The Baltimore Orioles are going into the 2009 season with lots of question marks but also some positives from last season. Although Baltimore has endured 11-straight losing seasons and is most likely destined for a 12th, there is reason to be excited for Orioles fans.
If the Orioles are to get off to a strong start, the rotation must come through. In addition, the offense has to pick up where it left off at the end of the 2008 season. Also, the defense must be improved in order for this team to be successful early in the season.
One huge strength Baltimore has this season is the bullpen. With the return of Chris Ray and Danys Baez from Tommy John surgery, the Orioles get two fresh arms that weren’t with the team at all last season.
The Orioles also bring back All-Star closer George Sherrill, top set-up man Jim Johnson and long man Matt Albers who is back from a partially torn labrum. Hopefully, the bullpen won’t log as many as innings as last season and remain strong throughout the year.
Baltimore has a strong line up in the 2009 season. It’s perhaps better than the 2008 edition. The additions of Cesar Izturis and Felix Pie will add the dynamic of speed to the bottom of the order. Aubrey Huff won the Silver Slugger Award for designated hitters and will play first base this season.
Free agent pick-up Ty Wigginton will provide pop off the bench and against left-handed starters. Offense should be no area of concern for the Orioles.
An improved defense should be an area of strength this season. The aforementioned Izturis is a former Gold Glove winner at shortstop and has plugged a hole that saw six different players in 2008. Pie should provide better speed in the outfield if he adjusts well to left field.
Baltimore’s glaring weakness is its rotation, as has been the case for the past few seasons. Jeremy Guthrie is the club’s ace, but he has looked shaky at best this spring. Japanese import Koji Uehara is the No. 2 starter and is expected to help anchor the rotation.
After the top two, there isn’t much in the way of starters. The three, four and five starters are Alfredo Simon, Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton. Simon is an unknown, Hendrickson has bounced around and Eaton was most recently released by the Phillies.
Fans will have a tough time stomaching the rotation for some of the season, until the young guns from the minor leagues are recalled. Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz all could make appearances in the Orioles rotation this season. Those three coming up should be reason to watch them.
How to stay on top
It starts with the offense. Second year center fielder Adam Jones is projected by many to have a breakout season. If he does, that would provide another threat in the batting order besides Nick Markakis and Huff. Jones may blast 25 home runs and start stealing bases in his second full big league season.
Guthrie and Uehara each have to go deep in to games. If these two pitch like top of the rotation starters the bullpen could have a very good season. Also, if the rotation holds up long enough, the younger players will help this team down the stretch run.
Finally, Matt Wieters is the best insurance the Orioles have. Baseball America’s top prospect looks to be as good as advertised and will hopefully be in the Major Leagues by mid-May.
As mentioned before, Guthrie is a question mark. He did not look good in the World Baseball Classic and he struggled in his last two Spring Training starts. If he pitches to his potential he won’t be a question mark.
Pie is another player Orioles fans aren’t sure about. The Chicago Cubs gave up on their one-time top prospect for very little in return. He is a player blessed with speed and other intangibles that are not teachable and could be a very good addition to Baltimore.
Huff followed the same routine from last spring and hopes to have a second consecutive successful year. The Orioles are hoping for a great season out of their new first baseman.
Brian Roberts is another player that Baltimore is depending on to start strong. He looked good in the World Baseball Classic and has recovered from his soreness. A healthy Roberts bodes well for the Orioles going in to the 2009 season.