Baltimore Orioles: Is 2011 the Season for .500?
After a few too many seasons of borderline irrelevance, is this the season the Orioles find a way out of the basement and come back to respectability?
It seems to be the case. Finally, .500 baseball is a legitimate possibility. Here are the reasons why this downtrodden fan is suddenly looking forward to a better season.
With Age Comes Wisdom...in the Outfield for Adam Jones and Nick Markakis
Adam Jones and Nick Markakis have another year of experience under their belts and are finally going to have the talent around them to blossom.
Markakis has been a budding star in the league for the last couple of seasons and Jones is just a consistent bat away from being all O's fans have hoped for since obtaining him in the Erik Bedard deal.
Markakis is a lifetime .298 hitter with virtually no lineup help and Jones is coming off his best season to date after hitting .284 last season. The roster additions of Vladimir Guerrero and Mark Reynolds can do nothing but help these two see better pitches and also allow for another individual to hopefully leap forward.
Older...and Wieters? Is Matt Wieters Ready to Explode?
When Baltimore drafted Wieters in 2007, it appeared as though he was going to be the player the team needed to take another step towards being a non-basement dweller. After a productive 96 games in 2008, Wieters took a step backward last season. In roughly 100 more plate appearances, he only hit two more HRs and 12 more RBI.
However, the lineup protection that is suddenly on the roster should really help out Wieters, not only in terms of pitches seen, but also relieving pressure. He can focus on getting his average back out of the low .240s and back towards that .290-.300 range that he had shown in his rookie season.
Additionally, the number of doubles he hit last season (22) leaves me hope that if he can even maintain that number from the catcher's spot, the RBI number will increase.
All Those Crafty Veteran Additions
Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, Vlad Guerrero.
Suddenly the Orioles have power hitters—two of whom may be past their prime, but hitters nonetheless—who will provide some sort of spark, pop and protection to the rest of this younger roster.
Sure, it may be frustrating that the team is not taking the Tampa Bay route and having all homegrown talent, but it does show a willingness to bring in players who really can help the team build a new identity.
Reynolds does strike out more than I'd like, but the consistent power is going to look great in Camden. Derrek Lee and Vlad are stars that were offered deals a few years back and declined, but to me are still going to look great for the O's. Their veteran presence and being on past winners can only help a team that seemed to lose track of itself last season until the addition of...
Buck Showalter Steps in and Stops the Losing?
Somehow Baltimore had one of the best late season runs in recent memory, going 34-23 under late season hire Buck Showalter.
Buck has a long history of managing, including being a two-time winner of AL Manager of the Year (1994 with the Yankees and 2004 with the Rangers). His time with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers gives him the perspective of being on talented rosters and ones that achieved well under his leadership, in spite of some gaps.
Going into his 13th season of managing an MLB team and having pumped new life and energy into the roster last year, Buck has brought the Orioles into a position where they can make some noise.
Duchscherer, Gregg...the Enforcers?
Duchsherer—I want him to save the bullpen. Sporting a low career ERA (3.13) and only being in town on a one-year deal, Duchsherer provides a huge opportunity for success to go from zero to average, which would be a massive step towards playing .500 ball.
Gregg is a great steal from the other birds in the division (Toronto). The bullpen has been a disaster for a long while now, especially when it comes to closing out games. Gregg can step in and stop the recent run of blown saves and just win those close games.
J.J. Hardy: Finally an Answer at Shortstop?
I am not supporting the possible platoon of Cesar Izturis and J.J. playing short. I am on the bandwagon for J.J. Hardy as the starter. He is not flashy and may not be the equal of Izturis in the field, but I love his consistency. He is a better hitter than Izturis—not a difficult task—and brings another veteran presence to the lineup that will look borderline dangerous.