From Protect the Plate
In 2008, the Orioles endured their 11th straight losing season and third consecutive year with at least 90 losses. There were some bright spots in the lineup, but the pitching staff led the league in walks and ranked dead last in strikeouts. With the American League East looking as tough as ever, and Baltimore failing to improve its starting rotation, expect the losing streak to reach 12.
Player of the Year
One thing Orioles fans can get excited about is the expected debut of catcher Matt Wieters. The former fifth overall pick was named Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .355 with 27 homers, 91 RBI, and more walks (82) than strikeouts (76). BA gave him another hefty tag this week, naming him the top prospect in all of baseball.
The 22-year-old may start the year in Triple A, but many experts have him tabbed as their 2009 AL Rookie of the Year.
The trio of Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Aubrey Huff made sure the Camden faithful got their money's worth last season. Roberts was as close as you can get to the prototypical leadoff man, hitting .296 with 82 walks and 40 stolen bases. Markakis led all outfielders with 17 outfield assists, ranked second in the AL with 99 walks, and hit .306. Huff led the AL with 82 extra-base hits and had a .304-32-108 season.
If it hadn't been for AL MVP Dustin Pedroia's 54 doubles, Roberts (54), Markakis (48), and Huff (48) would've ranked 1-2-3 in the AL in two-baggers.
Beyond the Record
At 10-12, Jeremy Guthrie's win-loss record is far from impressive, but he put up overall strong numbers in '08. He ranked seventh in the AL with a .242 opponent's average, 11th in the AL with a 1.23 WHIP, and 14th in the league with a 3.63 ERA. He may not be a true ace, but he's by far the best Baltimore's got.
Baltimore is hoping two-time Sawamura award (given to the top starting pitcher in Japan) winner Koji Uehara can anchor down a spot in the rotation behind staff ace Jeremy Guthrie. One of the most successful pitchers in international competition, Uehara is 12-0 with two saves in 25 career appearances in the Olympics, World Baseball Classic, and Asian Baseball Championship combined.
He is 112-62 with 33 saves and a 3.01 ERA over his 10-year career, which included eight All-Star appearances.
Melvin Mora had a nightmarish first half, hitting .232 before the All-Star break. From there on, however, Mora was one of baseball's hottest hitters, tallying a .376 average and 1.073 OPS. He predicted a .340-20-100 season, so you know the vet isn't short on confidence.
New acquisitions not mentioned above include Ty Wigginton, Cesar Izturis, and Felix Pie...The Orioles had a horrific end to 2008, going 5-20 in September...The team's 5.13 ERA was the second-worst in baseball.
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