Two-for-One MLB Previews: Baltimore and Los Angeles

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Two-for-One MLB Previews: Baltimore and Los Angeles

Today we look at a team that I originally had slotted in for the first preview with the Tampa Bay Rays. But because they hadn’t signed Manny Ramirez at that point, I decided I’d move them back.

I really could have moved them back again, but I decided not to because I think they are as complete as you are going to get for spring.

Baltimore is the other team in the mix and there are some positives there as well. Given that I put Toronto in the basement, I think it’s clear that Baltimore will be fourth, but it’s always interesting to see why they are fourth.

They might have benefited by signing Adam Eaton more than I’d like to admit.

Past Previews: TB/SD, TEX/CIN, MIN/PIT, TOR/STL

 

Current Standings

ALE: 1, Tampa Bay*, 3, 4, Toronto

ALC: 1, Minnesota, 3, 4, 5

ALW: 1, 2, Texas, 4

NLE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

NLC: 1, St. Louis, Cincinnati, 4, 5, Pittsburgh

NLW: 1, 2, 3, 4, San Diego

* Wild Card

Baltimore Orioles – AL East

Last Year: Finished Fifth in AL East

Notable Additions: C Gregg Zaun, C Robby Hammock, IF Ty Wigginton, IF Jolbert Cabrera, IF Chris Gomez, SS Cesar Izturis, OF Ryan Freel, OF Felix Pie, P Brad Hennessey, SP David Pauley, SP Mark Hendrickson, SP Koji Uehara

Notable Subtractions: C Ramon Hernandez, IF Kevin Millar, IF Alex Cintron, SP Garrett Olson, SP Daniel Cabrera, RP Lance Cormier, OF Jay Payton

Underrated addition: Ryan Freel

He’ll be missed: Jay Payton

Freel could end up being an important player if Felix Pie continues down his path. He could replace what Payton was, a defensive relief in the outfield.

Biggest Key to Success: Consistently Good, Or Just Consistent?

The Orioles had 12 different pitchers start a ballgame for them last year, which is never a good thing, but they did remain consistent on the other side of the game.

Every position but shortstop had one person start at least 130 games. Jay Payton was the most used backup, and Guillermo Quiroz did a lot of the catching to spare Ramon Hernandez. Baltimore did a good job of keeping consistency with their lineup.

That will have to continue for a team that has more than several questions with their pitching staff.

Felix Pie is going to be a big part of that. If he doesn’t cut it, the Orioles will have to start shaking things up. Thankfully, Ty Wigginton is a bit of a rover who can handle multiple positions, and the Orioles can adjust as need be.

Cesar Izturis will also be looked at to provide some consistency at the one spot that didn’t have it last year—shortstop. A defensive player like Izturis might not be the best hitter, but the Oriole lineup might be able to survive if he ends up saving a few more runs for them.

Overall, this is an offensive team though. They will win a majority of their games because of that reason.

 

Biggest Concern: Find Some Starters

They seemingly junked whatever plan they were following in favor of a new one. Jeremy Guthrie fits and is their best starter, but the rest of the rotation wasn’t working, so they scrapped it.

But when you go back to the drawing board, you will have growing pains.

Daniel Cabrera, Garrett Olson, and Brian Burres who accounted for 78 of the Orioles starts are all gone via different means. To replace them, the Orioles made a few additions but will also be relying on some young arms.

Koji Uehara will be the No. 2 in the rotation, despite never sniffing a major league mound. After him, it’s anyone else’s guess.

Rich Hill figures to be a part of that rotation, and the Orioles are hoping he can find the spot that made him successful when he was a Cub.

Perhaps late addition Adam Eaton should provide some relief to the situation.

Eaton signed earlier in spring, after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies. If he puts together a decent enough spring, he could find himself bringing some sort of stability to a rotation full of enough questions.

If not, they aren’t really in any worse off position than they were at the start of spring.

The good thing is they have options.

The other characters in this drama include the likes of converted setup man Danys Baez, journeyman Brad Hennessey, veteran addition Mark Hendrickson, reliever slash starter Matt Albers, a seasoned but inexperienced Chris Waters, and hard throwing Radhames Liz.

A few of those names might get cut or sent to the minors, some might go to the bullpen, and some might even get their shot down the line.

The key is to find some that work. The Orioles might not be going anywhere fast, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to find their options, or at least what won’t work.

 

Biggest Change: A New Plan

Baltimore did more with less, replacing all sorts of parts with other parts. They acquired players like Felix Pie in hopes of him finding that spark that made him a top prospect with the Cubs.

They added a veteran backstop in Gregg Zaun to bridge the gap to Matt Wieters. Wigginton and Izturis add veteran infield experience to replace what they lost in a player like Kevin Millar.

The rotation, as mentioned has gone through changes as well. Jeremy Guthrie will be the only reliable starter returning from last year, everyone else will be a new addition or inexperienced youngster.

They’ve let the wild Daniel Cabrera go and traded Garrett Olson, yet only added one sure starter who isn’t so much of a sure thing in Japanese import Koji Uehara.

