Saturday, March 31, 2012

Last Day of March Means First Baseball Post of the Year

The Big Free Agent Signing for the O's - Wilson Betemit

Well I guess I’ve put it off long enough.  I’ve tried to avoid writing this post for about a week now. Quite frankly, I haven’t paid too much attention to baseball as of yet.  Watching and writing about the Lightning has been a little more time consuming then I had planned.

Also, my mom always said, “If you can’t say something nice, keep your god damn mouth shut.”  As of right now I don’t know how many nice things I can say about the 2012 Baltimore Orioles.  Let’s see:

1.       20th Anniversary of Camden Yards.  Really? It’s been 20 years?  Wow.  The nice thing is that the organization should be spending most of the season reminding us about the better days the ball yard has seen. 

2.       Matt Wieters – The 25-year-old catcher is entering his 4th season with the Birds and many have this year tagged as his breakout year.  He didn’t have a shabby 2011 garnering a Gold Glove award and playing in an All Star game.

3.       Adam Jones – The centerfielder is in the midst of a contract year- which usually means good things.

4.       Nick Markakis should see some power return after undergoing surgery for an abdominal issue that bothered him last season.

5.    And the bestest news of all?  Well, the cartoon bird making it's return to the uniforms, of course!

Who wouldn't be happy wearing that hat?

Opening Day is only a week away and I want to be optimistic about the upcoming season.  After all, this is The HOPEFUL Chase, not The Pessimistic Chase (which would be a stupid title) so I want to believe that they will be the surprise team of the year. That’s what Opening Day is all about.  Everyone has an equal shot at winning, because everyone is starting with the same record.  Even the Mariners and Athletics (they just get to start with the same record earlier). So next Friday should be exciting, the possible start to a championship season!

Unfortunately I just can’t see it.  The bullpen is a mess, Zach Britton, arguably their best pitcher, is on the shelf for at least the month of April after receiving a Platelet Rich Injection (sounds vaguely illegal doesn’t it) in his throwing shoulder, the starting shortstop is also having issues with his throwing shoulder and third base is still an issue defensively.  Oh and they don’t have a true leadoff hitter and their backup catcher has a bad back. Throw in the fact that their second baseman is recovering from a concussion he got from hitting himself with a bat 3 seasons ago and things look pretty bleak.

The offense should be fine, of all the things on the team the offense is the one I worry the least about. They are returning pretty much the same lineup that ranked 4th in the AL in Home Runs and 6th in Batting Average last year. I know all of you neo-statisticians scoff at those old fashioned numbers, but hey they’re good looking numbers and frankly I don’t want to depress myself further by clicking on the “more numbers” link. The only two major differences in the line-up will be at DH (Wilson Betemit replacing Vlad Guerrero) and left field (Nolan Reimold getting a chance to be the every day starter).

Their defense will probably be middle of the road, strong up the middle and weak at the corners. There was some hope that they could find a better option than Mark Reynolds at third base, but for now they’re prepared to go into the season hoping his bat makes up for his defense.  He supposedly dropped about 40 lbs. in the off season so perhaps that will help with his mobility at the hot corner (optimism engaged).

The pitching staff is going to be the biggest question mark, which in the offense-happy AL East isn’t a good thing. With perennial ace Jeremy Guthrie now in Colorado it appears that Jake Arietta is the Opening Day starter by default. The hard-throwing right hander has shown better control throughout the spring, but hasn’t been exactly lights-out.

Following him in the rotation appears to be Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel and Tommy Hunter. In other words three starters who weren’t with the team last April.  The battle for the fifth starter is coming down to Brian Matusz and Tsuyoshi Wada, although Wada may stay behind for extended spring training if he struggles again in his outing next week. The pitcher that doesn’t get the starting spot could also be sent to the bullpen, which might not be a bad option for Wada.

As undefined as the starting rotation is, the bullpen is an even bigger mess. There will probably be a total of seven bullpen jobs to fill and as of right now 11 folks have a shot. My best estimate as to how it ends up is this:

1.       Jim Johnson (R) – Closer

2.       Matt Lindstom (R) – Set up

3.       Zach Phillips (L)

4.       Luis Ayala (R)

5.       Pedro Strop (R)

6.       Troy Patton (L)

7.       Darren O’Day (R)

Notice anyone missing? Like a certain high-priced closer? I have a feeling that General Manager Dan Duquette will find a taker for Kevin Gregg (even if he has to eat a large portion of the contract) before spring training is over.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks for closers with Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria both getting shut down for the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team picking Gregg up as an insurance policy, especially if they can do it on the cheap.

The O’s waived Alfredo Simon on Saturday throwing some more confusion powder on the bullpen and gives Buck Sholwalter some interesting options.  Chris Tillman was sent down as well despite having a semi-decent spring.

Pat Neshek has a shot at making the team as he hasn’t allowed an earned run in the nine innings of relief he’s thrown this spring. However, he has an option left so the Orioles can send him to Norfolk without the risk of losing him on waivers.  Could one of the starters who miss out on the last spots in the rotation be placed in the bullpen?  Possibly, but it would be more beneficial for them to get regular starts in the minors.

Two lefties in the bullpen? Sure why not. I’m sick of this lefty-bias where teams only carry one southpaw and he’s only allowed to face lefties.  The O’s aren’t in a position to be choosy when it comes to their bullpen. If Phillips and Patton are the best options, then they’re the best options match-ups be damned.

No matter how it sorts out the pitching staff isn’t going to remind anyone of the 1966 Orioles.  At best I see this team having another 70-win season. Now having said that I guess I can’t complain when they plod through the season the way a 70-win team does.  You know, win one – lose three. Then win three and lose four. 

On the other hand, the Red Sox didn’t really do anything to make themselves better and a black cloud seems to be making its way to Tampa Bay. The young pitchers might turn the corner and the Asian imports might beguile American League hitter for at least one season.  The offense is pretty good and if he gets enough at-bats Reimold could be a 30+ HR guy. They were coming on strong at the end of last year (suck it, Red Sox!) and there is that extra playoff spot available.  Who knows, maybe, just maybe this could be the year.


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