I don’t know what most people took away from Opening Day yesterday, but what I got out of it was that this Oriole team can be better than advertised if they put everything together the right way. As I said in my game recap yesterday, let’s not get overly excited about one game. However the Orioles do need to take what they did well and bring it forward with them in the remaining 161 games this year. That’s one of the beautiful things about baseball; you get right back at it the next day. In football for example, you might have a great win on Opening Day and then have to wait a week and hope the momentum is still there. Not in baseball!
Speaking of which, the O’s get right back at it tonight against Francisco Liriano and Minnesota. Before missing the 2007 season due to injury, Liriano was thought to be the next wicked southpaw on the major league scene. He’s still a great pitcher with a pretty good fastball, however I’m not sure he ever reached the potential that he may have originally had. He’s coming off a season in which he was 9-10 with a .509 ERA. Keep in mind that the Twins as a team suffered last season with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau being hurt for much of the season; not having his all-star battery mate (Mauer) might have affected Liriano.
There are a couple of things that bode well in the Orioles’ favor. First off Liriano was 1-4 last April, and 0-4 in April of 2009 (in 2010 he was 3-0 in the month of April). So while that means little for this year and specifically for tonight, it seems that perhaps he struggles early in the season. Yesterday Buck Showalter hit Nolan Reimold lead off however as he told MASN’s Amber Theoharis, he [Buck SHowalter that is] does have some other options for that slot in the order. (The linked article actually discusses Brian Roberts and his health along with the lead off spot; obviously once Roberts is ready he’ll be the everyday lead off hitter.) Reimold has a career average of .667 against Liriano (with only three at-bats), so one would think he might continue to lead off tonight. Once the lineup is posted we’ll know for sure. Furthermore if Nick Markakis can continue using opposite-field power like he did yesterday, that will be a big plus for the Birds moving forward. That would especially hold true against a southpaw like Liriano tonight.
As Showalter has indicated throughout spring training, we’ll probably see several versions of his lineup on a day-to-day basis. One thing that we already know about tonight’s lineup is that Tommy Hunter will make his 2012 debut for the O’s. Hunter you’ll remember was one of the candidates to make yesterday’s start. While I feel that they made the right choice in Jake Arrieta, I like Hunter and I would have had no issue giving him the Opening Day nod. He was solid for the O’s after being traded to Baltimore last summer from Texas, and he looked good throughout camp. Arrieta was fooling the Twins yesterday with crisp fastballs mixed in with some wicked curves and a backup slider, which might well be a model for Hunter to use going into today.
One thing that struck me was that after the Markakis homer the Orioles were able to manufacture the other two runs yesterday. A sac fly or a fielder’s choice-RBI might not show up as brightly in the stats sheet as does a crisp tw0-run homer, however that one run counts as much as do the home runs. We need to see more of that from the Orioles. When Liriano first came up his fastball was tough to hit, so if he brings some of that good stuff tonight it might be difficult for the Birds to hit the ball out of the ballpark. You don’t win or lose games on home runs – for the most part! Generally in baseball you win or lose on small intangibles that occur within the game, such as a pitcher (Arrieta) being able to reach down deep and labor through an inning when he was starting to tire, or a fielder’s choice-RBI. That’s what wins games for the team. That’s what the Baltimore Orioles need to continue to do tonight against Minnesota.
Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala