Just as it was last year, the Baltimore Orioles have everything riding on the shoulders of one very fragile piece of the team:
The young pitching.
We all saw how that turned out last season. But again, we look towards a season with our team banking everything on the young arms in the system—Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Chis Tillman.
Arrieta and Britton pretty much have starting jobs to lose in spring training. Matusz will need to prove he's healthy and in shape after an historically bad season in 2011. Tillman, well... The O's would be lucky to get even a serviceable starter out of him at this point.
Even if Arrieta and Britton secure their big league rotation spots, they still need to take steps forward. And Matusz needs to return to the form he showed in late 2010, after Buck Showalter took over as manager of the team.
If those things can happen, the O's will have an honest shot at topping .500 this season and, if they're lucky, an outside chance at securing the Wild Card.
Looking at their lineup, it isn't the greatest, but it isn't terrible either. There's plenty of teams who have had success with a lineup that isn't nearly as productive as the Orioles' is. The Tampa Bay Rays are one team that comes to mind. The San Francisco Giants that won the 2010 World Series is another.
Want to know why they had success?
Pitching. Young pitching. Lots of good, young pitching.
The Orioles' defense isn't terrible either. It could improve and it'd be nice to see it improve, but it's okay right now, especially if we have another losing season approaching.
The offense could hold it's own as a winning team and the defense would be acceptable. It's the pitching, it's always the pitching.
Everyone knows how the team performed in late 2010. That happened because the pitchers were pitching at a high level.
The O's hovered around .500 for the first couple months of the 2011 season because the pitchers were pitching alright. They weren't pitching wonderfully, but better than us fans had been used to seeing.
When a team's pitching falls apart, the team falls apart. Everyone knows that.
But strong pitching can carry a team to a winning season, the playoffs and even a title.
If the young pitching decides to grow this season, the O's could be in good shape.
If not, brace yourselves for another long season, Orioles fans.