Crawling Out of The Basement? Part 1: Baltimore Orioles

Dave AugustineContributor IJune 19, 2009

BALTIMORE - JUNE 18:  Melvin Mora #6 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates with Luke Scott #30 and Adam Jones #10 after scoring the winning run in the tenth inning against the Houston Astros at Camden Yards June 18, 2008 in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Orioles won the game 2-1. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

This is part one of a six part series of articles focusing on one team from each division with little success in recent history.  I will be covering the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres

I was inspired to write this after making a visit to Nationals Park a few weeks ago and Oriole Park at Camden Yards last night. 

Some of these teams seem to be heading in the right direction while others just cant seem to keep it together. 

For part one I will focus on the Baltimore Orioles.

Not since Cal Ripken's final game in October of 2001 has there been much buzz in Birdland.   

There have been many failed attempts with former superstars such as Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmerio and Miguel Tejada.  Sure they may have added a few more ticket sales to the box office but not much else came of that. 

Baltimore has not made the playoffs since winning the AL East in 1997 and have yet to finish the season with a .500 record since.  There may be hope for this once storied franchise however. 

In 2003, Baltimore used its first-round pick on outfielder Nick Markakis.  In his three-and-a-half seasons in Baltimore, Markakis has hit .299 with 67 HR and 303 RBI.   Markakis recently signed a 6-year, $66 million contract to stay with the O's until 2014.

The offseason of 2008 saw Erik Bedard moved to Seattle in what may end up being one of the smartest moves in President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail's tenure with the O's. 

The O's were able to bring in starting centerfielder Adam Jones along with closer George Sherrill, farmhand Chris Tillman (considered Baltimore's second best prospect) and Kam Mickolio (considered one of Baltimore's top 10 prospects).   

Jones had a strong 2008 season and has done even better to begin the 2009 campaign.  Currently he has the same amount of home runs now (12) than he did in his previous 205 games.  Jones is 10th in the AL with a .316 batting average and he can only get better from there.

The only problem with Jones may be the money he demands once he's up for arbitration.  I'm sure Baltimore will do all that is possible to keep him in an O's uniform. 

In 2005, Baltimore drafted outfielder Nolan Reimold in the second round.  Reimold made his big league debut this year and so far the results have been pleasing. 

After hitting seven home runs in his first 30 games, Reimold should be a staple in left field with the O's.

The top prospect in baseball, Matt Wieters, made his most anticipated arrival to the Big Show in May.  A friend of mine who attended the game said that it was as if Baltimore found its baseball Messiah. 

Wieters got off to a slow start but has hit very well the past two weeks including his first career home run on June 17 against the Mets.  The 6' 5" switch-hitting catcher is being counted on to bring Baltimore back to the Promised Land.

With the combination of Markakis, Jones, Reimold and Wieters, the Oriole's have a solid young foundation.  The leadership of veterans like Brian Roberts can help guide this team to the top of the AL East. 

Baltimore also has the option to become flexible at the trade deadline and move players like first baseman Aubrey Huff and DH Luke Scott for some young pieces to the puzzle. 

The pitching staff may be the biggest question mark.  However, they have already seen bright spots from rookie Brad Bergesen and have seen a glimpse to the future with David Hernandez.  With Tillman waiting in the wings Baltimore may have its Big Three (Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta) ready to roll by 2010. 

I'm not saying it's the next Glavine-Smoltz-Maddux combo, but its a far cry better than the Guthrie-Uehara-Eaton combo to begin 2009.

Anything is possible in baseball and even though this may be the toughest division, it can be won by someone other than the Yankees or Red Sox. 

Take the Rays for example who finally climbed out of the AL East basement in 2008 to reach the World Series.  Give it a little time O's fans, your time may come sooner than you think.