So the Orioles' 2010 season opening series is through.
The O's gritted their way through three games, all decided by one run, and managed to head back to Baltimore with one more victory than I thought they would get away with versus a VERY talented Tampa squad.
Good riddance Carl Crawford!
Much like last year when I foresaw such ominous idiotic predictions like "Jeremy Guthrie is going to be better than everyone thinks," I'm going to be dishing on a few things that I learned from this opening series. Hopefully they'll come through to be more omniscient than Guthrie (10-17, ERA over 5.00 last season).
First thing I learned about this series against the Rays...is actually about the Rays.
This team is scary. They have every reason to believe that they can compete with the Red Sox and Yankees, and I wouldn't be one bit surprised if come September, the Rays are in the drivers seat of either the AL East division lead or the Wild Card, with one of the big boys are staring at their backside.
The lineup is stacked. Zobrist has proven so far that last year was no fluke, and Crawford appears to be swinging the bat as well as ever. And don't even get me started on Longoria. Intentional walk please! Plus, having Sean Rodriguez, who can play just about anywhere gives the Rays one of the best one-man benches in the big leagues.
Their rotation is just as scary. Matt Garza pitched out of his mind, and I'm pretty sure Niemann would have pitched well if Miguel Tejada hadn't decided to take him out of the game single-handedly. James Shields is a 13-15 game-winner with this offense, and that doesn't even included last year's wonder-boy David Price or this year's ROY candidate Wade Davis, who tossed a complete game shutout against the O's last season.
Second thing I learned...this year's version of the Orioles is going to be much more competitive.
As in...no more games surrendering 30+ runs. The O's managed to keep all three games close. That's a sign of an up and coming team. Their pitchers faced adversity and managed to limit damage (aside from Mike Gonzalez...getting to him). The starting pitching is much improved from last year, and that will help keep the O's in games much later than guys like Adam Eaton and Alfredo Simon did in 2009.
They didn't exactly eat up innings, but going at least five innings is something that wasn't necessarily a guarantee last season. They also have guys in the bullpen capable of eating some extra innings, and even more relievers down at AAA who can step in and fill those same roles should the big league guys need a breather.
In Jake Arreita, Troy Patton, and even Chris Tillman down at Norfolk, the O's also have a cache of arms who can step in at a moments notice and give the O's a decent chance.
The lineup didn't exactly wow me with offensive output, but I was pleasantly surprised by Garrett Atkins' performance (.333 average and three doubles). Wieters looks like he's in for a monster year, and Nick Markakis may very well lead the league in walks this season. And don't forget Adam Jones, who is swinging the bat very well, even if some of those swings are leading to outs.
Third thing I've learned so far...Mike Gonzalez is scary...but in a very different ways than the Rays are.
Let me start by saying, I was very stoked to see Gonzo come out and fire fastballs in there at 93, much faster than he had this spring. However, I was very nervous about how many of his pitches were up in the zone.
The Rays made him pay for that. They scored two ninth inning runs against the O's in the first game, and then forced Gonzo to escape a bases-loaded ninth inning jam last night. Yikes! We could be looking at a 30+ save, 5.00+ ERA closer.
Fourth thing I've learned...Matt Wieters is going to be the Orioles' All-Star rep this season.
Did you see the way Wieters played? Six hits in 12 ABs. Three runs scored and two RBI. And only one strikeout. Beyond the stats though. He warranted a shift in the first game of the series. Who else warrants shifts in this league? Ryan Howard? Pujols sometimes? That's crazy! Wieters is in for a heck of a year.
I think he's a shoe-in to be the O's rep at the All-Star game this year, and if the O's had any shot of contending this season, he could very well be a MVP candidate. YEAH! I said that! He is diet-Joe Mauer, but better. He offers more power, but slightly less average, and is just as beastly behind the plate.
Several times during these three games the O's were struggling, specifically in pitching. Wieters came out to the mound, gave a little pep-talk, and 90% of the time the next guy grounded or struck out.
He displayed his baseball savvy more than once. On multiple occasions he forced the umps into called strikes on check swings by instantly reacting like it was a sure-fire strike. He kept his cool and threw out a Rays runner on a contested check-swing in one of the games, and he has called excellent games in all three contests.
And the fifth and final thing I've learned...is that you can't put stock in three games over a 162 game season. Just as I began to type about how the O's have managed to stay in each game, Brad Bergesen gave up three runs in the first inning to the Blue Jays in the O's home opener.
Maybe they won't stay competitive in any games the rest of the year, and maybe they'll lose to the Jays 30-3.
Now go out there and prove me wrong!
P.S. Miguel Tejada hit a two-run single and brought the Orioles to within a run :)