Baltimore Orioles: Looking ahead to Grapefruit League play
There probably aren’t too many baseball columns that are going to do a serious in-depth “preview” of Grapefruit or Cactus League play. By that I mean nobody’s looking at match-ups, pairings, or least of all wins and losses. However at this point in the off season perhaps we can at least take a preliminary look at what the Baltimore Orioles will be facing when they get down to Sarasota this year. First off, it’s worth mentioning that this off season isn’t anywhere close to being finished. There are still a lot of free agents left to fall, such as Matt Garza and Kendrys Morales. But there’s no harm in looking forward towards the Florida sunshine, is there?!
The Birds open spring training play on February 28th this year with a visit to the Tampa Rays’ facility in Port Charlotte, FL. Their home opener in Sarasota will be against Toronto on March 1st.
Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
Throughout Grapefruit League play, the O’s will play a total of thirty games, 17 of which will be against AL East opponents (both of those numbers include split squad games). As always, the schedule appears to be fairly limited so as to limit the amount of travel for the Orioles. Teams travel to road games via bus in spring training, and this year the Orioles’ furthest road trip appears to be to visit Minnesota and Boston in Ft. Myers (a couple of hours from Sarasota).
Granted the fact that all of the Orioles’ division opponents are located on Florida’s gulf coast, however I think it helps to play so many games against the AL East in spring training. It helps their pitching staff to get accustomed to pitching in the division, although as we know teams don’t always bring their A-listers on road games. (The unwritten rule of thumb is that teams have to bring a minimum of three starters on each road trip – including split squad games.) You play half of your regular season schedule against your division to begin with, so having that extra time against them should hopefully prove to be helpful. The Orioles open and close spring training against Tampa, which is a team that seemingly had an answer to everything the Orioles did last season. Whether it was employing the most bizarre fielder configurations known to man against various hitters or putting a fielder in motion similar to a tight end or wide receiver in football, Tampa was shameless in doing what they had to do to record outs in the field. And it usually worked.
The Orioles’ lone off day during spring training will be Tuesday March 18th, which is actually towards the end of the schedule. Again, many of the regulars don’t go on all of the road trips, so quite a few guys will get days off in between games over the course of the schedule – but the entire team will be off on that day. Keep in mind also that the first week-and-a-half or so of games WILL NOT be what fans will be used to seeing from the Orioles. Pitchers always start spring training ahead of hitters since they report earlier; so expect to see a lot of majestic swinging third strikes, ground outs, etc. out of the likes of Davis, Jones, et al. But that will be true of all teams’ players, that is until the hitters start to get their timing back.
“Closing day” of spring training for the Birds is scheduled for Thursday March 27th against Tampa at Ed Smith Stadium. However, don’t be surprised if they add on another game on Friday (or even Saturday) against a local college team or something to that affect. They’ve done that the past few seasons as a way to say thank you to the Sarasota community for hosting them, however that usually gets added on at the last minute.
The Birds also have had the luxury of staying in the gulf coast area in several of the past few seasons as many times they’ve opened up at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Rays. However this season the Birds will head north immediately after breaking camp and will get right into the meat of their schedule by opening up at home against the defending world champion BoSox. So going back to the possibility of an extra game against a local Florida college, look for that more realistically on Friday so that the players (and coaches) can have some time to get home to Baltimore and get settled before Opening Day.
But the fact is that we’re nowhere near any of this yet, as it’s only January 6th. However, as you watch the riveting NFL playoff games, bear in mind that pitchers and catchers report two weeks after the Super Bowl. And for the record since the Birds open spring training games on February 28th, this is the last full month without Orioles baseball!