In my recent trip to Sarasota, I observed a team that seems ready to take on the season. It’s a team with quite a few new faces. It’s a team that’s ready to prove that it can play with the big guys in the A.L. East. So, fans, are there reasons for optimism in Birdland? I say yes. And here are some reason to carry you into a glass-half-full beginning to the 2011 season:
1. The bats are hot heading out of Spring Training
Vlad Guerrero is everything advertised so far. He is hitting .365 with five home runs and leads the team with 19 RBIs. Everything you could want from a clean-up hitter.
We all know by now about the exploits of a certain back-up catcher just trying to make the team. Yeah, Jake Fox leads the team with 10 home runs and an astronomical slugger percentage of .808. I’m sure Buck will find a spot in the lineup for Fox.
And 2110 Eutaw Street (Adam Jones and Nick Markakis) are doing very well too (.308 5 HR 10 RBI for AJ and .377 2 HR 13 RBI for Nick). Perhaps the best news heading into the season is that Brian Roberts has worked through his injuries (for now) and should be in the starting lineup on Opening Day. B-Rob batted .371 in just 35 at bats this spring.
It’s great momentum heading out of Spring and into the start of the season. There should be a lot of runs scored this year.
2. The pitching has had its high points
Okay, we know this is going to be the least sure part of the team this season. But we have to look at the positives. First, pitching in Spring Training is very hard to judge. Managers don’t want to wear out the arms, so they hold a lot back. Also, with limited pitching opportunities, it’s easy to rack-up a 9-plus ERA with one or two bad innings. So, you have to look closer than just stats.
I think the young starters have done a good job. Clearly Zack Britton has done the best, with three wins and a microscopic 1.35 ERA in 20 innings pitched (the most from any Oriole this spring). But I doubt he will start the season on the major league roster (but I don’t think Buck will wait too long to bring him up). Jeremy Guthrie is solid, and should be a good number one. I saw Jake Arrieta pitch when I was down in Sarasota. He just needs to get out ahead of hitters. When he does that, he’s good. Brad Bergensen will be good, as long as he can stay healthy. Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz are still toss-ups, but hopefully they will come into their own.
I’m feeling better about the bullpen. It’s great that Koji is back from his injury. Hopefully he can stay healthy. And (hopefull) Kevin Gregg’s 11.37 ERA is just a fluke. Jim Johnson, Josh Rupe and Jeremy Accado can hold down the middle innings. Michael Gonzalez may make another run for that closer’s job.
The first month of the season should tell us a lot about the pitching.
3. Buck Showalter
When was the last time an Orioles manager made headlines? For something other than baseball? For “inflaming” the mighty Yankees and Red Sox Nation? Can’t recall THAT ever happening. Now, maybe that’s not the kind of publicity we really want. But it does show some fire (which is something we really haven’t seen in a long time from any authority figures in Orange and Black). I like what Andy MacPhail said when asked about the whole Men’s Journal Showalter interview:
“I think we all understood when we interviewed Buck, one of the things we were looking to get was somebody that has a personality about him, has some success,” MacPhail added. “This is part of it. You raise the profile of the team which is a good thing, and we just got to do everything we can to make sure we play as well as we can. Which we’ve done.”
Now it’s time to put it all together. It all starts this Friday at Tampa. And I’m optimistically excited.