Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Baltimore Orioles

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-Digger's Daily-

The year was 1997. Davey Johnson skippered Baltimore to an American League best 98 wins. Orioles seemed destined for long term greatness. Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key and Scott Erickson anchored their starting rotation. Rafael Palmeiro, Cal Ripken Jr, Roberto Alomar, BJ Surhoff, Chris Hoiles and Brady Anderson were the main offensive cogs. Who would have believed it was to be Baltimore's last winning season?

Ownership changes, managerial failures, poor free agent selections, dwindling revenues and division rivals getting stronger all factored into creating the longest losing era in franchise history. Can the 2011 Baltimore Orioles return this once proud organization into winners?

Orioles 2011 roster is very promising. There's reason for optimism heading into spring training. Orioles begin the year with a serious manager, Buck Showalter. Buck's late season arrival woke up a team left for dead. Players auditioning for future considerations rejuvenated this once lifeless club to a 34-23 record to close out '10. Baltimore is ripe to make a move in 2011. At the very least, they'll be challenging opponents for 162 games. How many they win remains to be seen.

What's new for 2011? Big defense and bigger bats. Baltimore's defense has been monumentally transformed. No longer will simple ground balls roam unopposed for base hits. A sputtering offense has been retooled to keep pace with slugging AL East teams. Welcome new additions Derek Lee (1B), Matt Reynolds (3B) & JJ Hardy (SS) join veteran and fan favorite Brian Roberts (2B). All have Gold Glove potential. Pitcher's ERA's will drop significantly. O's offense received another boost recently by signing slugging free agent swinger Vladmir Guerrero to take over DH duties. Behind the plate is a very capable Matt Weiters who stands to benefit by the new veteran chemistry. Nick Markakis has been a doubles machine. '11 could see a big surge in his RBI totals. Baltimore's offense is ready to fly. Defense set to cut down opposing batters.

Pitching staff has been a concern for too many recent years. Team defense will turn past weak hits and errors into outs. Offense will finally generate run support. Now it's up to the staff not handing out free passes. There's no doubt in my mind Showalter will insist O's arms throw pre-season strikes. He's a no nonsense style of manager eagerly attempting to transform Baltimore into winners. Recent history has proven anything can happen. Starting rotation is an up for grabs free for all spring competition. Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz head into camp 1-2.

Baltimore's disabled list has been a revolving door. A few question marks regarding Lee, Hardy & Roberts ability to remain healthy. If these guys can average 150 games each then returning to winning ways is not a crazy thought or pipe dream. Boston, New York, Tampa Bay & Toronto all have issues of their own. Orioles offense can keep pace. Defense is 2nd only to New York. Attention Baltimore Orioles players... the time is ripe to make a move. Colorado, San Diego, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay all overcame skepticism to shock the baseball world. Will Baltimore be next...? Their first winning season since 1997 probable. 90 wins possible if cosmic tumblers fall into place.

Baltimore Orioles baseball will be fun to watch in 2011.


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