far as the lineup goes, I think it can be decent to good if Hernandez and Payton come back 100% healthy. Here's that lineup:

2b-Brian Roberts
3b- Melvin Mora
RF- Nick Markakis
SS- Miguel Tejada
1b- Aubrey Huff
C- Ramon Hernandez
DH- Jay Gibbons
LF- Jay Payton
CF- Corey Patterson

I think this lineup could be pretty good because it mixes power, speed, and alternating LH and RH bats throughout the lineup. That would be pretty tough for opposing pitchers to face night in and night out. I hope Markakis plays well and improves some from the promise he showed last year, but that's a lot to ask out of a 23 year old player who has only one full year in the league. He has the talent, but the 3 spot holds a lot of responsibility and is demanding. As I said before, Tejada and Huff have been great, Roberts, Mora, and Markakis have not yet. The first 3 games, the Orioles lost to Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, and Ramon Ortiz. Santana I can understand, but they made Bonser and Ortiz look like Cy Young candidates. Anyway, it's very early, and the lineup should be fine.

The starting rotation though, might not be fine. After losing Benson for the year and seeing John Maine pitch well last night for the Mets, it seems like that trade really was a waste. Now, with a rotation of Bedard, Cabrera, Wright, Loewen, and Trachsel, the Orioles have a lot to worry about. The bullpen is very solid behind them, but just getting to the 5th inning may be difficult often. Bedard and Wright looked really bad in their 2007 debuts. The rotation should be decent, but I'd be shocked to see either Wright or Trachsel still in the rotation at the end of the season. Trachsel was a good fill-in for the 5th slot, but Wright looked really bad and didn't even pitch 3 full innings. Loewen is still young, and I think Cabrera can slowly get better and stop walking so many batters. No one knows for sure though.

Is it really that surprising that the O's got swept by the Twins? Losing Hernandez hurts a lot and the Twins took advantage of a lot of little things. I'm unsure of what to think, but I do know that usually the O's have been winning the first game of the season over the past bunch of years.

Does that mean they'll play well later in the season? Maybe. But I do know this: I'm tired of solely blaming Angelos and the front office for the Orioles being so bad. Obviously, they are partly to blame, but the game is played on the field. The Orioles have enough talent to compete with any team, seriously. They have good young pitching talent and a great lineup and bullpen. I'm tired of making excuses, and it would be nice for the team to get their first winning season in the past 10 years or so.

Even though the season may be another disappointment, I'd still be upset if they didn't at least get to .500 this year. That may be a stretch, but who knows. Crazier things have happened. It's time to start winning games, and yes, even in the AL East it can be done. Maybe things will finally click this year.

Or maybe the Orioles won't be one of the laughingstocks of the league this year. That's always something to shoot for too.

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