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Baltimore Orioles: Why 2012 Is Just the Start of Something Big

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Baltimore Orioles: Why 2012 Is Just the Start of Something Big
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The Baltimore Orioles continued their early season success yesterday afternoon with a second consecutive walk-off victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

The win was the ninth consecutive of the extra inning variety for the ball club.

This leaves the Orioles 34-26 on the season, just a game behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL East lead.

Many doubters foresee this 60-game stretch as temporary success, a murmur soon to be forgotten by the time the leaves begin to fall, or just one small flash in the pan.

On the contrary, perhaps it's the start of something big.

The Orioles used their 20th round draft selection on Ryan Ripken—son of Cal Ripken Jr.—and even though Ryan will most likely be attending South Carolina University, one can't help but start making connections between the past glory days of Cal Ripken Jr. and the promising days that seem to lie ahead for the Orioles following the drafting of his son Ryan.

But what exactly sparks the hope that promising days lie ahead?

Let's start with the hitting.

The Orioles have locked up superstar Adam Jones for the next six years, and he will be paired with the ever-steady Nick Markakis until at least 2014.  When you throw in budding youngster Nolan Reimold, who was batting .313 before an early-season injury, the Orioles future outfield of Jones, Markakis and Reimold can viably compare with any team in the league.

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Exciting prospect Xavier Avery, who "wowed" many fans with his speed and athleticism during his brief 15-game call-up, stole four bases, and scored nine runs while providing a spark to the Orioles offense.  He projects to be a useful third or fourth outfielder.

Looking at the left side of the infield, the Orioles have power hitting third baseman Mark Reynolds, who has not hit less than 28 HRs in any full season that he has played in the majors.  Pair him with powerful shortstop J.J Hardy (30 HRs in 2011)—who also happens to be one of the best defensive shortstops in the game—and the Orioles have legitimate power threats in the middle of their lineup until at least the end of the 2014 season.

Additionally, the Orioles No. 2 rated prospect Manny Machado, who was Baseball America's No. 11 rated prospect entering the 2012 season projects to be a future All-Star in the infield.

Moving across to the right side of the infield is where you will find promising second baseman of the future Jonathan Schoop.  The Orioles No. 3 rated prospect, impressed last season posting a (.290 BA, 13 HR, 71 RBI, 82 R, 12 SB) stat line between Delmarva and Frederick.

At first base, which has admittedly been a question mark for the past few seasons, post-hype prospect Chris Davis is beginning to emerge—having the breakthrough year that many scouts were hoping for a few years ago. Davis boasts 10 home runs and 26 RBI to go along with a .298 batting average so far this season—and he's only 26 years of age.

Finally, calling the shots behind the plate is All-Star catcher, Matt Wieters.  Wieters arrived last year, blasting 22 home runs on the way to his first All-Star Game appearance.  The best part about it?  Like Davis, Wieters is a mere 26 years old.

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With an offense primed to be near the top of the league in run production for years to come, let's examine the pitching staff to support them.

While the pitching staff has been the team's Achilles heel recently, there is still hope of a turnaround. However, before the Orioles can become legitimate World Series contenders, their staff must continue to develop and the Orioles must look to sign a proven front-line starter in the offseason.

Prior to a rough outing against the Red Sox on Thursday, Brian Matusz had carried a 2.87 ERA in his previous five starts while striking out 28 batters over a span of 30.1 innings.  With Matusz only being 25 years of age, the Orioles are looking for Matusz to harness his best stuff and turn into the front line pitcher that they so desperately need.

Solidifying the middle of the staff are recently acquired Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen.  Hammel sports a tidy 3.22 ERA to go along with 69 strikeouts in 72.2 innings pitched and the equally effective Chen currently owns a 3.49 ERA with 50 strikeouts over 67 innings. 

Jake Arrieta has struggled mightily as of late, but when looking at his future potential, he has “the stuff"—if only he can figure out how to put it all together.  Accomplishing this would solidify the Orioles No. 5 spot in the rotation and the Orioles would be in line for future success.

And speaking of the No. 1 starter that the Orioles have been deprived of for so long:

J. Meric/Getty Images

Say "hello" to Dylan Bundy.

In 45 innings between Delmarva and Frederick, Bundy has struck out 58 batters while posting an ERA of 1.00.  Toss in a 0.53 WHIP for good measure, and voila—the Orioles have got something here.

Let's project a future starting rotation that could read: Bundy, Matusz, Hammel, Chen and Arrieta. 

Not bad.  Not bad at all.

And when you consider that there is a very good chance the Orioles could add a front-line pitcher via trade or free agency, the starting rotation only gets more powerful.

Couple that with a young and promising hitting lineup that already ranks sixth in the American League in runs scored in 2012—and you know what?

The Orioles are back in town.

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