It seems as if they kept what was working for them intact for the most part, but made it a little better. Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Aubrey Huff still make up the collective fuel for the lineup.

However, the Orioles are trying to find lightning in a bottle with Pie, one of their two outcasts from the Cubs.

Baltimore also hopes to have young prospect Matt Wieters make an Evan Longoria-like impact on the team at some point in the season.

They’ve changed a lot of things, hopefully in Baltimore’s case, for the better. It certainly can’t too much worse than last year.

 

Team MVP: Aubrey Huff, IF

Everyone loves Nick Markakis, including myself, but I think it’s time to acknowledge the brilliance that is Aubrey Huff.

At age 31, Huff had the most productive year of his career, and he did it in a city where he dislikes the nightlife.

All kidding aside, he probably won’t continue to put up those numbers, but he’s a consistent option in the middle of that lineup. He’s still a run-producer and you can hate him for his comments about Baltimore, he’s still a good teammate.

For a guy who’s played virtually his entire career for losing teams, he still plays the game pretty hard and plays the game well on top of that.

Look no further than Huff as a source of leadership and offensive production for a team that needs both to be successful.

 

On the Rise: Adam Jones, OF

When the Seattle Mariners traded for Erik Bedard, it was Adam Jones who was pegged as the main player in the acquisition. Luckily for Baltimore, they got more than one player in the deal, but I think many would still consider Jones as the centerpiece.

The beauty is he hasn’t even shown half of what he’s capable of.

Jones put on 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, which should only increase his power as he continues to get older.

He’s also fast and he can actually knock the ball around the park, as evidenced by his 21 doubles and seven triples.

Add in solid glove work in center field and you have the makings of another franchise player.

This could be a big year in the growth of Jones as an all-around ball player, but by no means is it going to be the best, that’s still coming.

 

Overview

They’ve got problems with their rotation; there is no doubt about that. They also have some issues with their bullpen, but if Chris Ray returns from his Tommy John surgery, he could alleviate a lot of those problems.

One thing is for sure though, they can hit.

In a division with two of the best rotations and a recently added CC Sabathia, they’re going to need to hit.

But they might not always be able to keep up with their own pitching.

This will all ultimately result in yet another year at the bottom.

Luckily for them, I don’t think they’ll end up at the very bottom.

I’m more often than not going to favor the team with better pitching or at least the team with fewer questions about their pitching rotation.

However, I’ve got a funny feeling about the Orioles. I’m not really sure I can explain it other than to say they’ve got some pieces working for them. If they can find a few more solid options to compliment Jeremy Guthrie, they can win enough to get out of the basement.

Prediction: Finish Fourth in the AL East

Los Angeles Dodgers – NL West

Last Year: Won NL West, Advanced to NLCS

Notable Additions: C Brad Ausmus, IF Doug Mientkiewicz, IF Orlando Hudson, IF Mark Loretta, SP Randy Wolf, RP Guillermo Mota

Notable Subtractions: IF Nomar Garciaparra, 2B Jeff Kent, OF Andruw Jones, SP Derek Lowe, SP/RP Chan Ho Park, SP Brad Penny, RP Scott Proctor, RP Takashi Saito, RP Joe Biemel*

Underrated addition: Doug Mientkiewicz

He’ll be missed: Takashi Saito

Mientiewicz will add a new flare to a clubhouse that already has Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez. Saito could have been used in the bullpen in the same capacity as he is with the Red Sox.

*Remains Free Agent

Biggest Key to Success: Health and Spirit

Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal, Randy Wolf, and Jason Schmidt are all guys who have had injury issues.

That’s part No. 1. These guys need to stay healthy.

Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, Mark Loretta, Brad Ausmus, Doug Mientkiewicz are all guys added last year the deadline or in the offseason as veteran presences.

That would be part two. These guys need to continue to make their imprint on this club.

They’ve lost Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, guys who were big in the clubhouse on a team that has a lot of youngsters like Matt Kemp, Andre Either, Russell Martin, and James Loney.

So those two factors are probably big to the success of Los Angeles more than production is. We’ve seen Ramirez’s impact on that lineup and how he makes the hitters around him better, as well as Blake’s prominence at the bottom of the lineup.

We’ve also seen what that bullpen and starting pitching staff is capable of, even though it’s reformed, there is still some of the same pieces there.

The key is not losing any of these pieces. Hudson was brought in to solidify second base, but he can’t do that injured. Furcal stabilizes the top of the lineup and gives the Dodgers one of the legit leadoff men in the National League, but he too cannot do that if he’s hurt.

With guys like Mientkiewicz and Ausmus added to the bench, and more importantly to the clubhouse, they shouldn’t have a problem keeping motivated.

If it all takes, with a full offseason and preseason for the pieces to mix, and some of the key players don’t get themselves in long-term injury troubles, the Dodgers can be scary good.

