“Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” Earl Weaver
Note: This is my first baseball post of the 2011 season which actually deals with what is happening on the field. Last year I wrote almost exclusively about the Baltimore Orioles AAA affiliate the Norfolk Tides. I was a season ticket holder and decided to write on every game. This year since I am stationed in Camp LeJeune and cannot go to Harbor Park every home game I will focus on the Baltimore Orioles and to a lesser degree the Tides. I do this because I know a lot of the players from their time in Norfolk and have met various scouts and team officials to include Orioles General Manager Andy McPhail. I would like to do this for the team that I grew up with the San Francisco Giants but since they are a West Coast team it is harder to keep up with them the way I can the Orioles. I will also do some commentary on other teams, especially in the AL East but also try to tell the stories of players that I know from Norfolk who are now in the Major Leagues.
Can you say the word “winner in the same sentence as Orioles?” I knew you couldn’t. Well the Orioles started the season off right sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa with dominant pitching, solid defense and more than enough hitting to get the job done. Orioles starting pitchers Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton allowed just 1 run on 6 hits in 20 innings work. Tillman who pitched a no-hitter as a starter for the AAA Norfolk Tides last year had a no-hitter going after 6 innings but was lifted by Manager Buck Showalter as his pitch count had gone over 100. Orioles’ relievers were solid and some players picked up in the off-season, particularly J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds.
Are the Orioles for real? I say most definitely yes.
In 2010 the Baltimore Orioles began the season under the direction of Manager Dave Trembley lost 9 of their first 10 and 16 of their first 20 games. Under Trembley the O’s went 15-39 before he was fired and replaced by Third Base Coach Juan Samuel who went 17-34. The season was in the tank and it looked like the Orioles were on track to lose well over 100 games. Then proven winner and leader Buck Showalter was as hired as Manager on August 2nd. After that the Orioles were a different team, the players were the same but the attitude and performance was as if the team itself had risen like the legendary Phoenix. From the time that Showalter took over the Orioles went 34-23 having the second best record in Major League Baseball between August and the end of the season. It was an amazing turnaround and it was due to leadership. At the beginning of 2010 I thought that the Orioles had the talent to finally break .500 and turn a winning season for the first time since 1997 when they went 98-64 under Davey Johnson and reach the ALCS. They didn’t finish anything close to .500 but the turnaround at the end of the season showed that it wasn’t the level of talent it was the on-field leadership that was the difference.
This season as always the Orioles are getting little respect from the so called experts, most predicting a slightly better year than 2010 but almost all saying that the Orioles will finish at the bottom of the AL East once again. I don’t think that this will be the case at all. I think that the O’s are going to surprise everyone this year and break .500 and finish at least 3rd in the division. They are going to give everyone trouble including the vaunted Red Sox and Yankees. This is a tough division and though the Red Sox and Yankees have a lot of money to spend a decent number of their stars are beginning to show their age and over the course of the 162 game season injuries will be a factor.
As for the Orioles they have excellent pitching that goes deep into their minor league system and they picked up a solid closer in Kevin Gregg. Pitching is a big deal and the Yankees will struggle in this department. The Red Sox have good pitching but some of their best including ace closer Jonathan Papelbon are showing their age and do not have the same stuff that they had before. In fact the Red Sox were shelled by Texas Rangers hitting this weekend and swept in Arlington by the Rangers who do not seem to have missed a beat coming off of their American League Championship in 2010. The Yankees took 2 of 3 from the Tigers but gave up 18 runs to the Tigers in those three games.
I know that it is very early in the season but the Orioles made all the right moves in the off season and have improved in every aspect of the game. The young pitchers after having been blooded in 2010 are about to show what they are made of against the AL East and the rest of the American League and the difference will be the pitching. I think that Orioles will win between 85-and 90 games and make a lot of teams miserable. Of course I could be wrong but I think that I will be more right than the experts when it comes to the 2011 Baltimore Orioles squad under the direction of Buck Showalter.