MLB 2011: Is It Safe to Say the Baltimore Orioles Are a Legitimate Contender?

Jason KimCorrespondent IApril 6, 2011

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 04: Felix Pie #18 of the Baltimore Orioles (L) and teammates Nick Markakis #21 (C) and Adam Jones #10 celebrate in the outfield after the Orioles defeated the Detroit Tigers 5-1 during opening day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 4, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Last year in the early parts of the season, the Orioles were in a bad position. 

Kevin Millwood was brought in, but it didn't seem like the solution for the next couple of years.

Mike Gonzalez, who was signed to close games, struggled since the first game and went down with a injury.

Nick Markakis seemed to be slowly declining, while Brian Roberts would miss around 100 games due to a foot injury.

Adam Jones was mightily struggling.

Matt Wieters looked liked a bust for fantasy owners. 

There didn't seem to be any All-Stars at all on the 25 man roster.

Hope glimpsed when Buck Showalter came in and led Baltimore to a 34-23 record. Adding even more hope, guess what the Orioles did: add solid players.

There was Mark Reynolds, who can hit 40 home runs while giving an upgrade in defense at the hot corner. J.J. Hardy who still seems to be able to come back to his old form was added at short. Derrek Lee could still hit 20 bombs while maintaining a gold glove. Vladdy signed to DH.

It became one, much better, club—period. 

Fans hoped their beloved O's were set in a good position for 2012 and years to come, as the starting pitching did not seem to be good enough this year.

However, if the performance of the last four starts that the Baltimore pitching staff are an indication of things to come this season, Boston and New York might have to watch out.

They might become another Tampa Bay, where much of the Rays' roster all broke out in one specific season in 2008.

Not only are these good possibilities, Showalter's encouragement for the entire roster seems to help. Also, ever since he came in, Wieters seems to be more relaxed and playing better.

The catcher behind the plate needs to be the key for a playoff run, and the O's now have that.

  1. Pitching: Check (for now)
  2. Offense: Plenty
  3. Defense: Above Average
  4. Confidence: Very high

The only thing they are lacking is experience, but it was the same thing for the Rays.

With Buck still leading the way, his club has a real chance to maybe overtake the Rays, Yankees and even the Red Sox this season for the division crown.