 

Biggest Concern: Earning Schmidt

Lowe and Brad Penny are no longer around, and while just one was highly productive last year, it’s still two less bodies to compete for spots. Greg Maddux also retired, but that isn’t too big of a deal considering the youngster Clayton Kershaw may be ready to take over full-time.

However, it will be tough replacing Lowe, something Chad Billingsley is going to have to do, at least in terms of talent.

Wolf is a welcomed addition and Hiroki Kuroda proved to be a solid signing out of Japan last year.

That leaves the Dodgers with a big addition from a few years ago, one who didn’t play at all in 2008.

Jason Schmidt has to be huge for this team. Not just fill in as a No. 5 starter but escalate it to a middle of the rotation pitcher. He has the talent and the track record to do it, but does he have the health?

Only time will tell, but if the Dodgers want to compete and also contend for a World Series title this year, Schmidt has to come up huge for this team. Billingsley has the makings of an ace, but he isn’t the veteran leader and pitcher that Lowe was.

If he’s replacing Lowe, then who is replacing him? The Dodgers need Schmidt to step up and at least account for part of Lowe’s departure.

 

Biggest Change: Missing Pieces

While he was injured for most of the second half, Saito is still a name that is long gone from this bullpen.

As is Joe Biemel, at least at the time of this being written, as Biemel is still looking for a contract, his production needs replaced.

The bullpen is missing some pieces and they need to find replacements. Jonathan Broxton will finally take over a role that he has the stuff to dominate, but we still need to find out if he has the mentality to do it over a whole season.

Chan Ho Park, while not flashy, was a sold innings eater for the Dodgers last year and he too is now gone.

It’s unknown if Mota can at least provide some help, but he certainly isn’t the same pitcher he was when he was last with the Dodgers, setting up Eric Gagne.

So it will be up to Cory Wade and Hong-Chih Kuo to repeat or at least come close to the production they provided last season. Their workload might also increase with the departures of Biemel and Saito, but that is never a good thing.

 

Team MVP: Manny Ramirez, OF

Despite having the least at-bats in the month of September, the Dodgers knocked in 24 more runs than they did in August, and August was pretty productive.

I think Ramirez is a big reason for that increase in production, which translated to increase in wins, which translated to a playoff appearance and division title. His impact was really starting to be felt in his second month with Los Angeles.

Ramirez was the unquestioned reason for the Dodgers run to the postseason, not just because of what he produced, but how he impacted the rest of the Los Angeles lineup.

I’d expect him to do more of the same in 2009 boosting the Dodgers total production, especially with Furcal and Hudson added into the mix full-time.

Whether he hits third or fourth, Manny is going to continue to get Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp better pitches to hit. With Manny in the lineup, pitchers are forced to give in to the talented young hitters around him.

Not to mention, his numbers aren’t half bad either.

 

On the Rise: James Loney, 1B

Quick, who played the most games for the Dodgers last year and how many games did he play in?

If you guessed Loney in 161 games, you’d be correct. It probably wasn't hard though.

That’s right, Loney, at the age of just 24, mind you, in his first full-season played the most games for Los Angeles.

Oh and he produced as well, which is far more important.

A year older, a year wiser, a year better, Loney will only improve. Sure his home run total went down with a little less than twice as many at-bats, but you have to tip your hat to this kid for not falling into a rotten period that many sophomores do called the adjustment period.

Sure, the honeymoon was over, but Loney produced as a full-time starter. He didn’t fall into a terrible rut; in fact, he was very consistent in both the first half of the year and the second. 

It is extremely tough to find consistent young players in this day and age, but Loney is one of the few. Expect his production to continue to grow and while guys like Kemp and  Ethier get attention, Loney will produce.

 

Overview

Maybe one more piece, heck, maybe that if they had team for an entire season, who knows where the Dodgers end up in 2008, maybe in place of the Phillies.

But that isn’t how it works.

The Dodgers however didn’t stand pat. They did re-up with Ramirez, after enough haggling, got Furcal to come back, but they couldn’t hold onto Lowe.

You get a feeling that most of their subtractions were ones that they felt comfortable subtracting and that their additions are upgrades over what they previously had.

Give Ned Colletti some credit for realizing that as good as Blake DeWitt was at times last year, he wasn’t a full-season answer at second base. That resulted in getting Hudson at a bargain price.

If it all meshes and players stay healthy, this team can no-doubt win some games, but they still need some players to step up.

As noted, Schmidt turning it around would be huge, but along those lines, Kershaw taking a bit of a step in the right direction, despite his age, would be a welcomed progression.

Point is, this team got a little better in different aspects of their ball club over the offseason, but they also opened up a few questions that need answered.

I don’t doubt the replacement of Lowe; rather I doubt they can do what Lowe did for this team, especially in the postseason. While he didn’t contribute last year, Penny is still a talented pitcher as well.

Until I’m convinced the rest of the rotation is up to snuff, I’m going to be cautious with the Dodgers, but I wouldn’t be shocked if my prediction is wrong.

Prediction: Finish Second in the NL West

On deck for Tuesday, Mar. 17: Oakland and Houston

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