Over the last 13 seasons, the Baltimore Orioles have been the bottom-feeders of the AL East, often referred to as the toughest division in baseball.
The O’s started last season 2-16, which added to an already-diminishing fan base at Camden Yard.
Looking for an answer, the O’s made three managerial changes. I guess third time's the charm, as Buck Showalter took over on August 1st and the O’s finally got their man.
Under Showalter, the team went 36-23, the best record in the AL East during that span. The pitching staff made 36 quality starts and the bats averaged .300.
Whatever Showalter was cooking, the O’s players were eating it.
So, how do the Birds look heading into 2011?
Showalter could not have been a better fit.
His confidence became infectious, as the O’s ended the 2010 season winning. The fans started showing up again at the Yard and the O’s displayed resilience.
The O’s needed a power bat at third base, so they sent some prospects to the Diamondbacks and got Mark Reynolds in return. Reynolds has averaged nearly 35 homers the last three seasons, but the trade-off is his 200+ strikeouts each season.
The O’s enhanced their infield defense by signing first baseman Derek Lee and trading with the Twins for shortstop JJ Hardy.
The O’s finished their offseason just like they did the 2010 season: on a high note.
The $8 million one-year deal with future Hall-of-Famer and perennial All-Star Vladimir Guerrero was unquestionably their biggest upgrade. Vlad had a .300 batting average with 29 homers and 115 RBI last season with the Rangers.
Bringing in Vlad makes a statement not only at the plate, but also with his influence. This move was owed, as the O’s have one of the best fanbases in sports who needed a jump and got one in Vlad.
The Birds have young pitching with a lot of promise. Adding veteran starting pitcher Justin Duchscherer, even with his injuries, makes a lot of sense. Also, adding Jeremy Accardo and Kevin Gregg will solidify their bullpen.
The O’s made a lot of moves this offseason, paying attention to detail by filling the major holes for the immediate season. They were already above average in the outfield with Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, so focusing on players to surround second baseman Brian Roberts was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Overall, the O’s had a constructive few months and the team looks respectable heading into 2011.
Even though the Orioles could win the most improved award this offseason, they still have a long way to go unless they can trade themselves out of the AL East.
Playing the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays 18-19 times each season is tough, so if Baltimore can come in any higher than last place it will be a marked improvement and prove they are on the right track.
The goal should be a postseason birth, even though it is a long shot. But if all the cards fall perfectly and the other teams have bad luck, you never know.
For any of this to happen the O’s have to stay healthy, and their new additions come with some injury history. Every team’s primary target is to stay fit, so the O’s are not alone here.
Players To Watch
Second baseman Brian Roberts needs to stay healthy.
Roberts bats leadoff and when any team loses that bat to the DL, it can muddle their entire lineup. He was limited to 59 games in 2010 and the O’s win more when he plays.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds brings power and presence to a weak lineup, but he will need to reduce his strikeout rate by a lot to make the O’s a serious threat.
Even with Reynolds racking up 32 home runs in 2010, his batting average was a pathetic .189 and his 211 strikeouts were the highest in baseball. Reynolds had 223 strikeouts in 2009 and 204 in 2008, so he has topped this category for three seasons.
Reynolds needs to cut this number by at least 25 percent He is only 27 years old, so it is possible with hard work, maybe not immediately but in a few years.
2011 AL East Prediction
Baltimore Orioles will finish in fourth or fifth place, but will have a record over .500.