When I was a kid and I’d spend time with my grandparents in Cecil County, my grandmother would pile all of us into her Grand Marquis and we’d head off to the supermarket. A few hours and a few hundred dollars later, she’d have all the ingredients to make the Italian favorites that I love and miss so much since she’s passed away. Generally it would be some sort of spaghetti dish for lunch, and maybe a light cold cut supper before the voices of Chuck Thompson, John Miller, Brooks Robinson, et al would fill my ears. Nevertheless once we were all situated in the car for the drive to the store (and yes it was quite a drive…at the time the closest supermarket to Rising Sun was in Newark DE!) she’d say – in her Italian accent – “LET’S ROLL!”
It’s those words that most of Birdland is echoing today as the Orioles open the season against the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards. Whatever you think of the moves the team has made since last September is almost irrelevant for today as we get the season going. It’s really tough to say that this move or that move will or won’t work out. A year ago I thought that the additions of Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee would improve the team leaps and bounds. I naturally couldn’t imagine that both players would decide to take their statistical steps backward in the twilight of their careers last season at the same time. So who’s to say that 2012 doesn’t bring that same concept but in reverse? Perhaps Nolan Reimold has the breakout year we’re hoping he does? Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz might come back from injury very strong. We don’t know, but we can certainly hope and speculate.
This afternoon once all of the pomp and circumstance is over, ol’ blue will yell play ball! and we’ll be ready to go. So with that said, today’s game matches the newly anointed Oriole “ace”, Jake Arrieta, against Carl Pavano of the Twins. The Orioles have a .500 record against Pavano historically, and more recently still they beat him and the Twins 11-1 a couple of weeks ago in spring training. As I’ve said with Oriole stats, spring training doesn’t mean much when it comes to the regular season. The same is true for Pavano against the Fighting Showalters this afternoon. Whenever the Twins come to town of course one of the big features will always be Joe Mauer, who was the “prototype” so to speak for what the Orioles are hoping Matt Wieters will be (if he already is not). I won’t lie; I’m looking forward to seeing Mauer play because I see him (and Wieters) as a hall-of-fame caliber catcher down the line.
Ultimately the one constant for the Orioles in all 162 of their games (including today) will be the starting pitching. If Arrieta grabs the bull by the horns and goes after the Twins this afternoon, Baltimore will have a warm and rosy feeling going into the weekend. If not, it might be a long day. I’d like to see Arrieta get into the 7th inning today, if not complete it. One issue for pitchers in their first couple of starts is that they still don’t have the endurance to potentially go deeper into games. In 2010 Kevin Millwood drew the Opening Day assignment against Tampa, and he departed after five innings. The Orioles’ pen almost had guys with their arms falling off that year because it was taxed early; literally in that first game. The last thing that Buck Showalter is going to want to do is to have to go deep into the ‘pen early on. Obviously the day will come when a pitcher will struggle and he’ll depart after three or four innings (it happens to every pitcher). It would just be nice to NOT have it happen early on…especially today!
There’s always a glimmer of optimism on Opening Day no matter how faint it may be. “Hope springs eternal” as they say, and that goes for every team. Here’s another cliche: everyone’s in first place on Opening Day. However let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are 161 games after this one which count just as much. (You don’t need to remind the Orioles or Oriole fans of how much game 162 can mean!) Once the players have been introduced, the national anthem played (complete with the chant of O!), and once Rick Sutcliffe has thrown out the first ball to Chris Hoiles, it’ll be game time. Today is where and when it counts folks; no more getting your timing down or rotating pitchers in and out of games. This is Birdland 2012…ladies and gentlemen, LET’S ROLL.
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