Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Long Overdue Orioles Outlook - AL East Edition

And so we end the same way we began, cold and rainy and thinking about baseball. Today, we look at what is quite possibly the toughest division in any sport in America today, the AL East.

The AL East is a slaughterhouse. In the last 15 years, the AL East has made the World Series 10 times (they're 7-3). During that same time the wildcard came from the AL East 11 times. The division is top heavy with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and recently the Tampa Bay Rays have made this a 3-headed monster. Add the Toronto Blue Jays and you have a division that has pretty much dominated the AL (and to a lesser degree MLB) for almost 20 years. At one point, the Orioles were even a part of that. The question remains, can they ever get back? To be honest, not this year (attention baseball gods, I would be very happy to be wrong about this). But to make it anywhere, this is what they have to get through:

  • Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox underachieved last year, and they looked to rectify that in the offseason. They added the big free agent OF Carl Crawford (from the Rays, weakening them in the bargain) and traded for 1B Adrian Gonzalez to the field, and return two All-Stars in Clay Buckholz and Jon Lester in the starting rotation. If Josh Beckett and John Lackey can return to form this is going to be a real tough team to beat.
  • New York Yankees
Odds are this team will not have a problem with offense. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira are hitting their primes, and while Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada are on the downslope of their careers they should still provide some numbers (particularly Rodriguez) The problem this team is going to face is the pitching, particularly the starting pitching. CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes are this millenium's "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain", and AJ Burnett is watching his ERA do a great impression of oil prices. After that it is an even bigger crap shoot. You could argue that the biggest free agent move in the AL East this year was the Yankees NOT getting Cliff Lee. And you might be right. Either way, don't count on a lot of 2 1/2 hour pitching duels in the Bronx this year.
  • Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are both what the Orioles are trying to emulate and also trying to avoid. The Rays have been good the last few years, making the playoffs twice and the World Series once. But they don't have the revenue stream to keep the players like the aforementioned Crawford, 1B Carlos Pena (an Orioles target until he signed w/Chicago, freeing Derrek Lee up for the O's), Jason Bartlett, and Matt Garza. But the team has a deep farm system and looks to have a few bullets left in the clip to make another run in the next year or two if these studlings pan out.
  • Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays hit a lot of home runs last year, but then they traded away Vernon Wells and didn't really replace him with anything. Jose Bautista hit 54 HRs last year, but in his 6 years before that he had a total of 59, and never more than 16 in a season. He says he changed his swing before last season. It worked then. But around here we've seen a guy change his swing and have great success for a while. Even for a whole season. But carrying it over into the following season is the really challenging part. Good luck Jose.

And now, for the big limb I am going to go out on so I can make my predictions. So without further ado...

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Rays
  5. Blue Jays
Yup. I'm calling it. The Red Sox and Yankees are going do their usual thing, but the Yankees are not going to be a serious threat. The Rays are going to be really good again, but not for a year or two. And the Blue Jays are going to crash (think of them as the Orioles but without the promising pitching that has some quality major league experience). All of that is going to add up to the Orioles winning 86 games and being closer to 2nd place in the division than 4th. Get ready to have somewhat meaningful in Baltimore again, people.

Gene Roddenberry Golf Classic?

I just saw Tiger Woods on ESPN's SportsCenter, talking about being paired up w/Phil Mickelson at this weekend's tournament. Take a look at him:

With goatee

And all I could think of was this

It explains so much about the last couple of years, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

My Long Overdue Orioles Outlook - Pitchers Edition

The pitching staff did not go through the major overhaul that the position players did. The bullpen is going to be different but in the grand scheme of things that is not a bad thing, and if the starting rotation can follow up on the promise of the last 2 months of the season it will be a very minor thing.

The biggest change is the lack of Kevin Millwood, a guy you really have to feel sorry for. He gets traded from the eventual AL champs to go mentor a bunch of baby faced curveball junkies

At least it wasn't the bus leagues where he'd have to hold the flavor of the month's...let's move on.

He came in, did his job for a team that scored about 3 runs total in his first 15 starts, and now he is damaged goods that can't find a team to take a chance on him (I really thought the Cardinals would give him a call after Adam Wainwright went down, but nope). I hope for his sake that someone picks him up, maybe like the Phillies did with Pedro Martinez for the stretch run in 2009.

Instead the team will go with a rotation of:
  • Jeremy "Oh look, it's CC Sabathia again" Guthrie
  • Brian "If I win 15 games I get to stay out past curfew" Matusz
  • Brad "I'm only giving you one take this time" Bergesen
  • Jake "My last name kind of sounds like the scientific term for a nipple" Arrieta
and the last man standing in the epic battle royale that is:
  • Chris "I'm worth at least one fifth of Erik Bedard" Tillman
  • Zach "Once I'm in the majors the minor leagues are pretty much empty" Britton
  • Rick "I sound like I should be a member of Skull and Bones" VandenHurk
  • Justin "Prozac and Doan's for breakfast" Duchscherer

If all things are equal, Duchscherer will be the last starter (probably the 2 or 3, with Bergesen and Arrieta in the 4 and 5 slots), VandenHurk will be in the bullpen, and Tillman and Britton will be in Norfolk getting better and being ready in the case of injury / ineffectiveness in one of the starters.

The biggest question mark is Duchscherer. He has only pitched 28 innings over the last 2 years due to back injuries and clinical depression, but he has been good when he has pitched (career WHIP of 1.137). Guthrie is not a true #1 pitcher, but he is the best option right now, at least until Matusz is ready. Britton and Tillman aim to make it hard for the O's to send them to VA, but getting some more seasoning is best for them and for the team (which I am now calling getting "Reimolded"). If this team is going to take the next step in the rebuilding plan, the starting pitching is going to take them there.

The bullpen is pretty set, with the biggest battle over the closer's slot. As it stands now the bullpen consists of:
  • Koji "My interpreter is quite fluent in 15 day disabled list" Uehara
  • Kevin "It's better than Toronto" Gregg
  • Jason "I still think I can be a starter" Berken
  • Michael "How's my velocity NOW?!?" Gonzalez
  • Jim "Don Aase Jr." Johnson
  • and an arm or two out of a crowded field of mediocrity
Since Uehara is already injured, the closer battle is probably going to come down to Gregg vs. Gonzalez. If I were a betting man I would look to Gregg to get the nod. Everyone is saying that he was not promised the closer's role as a contingent to him signing with the team, but a nod and a wink are not a guarantee, are they? Johnson and Berken are best suited to middle relief, with the aforementioned VandenHurk going as the long reliever. It should shake out to be a solid bullpen, and really that should be enough.

Monday, March 07, 2011

This HAS to be a good sign, right?

If only they had held on for 2 more years...

The Orioles moved from Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards in 1993, they brought the right field foul pole and home plate with them. But what they did NOT bring with them was National Bohemian draft beer. I didn't turn 21 until 1994 (I will neither confirm or deny any possibilities of my having a Natty Boh at Memorial Stadium before legally allowed to do so).

I have faith that you can do it

So the announcement that Boh is Back w/the Birds (even if it isn't made here in Baltimore anymore) is a good thing for all of us that remember drunken cabbies leading cheers as we wait for that long hoped for return to respectability.

From a headier time when designated drivers weren't as prominent.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

My Long Overdue Orioles Outlook - Position Players Edition

Well, it is 54 degrees, overcast and raining. So let's talk about baseball and see if we can get the doldrums drummed away for a moment.

The phrase "new look" is overused in the world of sports talk. But in the case of the 2011 Orioles, it is appropriate. A full half of the starting lineup is going to be different from last year*. Look at last year vs. this year in the field (pitchers will be covered in a separate post):

  • 1B Garrett "I'm not good enough to hit in Colorado" Atkins
  • 2B Brian "Ow, my back. Maybe hitting myself in the head w/a bat will help" Roberts
  • SS Cesar "How do I get on base again" Izturis
  • 3B Miguel "B-12" Tejada
  • LF Nolan "27 year old rookies ALWAYS pan out" Reimold
  • CF Adam "I'm more of a Q-Bert guy" Jones
  • RF Nick "What did I do to deserve this" Markakis
  • C Matt "Maybe I'm just A god" Wieters
  • DH Luke "Birth certificate or GTFO" Scott
  • LF Part Deux Felix "Is there an odder couple than me and Luke Scott" Pie
  • Fill in as needed Ty "Don't sell yourself short. You're a tremendous slouch" Wigginton

  • 1B Derrek "I played w/Methuselah" Lee
  • 2B Brian "I'm still here, suckas" Roberts
  • SS J.J. "I'm not the guy from Good Times" Hardy
  • 3B Mark "Feel the breeze" Reynolds
  • LF Luke "Wango Tango" Scott
  • CF Adam "I'm plenty deep, coach" Jones
  • RF Nick "For the love of God, please let me know what 70+ wins feels like" Markakis
  • C Matt "Dammit Buster Posey, knock it off already" Wieters
  • DH Vladimir " I changed Derrick Lee's diapers" Guerrero

All snarky names aside, this lineup is MUCH improved. Yes, Reynolds does strike out a lot, but he also hits for power, and he is only 27 so there is room for improvement (let's see if new hitting coach Jim Presley can find a way to shorten his swing a little bit while not totally killing his power stroke). Lee had a thumb injury last year, but all signs point to a productive year along the line of .285/.367/.498 w/28 HR and 90+ RBI (which would be about .250/.350/.497 w/27 HR and 90+ RBI more than Atkins). Hardy is (contrary to public opinion) not a defensive liability compared to Izturis, and he provides a LOT more pop (how does .263/.323/.423 w/20 HR & 70+ RBI sound? A lot better than .256/.296/.323 w/2 HR and 40 RBI, that's for sure). Another misnomer is how the defense in LF is going to play out . Reimold was the opening day starter, but he didn't last too long. Pie is a decent fielder, but he is a CF by trade and has problems reading the ball off the bat when in left (let's all try to forget that we had to go out and re-sign Corey Patterson, and hopefully we will not need to call on him again because I have the feeling that signing him a 3rd time is akin to looking in your mirror and saying "Candyman. Candyman. Candyman). Scott is a natural LF (as much as he can be natural at any position in the field), and while he might not have Pie's speed he has better vision and makes better decisions in tracking to the ball. He'll be fine, and putting Guerrero in the DH slot allows for more pop from LF and DH.

If Markakis can return to form and Jones & Wieters can improve (all reasonable expectations), this lineup has the potential to actually make opposing pitchers work for a living. It isn't going to be the '27 Yankees, but it won't be the 1899 Cleveland Spiders either (or if you're into the "something from the last century" deal, the '62 Mets).

*all statements of this nature are under the assumption/hope of relatively healthy seasons by the starters

Friday, March 04, 2011

Bill Simmons making sense

"The Sports Guy" can be annoying. But when he's right, he's right. And this article might just be the clearest, easiest to understand article about the NFL labor dispute that I have read yet.