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Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 97-65 Manager: Buck Showalter

The Orioles seemed to stall in the driveway last year with their young guns starting pitchers struggling out of the gate and disappointing performances across the board. Only Matt Wieters and Adam Jones seemed to develop in the way this club expected coming out of spring training. They’ll need a lot more development of their young talent this season if they are to get the locals excited in the Inner Harbor.

Player in the spotlight: Adam Jones CF

Adam Jones has gone from a tremendous defensive centerfielder to one who can hit as well. Jones is now a solid 25 HR type of hitter with an average around .280. If he’s able to continue to improve and the Orioles get some production ahead of him, Jones could become a 30 HR and 100 RBI producer in the next year or two.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Brian Roberts 2B

Roberts is suffering from post-concussion syndrome and his return is unknown. He hasn’t played a full season since 2009 and at $10M per season through 2013, the Orioles have some valuable resources being tied up in a player who is a huge unknown. If Roberts is able to get healthy and regain his pre-injuries form, the Orioles will have a great leadoff hitter who can help the young pitching staff gain an early lead in games.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Tommy Hunter

Hunter was acquired from the Rangers last year where he was unable to crack the rotation after a very solid 2010 season. He’s only 25, but he’ll be asked to provide veteran stability to a staff that traded away mainstay Jeremy Guthrie in the offseason. If Hunter is able to revert to his 2010 level of performance, the O’s will get closer to lining up a respectable staff this year.

Biggest pitching question mark: Zach Britton

Britton starts the season on the DL with some shoulder trouble. He’s expected to return but the date is unknown. Britton had a solid rookie campaign in 2011, winning 11 games and looked poised to take over the role as staff ace. If he’s unable to pitch or pitch well this season, the O’s face another huge uphill climb to respectability. That puts a lot more pressure on the rest of the young pitchers led by Jake Arrieta, who got the opening day start.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Joe Mahoney 1B

The O’s lack top level prospects with a chance at breaking in over the next season and a half, but Mahoney is probably the one who could make it up. Mahoney will start in AAA Norfolk and could get the call up if he does well and the Orioles start slipping out of contention (a cynic might say they will never be in contention).

Prediction: 5th in AL East

The Orioles need their young pitchers to develop at the major league level. Then they can go out in the offseason and find some solid starters to hold the fort until their top prospects can arrive in 2014. It’s always an uphill battle in the AL East, but it’s even more so when seemingly all of the O’s prospects turn into journeymen type players. Unless Jones and Wieters become superstars, the O’s next hope comes with SS Manny Machado in September of 2013.

MLB Daily Balk Morning Rundown 4/24

CC finally won on Saturday

Best of Yesterday April 23

Ike Davis hit a homer for the third consecutive game and Dillon Gee has now made two pretty good starts for the Mets since filling in for the injured Chris Young. After Saturday’s 6 innings with 2 earned runs (2 unearned) which helped the Mets to a 6-4 win over the Diamondbacks, Gee’s ERA is at 2.31 and he’s 2-0.

Starlin Castro went 4 for 5 and raised his average to .393 in the Cubs 10-8 win over the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon. Castro has now scored 16 runs in 20 games this season.

Johnny Damon fought through his broken finger to hit a 2-run homer and drive in another run in the Rays 6-4 win over the Blue Jays. Damon might end up hitting cleanup for this team if his power production continues. He’s got 4 homers and 17 RBI in 17 games this season. Last year’s AL home run champion, Jose Bautista, hit two for the Jays in the loss.

Brian Duensing is turning into the Twins early season ace as they beat the Indians 10-3 behind his 7 inning effort in which he only gave up one run. Duensing’s record is 2-0 and he’s got a 3.00 ERA, but the Twins are now 4-0 when he pitches, and 4-12 when Duensing doesn’t pitch.

Brad Penny led the Tigers pitchers in shutting out the White Sox for 7 innings and only gave up one fairly controversial hit as the Tigers won 9-0 on Saturday afternoon. Once again, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen didn’t have any need for a closer.

The Braves got solid pitching from Tim Hudson and their hitters beat up on Tim Lincecum in their 5-2 win on Saturday afternoon. Hudson won his third game and Craig Kimbrel his second consecutive game in as many days against the Giants.

CC Sabathia earned his first win of the season as the Yankees blasted the Orioles 15-3 on Saturday night. Russell Martin hit two homers for the second time this season as he is at 6 overall. Every starter except for Nick Swisher got a hit for the Yankees.

Fifteen of the 16 everyday players in the Astros and Brewers game got a hit on Saturday night. Newly annointed $100 million man Ryan Braun hit his 7th homer, but the Astros won 9-6 in 10 innings.

Alexi Ogando continues to pitch well in his first month as a starting pitcher for the Rangers. He lowered his ERA to 2.13 and got his third win, beating the Royals 3-1. The only area of concern was the 114 pitches in only 6 innings. Too much like Nolan Ryan.

Padres manager Bud Black decided to walk Jimmy Rollins to get to Ryan Howard in the 11th. Well, the Phillies ended up winning 4-2 in 11 innings after Howard slugged a 2-run double off Cory Luebke.

Dice-K pitched another great game as he struck out 9 in 8 scoreless innings to win his 2nd game of the season on Saturday night for the Red Sox over the Angels 5-0.

Kevin Kouzmanoff and Cliff Pennington each homered and Trevor Cahill gave up 1 run in 6 innings to win as the Athletics beat the Mariners 9-1 on Saturday night. The M’s had shutout the A’s in the first two games of the series, but weren’t as good this time.

What Happened (!!)Yesterday?

The Cardinals David Freese threw the ball away on a groundout by the Reds Drew Stubbs in the 8th inning on Saturday. What followed was a strikeout for what should have been the third out of the inning. Instead, the inning continued and the Reds plated 3 unearned runs to win the game 5-3.

Brad Bergeson headlined a group of Orioles pitchers who gave up at least 3 runs each to the Yankees on Saturday night. Bergeson gave up 6 earned in 6 innings. They gave up 14 hits, 5 walks, and 5 homers to the Bronx Bombers.

Ervin Santana of the Angels suggested in spring training that the Angels starting pitching would be as good or better than the Phillies this season. After the Red Sox put five on the board against him on Saturday night, Santana’s ERA is now 5.51 and he’s 0-3. Maybe he was just comparing himself to Joe Blanton?

AL News/Notes

The Orioles are facing some pitching issues right now and manager Buck Showalter‘s alternative choices are dubious at best. If the O’s can stay close in the AL East standings through June, GM Andy MacPhail should be able to find another starter or two in a trade. But the O’s have to be close enough to justify a move like that.

Take a seat, Felipe Lopez. At least that’s what Rays manager Joe Maddon told the utility man as he held Lopez out for Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays. Lopez was cited for a lack of hustle and we all know that Maddon doesn’t go for that.

Despite the early cold and rainy weather, Indians manager Manny Acta doesn’t want to hear excuses for hitters starting slowly. It looks like Acta isn’t going to let the young Tribe players get comfortable in first place.

Andrew Bailey had a good throwing session before the Athletics game on Saturday. Also, the A’s starting pitchers are using Twitter to give fans some insight into their clubhouse-style banter.

There’s bad news for the Rangers as they had to put closer Neftali Feliz on the DL because of rotator cuff inflammation. Reliever Cody Eppley was called up from AAA to take his spot. Eppley pitched  a pair of scoreless innings and Darren Oliver picked up the save on Saturday night in place of Feliz.

NL News/Notes

Last year’s NL batting champion, Rockies Carlos Gonzalez, is battling a slump and an early season case of the flu. The Rockies also acquired former Mets Rule 5 draft pick Brad Emaus from the Blue Jays for a minor league pitcher. Emaus struggled at bat and in the field in New York, but will get a chance to develop more in AAA with the Rockies.

 The Braves sat #3 hitter Chipper Jones on Saturday and called on rookie Freddie Freeman to hit third. Freeman has hit well over the past two weeks and has only struck out once in 10 games.

The Phillies are hoping that Chase Utley is able to return to the team by June. Although Jimmy Rollins is struggling hitting in Utley’s third spot, manager Charlie Manuel has no plans to move him out of there.

Giants injured players Andres Torres and Santiago Casilla are going to Arizona to continue rehabbing instead of coming off the DL this week. That means both are unlikely to join the team for their upcoming 10 game road trip.

Streaks of the Day

  • Dodgers Andre Ethier extended his hitting streak to 20 games
  • Royals Alex Gordon extended his career long hitting streak to 17 games
  • Rangers Michael Young extended his hitting streak to 13 games
  • Royals Jeff Francouer extended his hitting streak to 13 games
  • Yankees Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 12 games

 

Top Sunday Matchups

1:05 EDT White Sox (Danks 0-2, 3.00) at Tigers (Scherzer 3-0, 4.30)

1:07 EDT Rays (Shields 1-1, 3.07) at Blue Jays (Romero 1-2, 3.12)

1:10 EDT Rockies (Jimenez 0-1, 7.36) at Marlins (Johnson 3-0, 1.00)

