I've read too many articles, projections, previews and predictions that talk about what is going AGAINST the Orioles. Enough actually, that my dander is up, spurring me on to finally write this final installment.
Rally round O's fans! The eternal optimist will turn his head upward towards the rest of the division, glare defiantly, roll up his sleeves and lick his chops.
1. Outfield Production
First, forget about Nick Markakis. Forget that he is projected to steadily improve on his solid numbers from last season. I mean, just forget about that for a moment.
I have bemoaned the lack of offense at the centerfield and (especially) leftfield for the last two seasons. That, however, is about to change.
OPS of Oriole leftfielders from 2005-2007: .670, .681, .631
Let's assume that Luke Scott just comes in and posts the .855 OPS he had last year. Hell, let's just assume he posts his CHONE projection of .789...you see what I'm getting at? Scott is a huge upgrade from anything we've had in leftfield since B.J. Surhoff was a useful player. Nice upgrade at a position that sorely needed one.
OPS of Oriole centerfielders from 2005-2007: .668, .715, .713
Meet Adam Jones. We all love projections, don't we? Jones is projected to post an OPS over .800 by Bill James and ZIPS. That and good defense will go a long way towards improving the team overall.
Overall? The outfield looks to be the best Baltimore has fielded since 1999.
2. The Bullpen Can't Be Any Worse? Right?
I don't think so. In 2007, questionable personnel were put in bad positions and overworked early in the season by Sam Perlozzo. That changed under Dave Trembley and if not for a season ending injury to closer Chris Ray and lefty Brian Burres being pressed into starting duties (due to injuries to the staff) it is conceivable that Dave Trembley may have been able to keep the bleeding to a minimum after her took over.
The bullpen returns the two best performers from 2007 (Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford) adds another proven commodity in George Sherrill (even if he's not in a role he's proven at). Brian Burres (may) be back in the pen as a long man which is the role he's best suited for. The rest will be some mix of Dennis Sarfate, Greg Aquino, Randor Bierd, Rocky Cherry and Jon Leicester. Really, are any of these arms worse than Paul Shuey, Rob Bell, Kurt Birkins or Todd Williams. I say no.
Down on the farm Bob McCrory, James Hoey and others await as backup and Chris Ray may return late this summer.
The O's had a historically bad bullpen and still didn't lose 100 games in 2007. It will be difficult to be that bad again. For that reason alone, the pen looks better by default.
This is a minor factor to be sure but every little bit counts. Ramon Hernandez was not as bad as he looked last year. He will be better and indeed he is projected to be better. Aubrey Huff is projected to be somewhat better. Even Melvin Mora is projected to have a slight uptick by the Bill James projection (Although, just holding steady will be fine with me...)
Some minor improvements by some of the underperforming vets could squeeze out a win or three over the course of the season.
4. A Better Bench
This one's dicey because we really don't know who will be on that bench. But Guillermo Quiroz is a better bat off the bench than, say, Paul Bako. Scott Moore will be there and when he's playing Millar or Spanky will be on the bench. Freddie Bynum and Tike Redman will be nice pieces to play with.
All of this is dependant on the fact that Jay Gibbons doesn't return. I can't imagine he will but stranger things have happened.
5. A Decent Manager
For the first time since Davey Johnson left, we seem to have a manger who is inventive enough to explore his teams strengths to try and win. He took unorthodox measures in 2007 when shorthanded (batting Corey Patterson 2nd, Kevin Millar as a cleanup hitter) and he knows how to manage his bullpen and his bench. These are good qualities to manage a team that will have plenty of disadvantages out of the gate.
Trembley is used to being the underdog. Did anybody here think he would be able to remove that interim tag from his title when he took over for Sam Perlozzo last season. I sure didn't. Trembley's playing with house money and he's playing to win.
Do I really believe the O's can win the division? No. Do I believe they will be the AL doormat? No. Do I believe this will be a fun team to watch? Yes. Do I believe they can be competitive and flirt with .500? Yes.
Keep writing Baltimore off. I like it.
photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun