Let me start today by pointing out that spring training in effect is a sort of miniature season in terms of the ebb and flow, and the number of games played. So with that said I would remind you of the dramatics that ensued the last time that the Orioles closed a season back in September of last year…! However while we will revisit that moment this week leading up to Opening Day, the Orioles need to put that in the rear view mirror. (As soon as Nolan Reimold crossed home plate to beat the Red Sox that night, this Friday’s game against the Twins became the focus.)
This afternoon’s 1 PM game against Tampa will be the last time that the Orioles face another big league club until Friday when the bullets fly for real. Wei-Yin Chen will get the start today; as I’ve said, my prediction is that Chen will be in the rotation come Friday. Today is his chance to solidify that in the mind of Buck Showalter. He’ll be opposed by Tampa’s James Shields, who’s given the Orioles problems over the years. For the most part, the Orioles appear to be throwing the presumed Opening Day lineup out this afternoon, although Endy Chavez is starting in left field and Nick Johnson as the DH. (My prediction is that Nolan Reimold will be the day-to-day left fielder for the most part, however I do think that there’s a place on the roster for both Chavez and Johnson.)
Once the O’s come north nobody will care about who did what in spring training, and how good or bad anyone looked individually. However I do believe in carrying momentum into the next stage of anything. After today the Orioles aren’t done in Sarasota or with exhibition games; they have games tomorrow and Tuesday against local colleges (which will be covered here at Birds Watcher with limited interest), and a game on Wednesday afternoon in Norfolk against the Tides. However for all intents and purposes, this is kind of the “closer” in the sense that it’s the last Grapefruit League game against a big league opponent.
I suppose what I’m saying is that it behooves the team to finish crisp and strong in this last game because as I said I do believe in carrying momentum. The same goes for how things finished up last season; as I said that needs to be put in the rear view mirror, however it is worth mentioning from time to time because it’s exactly that kind of moxie that the Birds need to capture going into 2012. But this game is important as well; I feel that it’s no coincidence that MASN chose to televise this afternoon’s game. Why not show the fans the final tune-up so as to let them see things after they’ve been put together?
Luckily for baseball players most teams don’t follow the NFL’s example whereby the starting team gets next-to-no reps in the final exhibition game. As I said above, I’m a believer in carrying momentum; so why purposely concede that momentum by barely giving your players a chance to play? (I also recognize that in a sport like football it’s probably best to not show your hand in the final meaningless game, and most importantly not to expose your players to injury.) So my hope is that we see the O’s fly right out of the gate and put some runners on base to make “Big Game James” uncomfortable this afternoon. That will lead to runs being put on the board, which leads to wins. You want to have a rosy feeling coming out of spring training, so a good team win this afternoon might do wonders for the Orioles’ confidence.
I remember two years ago when the Orioles started Grapefruit League play with a bludgeoning of Tampa (to the tune of somewhere in the 12-1 neighborhood), and then proceeded to lose their next six games (equaling a 1-6 start). In the column I wrote at the time, I tried to tell fans that it was only spring training and that none of this truly mattered with regard to the regular season. I was half-right; keep in mind that the regular players aren’t in for the entire game in these cases. In many of those six straight losses the O’s had the lead when the regulars came out. However I was incorrect about it not really affecting the season. As many of you remember, the Birds started that year 2-16. We certainly do want to take all of this with a grain of salt without a doubt, however how you practice can sometimes affect how you truly play. (This is not to say that a loss or a poor performance this afternoon dooms the season either.)
Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala