2010 Baltimore Orioles Preview: Strengths and Weaknesses

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2010 Baltimore Orioles Preview: Strengths and Weaknesses
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After 12 straight losing seasons, optimism is high in Baltimore that 2010 could be the season the Orioles move back over the .500 mark.

However, considering that they won only 64 games a year ago, even with a plethora of young talent, there is much to be done if the O’s are really going to move to the plus side of the ledger.

This is part two of a three part series about the 2010 Orioles. In part one we looked at keys to the season.

In this article, we are looking at some of the strengths and weaknesses. In the third part, we will explore exactly what could be considered a success for 2010.

So, below we take the position groups and other elements of the team and analyze those that are areas of strength and those where work is needed if the Orioles truly will be able to contend in 2010:



Strengths:

Outfield: It is quite possible that by the end of this season the outfield of the Baltimore Orioles could be considered the best in major league baseball.

Because he is not a dominant power hitter, rightfielder Nick Markakis has gone somewhat unnoticed across baseball. He has yet to earn an All-Star selection in four seasons with the Orioles, but has emerged as the most consistent offensive threat for the squad.

He has a career batting average of .298 and has driven in more than 100 runs in a season twice. With protection around him and a likely move to the No. 4 spot in the lineup, watch for Markakis to have another big season in 2010.

Flashy centerfielder Adam Jones got off to a hot start in 2009 and made the All-Star team. He also earned a Gold Glove in center field and illustrated that he can be a solid everyday player.

He finished the 2009 season with a .277 average, 19 home runs and 70 RBI despite playing in only 119 games. You can expect him to settle into the lineup in 2010 and again be a solid performer.

Second year player Nolan Reimold displayed flashes of brilliance as a rookie and many believe he will post numbers similar to Jones and Markakis in 2010.

He finished 2009 with a .279 average and 15 home runs in 104 games and will be given the chance to play every day in leftfield in 2010.

Middle Infield: Brian Roberts has been one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball over the last several seasons and provides the Orioles with the table-setter needed to score runs.

Last season, Roberts hit .283 and scored a career-high 110 runs. It marked his fourth season of scoring 100 or more runs in the last six years.

Though never a Gold Glove performer, Roberts is a solid defensive second baseman and teams with Cesar Izturis to give the Orioles a solid double-play combination.

The veteran Izturis does have a Gold Glove in his pocket and provided stability at the shortstop position for the Orioles in 2009.

He also had a solid offensive season with a .256 average and 30 RBI. Offensive production from him is a bonus as his primary role is to sweep the middle defensively.

Youth: When you consider that the team has not had a winning season since 1997 and plays in the toughest division in baseball, it would be very easy to sit back and go through the motions in 2010, resigned to the fact that the Orioles will likely not challenge the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays.

However, because of a plethora of young talent, the Orioles enter 2010 with a sense of optimism and intent on changing recent history.

Perhaps illustrating the optimism more than any other player is second year catcher Matt Wieters. Already gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, Wieters provides hope to Baltimore faithful that the dark days are about to clear.

Last season, the 6-foot-5 catcher made an instant impact for the Birds with a .288 batting average, 9 home runs and 43 RBI in 96 games. He also did a solid job behind the plate catching a young pitching staff.

If the Orioles are to improve in 2010, Wieters must be as good as advertised and emerge as one of the top catchers in the American League.



Weaknesses:

Schedule: The last thing a team looking to turn the tide needs is a schedule that puts them in the deep water early in the season. Unfortunately for the Orioles, that is exactly what they will get in 2010.

During the month of April, the Orioles play 16 of their 23 games against teams that had a winning record in 2009. This includes 13 games against division foes from Tampa Bay, New York and Boston.

It is important for the Orioles to not get buried in negative karma early in the season, but the schedule (which also includes a seven-game West Coast swing) will make that difficult.

Corner Infield Positions:
When looking strictly at potential offensive production, having Garrett Atkins at first base and Miguel Tejada playing third for the Orioles could likely provide an improvement in offensive numbers to what the Orioles received from those spots a year ago.

However, the lack of experience defensively at those positions is impossible to ignore.

Atkins has played a grand total of 105 games at first base in his major league career. Not a very significant number of games, but 105 more than Tejada has played at third base.

It will be interesting to see if Atkins, primarily a third baseman in the past, can make the defensive transition to first base while also regaining his offensive firepower after an off-season in 2009.

Tejada’s transition may not be quite as challenging even though he has been a shortstop his entire career.

Starting Pitching: In 2009 the Baltimore starting pitchers had only two complete games and averaged only 5.5 innings per start. This put extra pressure on the Baltimore bullpen and could be cited as a primary reason for the late-season crash.

It will be imperative in 2010 that Baltimore starting pitchers improve their production to at least six innings per game and also increase the number of games in which they give the bullpen a night off.

The Orioles have some talented young pitchers, but now that most of them have had a chance to get their feet wet at the major league level it is time for them to move to the deep end and start pitching like the potential All-Stars many have labeled them to be.

Conclusion: General manager Andy MacPhail has indicated that the rebuilding is over and that he expects the Orioles to contend in 2010. That might be slightly optimistic, especially considering the tough early start, but there is no question that the Orioles have the potential in 2010 to be a solid team.

The starting nine is arguably as good as any in baseball. The question for the Orioles is all about whether the team has the pitching to become competitive. Conventional wisdom says that the Orioles are a year away from being able to challenge the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays.

The Orioles must at least show in 2010 that they are capable of playing consistent baseball and not go through extended slumps as they have done in the past. If they can accomplish that, then they could be setting the stage for a run in 2011.

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