A stalwart fan will be faithful to his team through whatever may come – having made a promise one fateful day “to have and to hold, from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death we do part.” Divorce is easy, and it is a too common escape for the fan to initiate. Even the best of marriages take work, and some retrospective evaluation from time to time is healthy.
So, entering 2012, are we really better off than we were over the course of the 2011 season? I don’t need a fairy tale sort of marital bliss, but definitive progress is a desperate need in this fan/team relationship.
Let’s take the Birds apart position by position, and let’s rate our reasonable hopes and expectations for the coming campaign as compared to 2011. The scoring system that I’m suggesting is imperfect, I do realize; even though I double the score for pitchers, it probably does not give enough weight to their role for better or worse. We will end up with 12 numbers to average – the eight position players, starters as a group, relievers as a group, designated hitter, and the bench as a group.
Here is the grading system:
5 = greatly better than 2011
4 = clear improvement over 2011
3 = similar to 2011
2 = probably worse than 2011
1 = far worse than 2011
1A – Starting Pitchers ………. 4
As we all know, this is very far from resolution and is the main contributor to marital stress! We have to applaud the efforts made to address the situation, even as the best of the gang from the past has been dealt away and no definite partial answer has even been secured. There are certainly enough candidates to give a reasonable hope for the future. However, the main reason for scoring this as a “4” is that IT HAS TO GET BETTER BECAUSE IT CAN’T LIKELY GET WORSE! Ugh! I like all these people and wish what I just wrote was not true. So OK – let’s forget the past, and let’s move forward.
1B – Relief Pitchers ………. 4
I really do like the corps of relievers that have been secured. However, I will confess to believing that a divorce lawyer needs to be consulted about Kevin Gregg. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out; call the grounds for divorce “irreconcilable differences due to a failure to throw a high enough percentage of strikes.” Johnson should be steady as the most oft-used end-of-game reliever. I have high hopes for Strop and many others … though the one caveat for giving a “4” here is that the relievers do need the starters to go deeper into games.
2 – Catcher ………. 4
Wieters has shown definitive regular improvement over his several years with the team, and I believe this will continue. It is a baseball lover’s joy to watch him control the game and the base paths. He has improved his hitting consistency, and he seems able to methodically improve whatever he sets his mind upon … and of course the challenge with catching is that there is so much to have your mind set upon! He is a good one!
3 – First Base ………. 4
My assumption here is that Chris Davis will be playing the bulk of innings at this position. It should not be true that a young guy with a sketchy statistical record should be rated as an improvement over Derrick Lee, but sadly that is true. I cannot say enough about what a terrible offensive disappointment Lee was in 2011 and could go on and on about it (as I did last year) … but a healthy marriage does not wax on about old and broken former relationships! The argument that the team will rise and fall in a large measure upon Davis’ performance is a reasonable discussion.
4 – Second Base ………. 2
Yes, just a “2” … as I am not hopeful at all. I do not see an answer. This is depressing, though at the same time, this position has the most potential for contributing to a better-than-expected end result. Everyone everywhere who writes about the Orioles is clearly weary of writing about Roberts, as there is little more to be said than what has been stated. I fear that even if he returns, the first hard slide or collision with Markakis on a pop-up will bring all the symptoms back. And though I love what the “Curse of the Andino” did to Boston at the end of the season last year, I also cannot forget the stretches of other stuff – like deer in the headlights base running. All other options hit me as remote – though I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised and I do wish great success upon them all.
5 – Third Base ………. 3
I am afraid to put a “4” – even as much as I hope for it and believe there can be definitive improvement. I’ve resigned myself to seeing Reynolds at third in spite of the painful memories of the past. He will not win the Gold Glove, and we can hope his errors contribute to few runs allowed … though what all errors do is extend pitchers who are already often running on fumes. And Reynolds will get his share of homers. While hoping for a cutback on the number of strikeouts, I’m afraid that if such was ever going to happen, it would have happened by now.
6 – Shortstop ………. 3
I flat out love J.J. Hardy, and the only reason this scores a “3” is that I find it difficult to imagine how he can improve over 2011. It was a great season, and the fact that he was not the Gold Glove is a travesty! If Hardy can stay healthy and have a comparable season as last year, we are way ahead of the game compared to most teams at this position.
7 – Left Field ………. 5
I have stated before that I am a believer in Nolan Reimold, and I do believe he will maximize his clear opportunity to play daily in left field. The possibility that he could even bat leadoff in a Roberts-less lineup is intriguing, and is the topic for another blog post. I’m not really a jersey-wearing sort of guy, but if I were, I’d have Reimold’s. I think his talents are immense.
8 – Center Field ………. 4
Adam Jones needs more plate discipline to truly become a star. I am betting that he makes good strides in this direction, and am believing also that he will be strengthened by a better lineup all around him.
9 – Right Field ………. 3
I am surprised at myself for not putting a higher score … but Nick’s numbers have been sliding a bit over the past couple seasons. Even so, Markakis is such a consistent hitter and asset in every aspect of the game.
10 – Designated Hitter ………. 3
Wilson Betemit is the likely candidate to get the bulk of at bats. He is not the proto-typical DH, and I confess to not knowing enough about him. I’m looking forward to seeing him play regularly, and am hoping he can be an upgrade over the feeble Guerrero, but am not yet ready to crown it as a categorical improvement.
11 – The Bench ………. 4
Taylor Teagarden definitely improves the backup catcher situation, and I believe the other position players give more multi-talented options than existed last year.
The average score of 3.5 gives a reasonable hope of improvement over a 69 win season from 2011. So I’ll say that this portends a win total of 76 or 77 for the year. That’s not enough for all our hopes and dreams, but it represents enough progress to certainly keep us out of the divorce lawyer’s office.