2010 Baltimore Orioles: Defining Expectations and Success
With the start of the 2010 baseball season now upon us, those around the Baltimore Orioles are cautiously optimistic that after more than a decade of decay, the team is ready to turn things around. The big question, given their current streak of 12 consecutive losing seasons, is what would be considered a successful season for the O’s in 2010.
While contending for the playoffs would certainly be an ultimate goal, given the fact that Baltimore will be playing 57 games against three of the best teams in baseball (Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays), is it realistic to believe the Orioles can post the kind of record needed to compete for a playoff spot?
Considering that the Birds start the season with arguably the toughest early schedule in the league, the initial goal for Baltimore may need to be simple survival.
Facing a series against the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees during the opening month as well as a challenging West Coast swing, the key for the Orioles during the first month will be to not dig too deep a hole and let the entire season spiral out of control.
Unlike recent years in which the mantra has been rebuilding, team president Andy MacPhail has claimed that this year the goal of the team is to move into contention in the toughest division in baseball.
That means that manager Dave Trembley, who has received praise and kept his job because of his work grooming the young players, must now show that he can manage a team that is looking to challenge for the playoffs and not simply grow for the future.
To his credit, MacPhail has developed a team that looks to be significantly stronger than any team Baltimore has had in recent years.
However, while the Orioles are unquestionably talented, they are very young at crucial positions and have veterans being asked to play new roles at some of their other spots.
The vaunted young pitching staff seems to have enough talented young arms to make things tough for opponents. However, having success at the major league level is much tougher than showing glimpses of future potential at the minor league level.
Many of the young pitchers received a taste of life in the majors last year with a mix of success.
Brad Bergeson was the best pitcher on the staff with a 7-5 record and 3.43 ERA before suffering an injury that cost him the last two months. Brian Matusz was 5-2 in eight starts and many are picking him for a breakout season in 2010.
On the other hand, Chris Tillman (2-5, 5.40 ERA), Jason Berken (6-12, 6.54 ERA), and David Hernandez (4-10, 5.42) struggled in 2009.
MacPhail is counting on veterans Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie to serve as the mentors for the young staff and to eat up innings so that the Baltimore bullpen will not be as taxed as they were in 2009 when they were asked to pitch more than three innings every night.
If the Orioles are to improve on their 64-98 record from a year ago (and they better), the pitching staff cannot use the crutch that they are young and learning.
When you look at the everyday lineup for the Orioles, it is arguable that they have a lineup that is favorably comparable to any in baseball.
The outfield of Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Nolan Reimold has the potential to be the best in baseball.
Leadoff hitter Brian Roberts is one of the most unsung players in the game, and second year catcher Matt Wieters has the potential to be one of the best catchers in baseball.
Considering the 12 straight losing seasons, simply finishing above .500 could be considered a step forward.
Even more important in my opinion is that the Orioles don’t sink into their annual pattern of sleepwalking through the final two months.
While Baltimore faithful are ready for the Birds to return to contention, after such a long dry spell it is unrealistic to believe the Orioles can go from afterthought to contender overnight.
So, as we look toward the goals for 2010 perhaps the biggest is that when the season ends the Orioles aren’t talking about how they will turn things around in 2011.
If the Orioles can use 2010 as a season in which they illustrate consistency throughout and give the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays some genuine heartburn, then they will be moving toward their goal of returning to relevance in the AL East.
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