In the all-important “day before Opening Day” column, I figured I’d finally put out a season preview for the 2012 Baltimore Orioles on behalf of Birds Watcher. Throughout spring training and even before I’d notice other Fansided columns publishing season previews, however I waited until the 11th hour to do mine simply because we didn’t know the final roster until 5 PM yesterday! So what are we to make of these 2012 Orioles? Will they consistently fail to impress as some folks are saying? Will the possibly exceed expectations? Only one way to find out!
Everyone’s in first place and thus walking through Fields of Gold on Opening Day. (Aside: Sting may have written that song, but nobody beat’s U2’s version in my opinion!) The biggest issue facing the Orioles going into this season has been the pitching, and that’s been true since Nolan Reimold crossed home plate last September to beat the Red Sox in that final game. At that time, most people assumed that the O’s would add a top-of-the-line starter…didn’t happen. Or did it? New GM Dan Duquette’s philosophy has been to bring as much pitching into camp as possible, and to bring the best five north as part of the Opening Day rotation. Quite honestly, it’s worked. Think about how many names we threw around as potential starters during camp. The five starting pitchers that the Orioles have now were the creme de la creme so to speak. They battled, fought hard, and ultimately won. Aren’t those the type of guys you’d want as starting pitchers?
The Orioles were unable to add any big bats in the off season, and I still feel that this is a concern. Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters (and eventually Brian Roberts one hopes), are all good hitters that can drive in runs. However what about the rest of the lineup? Where does the power come from? Duquette has appeared to have taken the Moneyball/Billy Beane route and looked to add on-base percentage to the team. The idea is that the more guys you get on base, the more chance you have of scoring runs. (The rule of thumb is that three base runners should yield one run at least.) Whereas last season the O’s would get people on base only to have someone hit into a double-play or strikeout, now they have people that can potentially get base hits or draw a walk. Last year the trio of Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero, and Derrek Lee had a combined average OBP of .307. Those guys are gone now, and the likes of Wilson Betemit, Endy Chaves, and Nick Johnson have a combined career average OBP of .350. That isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison, however you can plainly see that some improvement has been made in that sense.
So the team’s OBP is improved on paper, and the rotation is set with Arrieta, Hunter, Hammel, Matusz, and Chen. What about the bullpen? The newcomers on the staff this year are Matt Lindstrom (obtained in the Jeremy Guthrie trade) Luis Ayala, Darren O’Day, and Troy Patton (who was on the club for all of one afternoon last year before being sent back down). The bullpen also sees the return of Pedro Strop, Jim Johnson, and Kevin Gregg. Strop came to the O’s last August in a trade with Texas, and he more than earned his place on this team with his play last year and in spring training. Johnson was a guy that many folks saw as a potential starter in the off season, but that had injury problems in camp. In the tail end of spring training many people were concerned about his apparent lack of velocity (from the high 90’s to low 90’s), however he’s earned his spot in the bullpen. We all know Johnson (and his pin point accuracy in the strike zone), just as we all know Kevin Gregg and his struggles. I believe that Gregg’s on this team simply because the Orioles didn’t want to eat his salary, and odds would be against him being claimed off of waivers absolving the Orioles from paying him). However in the same manner that we can’t guarantee that Brian Matusz will be the Brian Matusz of 2009-10, it’s unfair of us to assume that Gregg will be in his 2011 form. While he most certainly remains a trade candidate, I suppose I’m willing to give him a chance to see what he can do out of the gate.
So when all of this is put together, what will the 2012 Orioles be? They were 11-13 in Grapefruit League play this year (with six ties). However that in no way has any bearing in the regular season; spring training games unfold differently, and different guys finish the games as things go along. One very positive sign is that the O’s started to put more runs on the board in the second part of spring training. More importantly than spring training, I think we can look to the end of 2011 for an indication of the potential of this team. However, injuries will also play a part. If Brian Matusz ,andJake Arrieta can rebound from their 2011 injuries, if Brian Roberits can get back and stay healthy, if J.J. Hardy can stay healthy, et al, I think the O’s have a chance to surprise some people. This is not in the sense of making the playoffs, but perhaps to win more games than they did in 2011, or at the very least be more competitive in games that they lose.
It’s also worth noting that the O’s aren’t the only team in the AL East that has injury concerns. Boston just had to put their closer on the DL, and NY has injury problems in their rotation. Ultimately if the Birds can’t stay healthy we’ll see the same struggles that we’ve seen in past years. So I suppose you’re expecting a prediction out of me…right?! On the eve of the 2012 season, I’ll go with 72 wins, which would show modest improvement year-over-year. But who among us really knows?!
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