2:20 EDT Dodgers (Kuroda 2-2, 3.33) at Cubs (Zambrano 2-0, 4.21)

3:05 EDT Royals (Chen 3-0, 2.42) at Rangers (Wilson 2-0, 3.08)

Last night’s balks: 1

  • David Hernandez of the Diamondbacks against the Mets
    • Resulted in a run scored by Jose Reyes on following hit

Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Overview

Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Overview

Manager: Buck Showalter            GM: Andy MacPhail

  Lineup:
1 2B Brian Roberts
2 RF Nick Markakis
3 1B Derrek Lee
4 DH Vladimir Guerrero
5 LF Luke Scott
6 CF Adam Jones
7 3B Mark Reynolds
8 C Matt Wieters
9 SS JJ Hardy

 

Roberts suffered from a myriad of injuries last season and was limited to 59 games. When he did play, his power suffered as his slugging dropped from .451 to .391 last year. Always a steady OBP guy(.355 career), Roberts will need to be healthy for this potentially high powered O’s offense to reach its potential. The O’s are hoping for 150 games and for Roberts to maintain his career averages (.283 AVG, .355 OBP, and .419 SLG). Anything more would be gravy for the 33 year old.

Markakis is a steady OBP guy but has receded with his power the past three seasons. With at least 43 doubles in the past 4 season and solid on base numbers, Markakis should set up the heart of the lineup nicely this season.

Lee’s last season with the Cubs ended with Atlanta as he had his worst full season since his rookie season in 1998. The O’s are betting $7.25M on Lee returning to around his career OPS of .865. If he does, this offense will be one of the best in the AL.

Guerrero signed a one year deal as well, for $8M. Vlad had a very good first half last season on the way to 29 HRs and 115 RBI while hitting .300 for the season. The O’s will DH him and hit him fourth while hoping for similar production out of the future hall of famer.

Scott had a career year last season at 32 and the O’s hope that he’ll do it again. But he’s going to be playing in left field and his glove isn’t exactly golden. If his production predictably falls off, then the O’s might look for a righty bat on the trade market to platoon with Scott. Although he’s not going to have another OPS over .900, the O’s would gladly take his career OPS of .857.

Jones improved his batting average but his OBP and SLG both went down. In over 100 more at bats, Jones only walked 23 times and his homers stayed at 19. If Jones is to reach his potential, Showalter needs to get him to develop a lot more patience at the plate, which should lead to better pitches to hit and more production. Keep an eye on his OBP, if he can increase it from .325 last season to over .350, then he’s improved his approach enough to really help this team in the middle of the order and could get moved up to the leadoff or second spot.

Reynolds has struck out 638 times in the past 3 seasons. Yes 3 seasons. Joe DiMaggio struck out 369 times in 13 seasons. But we’re in a different era and Reynolds lack of contact didn’t hurt him until he only hit .198 last year. He’s got tremendous power as his 104 HRs over the past 3 seasons shows and he’ll take a walk. If he can get his batting average up over .250, he can be a similar batter to Adam Dunn with a high OPS.

Wieters took a step back after a solid partial 2009 season. He’s already got the patience thing down at the plate according to his pitches seen. The key now is to simply hit the ball safely more often. The O’s have to be hoping for a return to his rookie averages(.288 AVG, .340 OBP, and .412 SLG) and then some.

Hardy is on his third team in as many seasons. He bounced back after an atrocious 2009 season but failed to return to his 2007 and 2008 production. The O’s don’t need that, but would take it. The O’s are looking for an OPS of around .750, which is right near his career OPS.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Jeremy Guthrie
2 LHP Brian Matusz(DL)
3 LHP Zach Britton
4 RHP Jake Arrieta
5 RHP Chris Tillman/RHP Brad Bergeson

 

Guthrie came back from his down 2009 season and pitched over 200 innings again and a sub 4.00 ERA. The O’s need him to repeat that this season and lower his HR allowed. With the added offense, Guthrie could win as many as 15 games if he improves his ERA to around 3.50.

Matusz is on the DL after his opening weekend start was scratched due to a rib injury. When he gets back, the O’s will need him to improve his K-BB ratio from just over 2 to 1. Also, if he can reduce his HR rate to more than one per 10 innings, then Matusz should be able to lower his ERA under 4.00.

Britton pitched well in AA and AAA last season and Showalter’s got him in the opening rotation. He pitched a career high 153 innings last season and the O’s will likely limit his IP to 180 or so this season. If he’s able to keep his ERA at 3.80 or better, Britton could win 12-14 games.

Arrieta struggled a bit in his rookie season last year with a 4.66 ERA after posting a 1.85 at AAA. The O’s are looking for Arrieta to continue to improve his walk rate that needs to drop by a third. If he can do that, his ERA should drop as well and Arrieta could be a 13-15 game winner if he lowers his ERA to no higher than 3.60 and pitches at least 200 innings.

Tillman is another young pitcher for the O’s and he has struggled in parts of two seasons with the O’s. He breaks camp in the rotation and will need a K-BB ratio more in line with his minor league numbers(3 to 1) than his major league numbers(1.3 to 1). He also needs to cut his HR rate. He’s given up 24 HRs in 119 career IP. He isn’t likely to have a successful major league career if that continues.

Bergeson will fill in the rotation while Matusz is out. He was solid in 2009 but regressed last season due to a deterioration of his K-BB ratio from 2 to 1 in 2009 to about 1.5 to 1 last year. He also gave up 26 HRs in 170 innings. That has to come down or the Orioles are going to be shopping for starting pitching.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Kevin Gregg
SET RHP Kohi Uehara
  LHP Mike Gonzalez
  RHP Jim Johnson
  RHP Jeremy Accardo
  RHP Jason Berken
  RHP Josh Rupe

 

Gregg comes over from the Jays and will close. He isn’t an elite closer but is reliable enough for a team looking for a winning record this season. The O’s could be in the market for a closer like Heath Bell if they outperform expectations and are in the AL East race longer than expected..

Uehara significantly improved in his second season with the O’s since coming over from Japan. In 44 IP, Uehara struck out 55 batters and only walked 5. That kind of dominance will be utilized in the 8th innings, but Uehara could end up closing again if Gregg struggles.

Gonzalez was expected to close last season but blown saves early in the season combined with arm problems made his year difficult. He’s been a solid pitcher for most of his career and should be solid, if not spectacular in a lefty setup role.

Johnson has been up and down in his 3 seasons with the O’s and last year was about average and keeps him in middle relief. Accardo hasn’t been good since his very good 2007 season with the Jays. He’ll provide another righty arm for middle relief. Berken didn’t fare well as a starter in 2009 but pitched pretty well in relief last season. Rupe has bounced around with no success and gets a chance now with the O’s.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 3B Josh Bell
2 2B Ryan Adams
3 OF Matt Angle

 

Bell struggled with the O’s as the regular third baseman for less than two months and is back at AAA. With Mark Reynolds at third now, Bell could be used as trade bait to acquire a veteran arm. Adams is the heir apparent to Roberts at second and could be called up if Roberts’ injury issues flare up again. Angle can hit and has good speed and should be the first OF called up.

Three Questions:

1. Can the Buck Showalter magic continue in 2011?

  • The Orioles were 34-23 under Buck last year after he took over and that has carried over into this season. He’s impacted everything from the starting pitching to the everyday hitters and the optimism at Camden Yards is higher than it’s been in years. Buck’s track record is to get a team on the brink of playoff success and then his team replaces him. Will this be the team that Buck actually takes to the World Series while he’s manager? Probably not this season, but Buck could be the one taking the O’s to their first World Series since 1983 in the coming years.

2. How will the veteran hitting acquisitions impact the Orioles?

  • The O’s picked up more offensive firepower than anybody in the offseason. They added Vladimir Guerrero, Derrick Lee, and Mark Reynolds. These three hitters could account for over 100 HRs this season by themselves. Guerrero helped lead the Rangers to the World Series last year and Derrick Lee, until last year, was as steady a bat as there is at first base. Reynolds strikes out a lot but can really pound the ball when he connects. If should be fun at Camden this year.

3. Can the Orioles young pitching develop quickly enough to keep them in the AL East race all season?

  • The O’s young arms have a lot of potential, but none of them have broken out with a stellar season yet. If they can get a couple of their pitchers to step up with ERAs in the low 3’s and account for at least 200 IP, then the O’s might be close in late July when they can use their farm depth to add potential pieces to put them over the top.

 

Projection

The Orioles are intriguing and would be a nice sleeper pick in almost any other division. But with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays all with playoff level talent and an up and coming team in Toronto, the O’s will face nightly battles in the AL East. If they can hang around the AL East race through the first half of the season, the O’s could be major players for pitching and do have the farm prospects to trade for them. Heath Bell, in particular, would be a great piece to add to the back of their bullpen which would add to their depth and if they could find a solid starter, this team should win in the mid 80’s and be within reach of first place until the end. But unless the top teams in the AL East completely implode, it’s probably going to take at least 90 wins to capture the division this year.