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Now, I don't claim to be an expert on the Baltimore Orioles, but I should warn you that I've been watching Homicide: Life on the Street on DVD and I'm almost at the end of Season 4.

Here's what you have to remember about the Orioles: they're the enemy.

Never mind the Red Sox and the Yankees and the Rays. We know about them. Plans are in motion. Also never mind the Tigers and the unspeakable Brewers. They're the enemy too, but they're also in another division now, so there's some leeway there. But the Orioles... if the Jays aren't careful, they might let the Orioles up off the mat, when they clearly belong on the mat.

It's largely forgotten now, but the Orioles were the Blue Jays' first great nemesis. This was while the Jays were a crummy expansion team and the Orioles were the class of the league, of course, but even so, here was Toronto's record against Baltimore over those first few years:

1977: 5-10
1978: 7-8
1979: 2-11
1980: 2-11
1981: 2-5
1982: 3-10
1983: 6-7
Total: 27-62

That's worse than the Jays did against any other team during that time. (Next worst was against Boston, 29-57. The Orioles and Red Sox are the only teams the Jays didn't have a winning record against during any one season in that period.) I cut it off at 1983 because that was the turning point. In 1983, the Orioles won the World Series, but would deteriorate as a team after that, with only brief resurgences in 1989 and the late '90s. Meanwhile, the Jays were on the way up: 1983 was their first really good season, but they'd have ten more winning seasons after that; you may be familiar with the results. The famous game in which Tippy Martinez picked off three Blue Jays in the tenth inning was embarrassing, and (in my opinion) was the start of the "Blow Jays" era... but it was also the Orioles last hurrah against the Jays.

The Orioles had seven winning seasons against the Jays in seven years from '77 through '83. In the 27 seasons since, they've only managed seven more. (And there have been some years where the Jays have just destroyed the O's.)

And I don't want an eighth! Fifteenth. Whatever.

So what's the outlook? Well, the O's were in last place in the AL East last year with a 66-96 record last year, 19 games behind the Jays. Second worst record in the league. They scored 613 runs (3.78 per game, second worst) and allowed 785 (4.85 per game, second worst). So my first reaction is to say that, even if the Jays aren't as good this year as they were last year, they aren't any 19 games worse, so unless the Orioles get a lot better, fourth place is safe.

Unless, that is.

Does that ever happen? A team gets better by 20 games from one season to another? Sure it does. Seattle did it in 2009, going from 61 to 85 wins. (Of course, this can happen the other way, too: they dropped back to 61 wins in 2010. I don't expect that to happen to the Jays, but it's not completely out of the question.)

Okay, well, what are some things that might make the Orioles get a lot better? Basically comes down to two categories: improvements from young players, and acquisitions of players from outside.

Here are the Orioles' young players who might dramatically improve: Matt Wieters (C); Felix Pie, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Nolan Reimold (OF); Brian Matusz, Jake Arrietta, and Chris Tillman (SP). That's not bad: that's a catcher, a whole outfield complete with extra guy, and most of a rotation. Now, some of those guys are more likely to hit it big than others.

Wieters, for example. Wieters was supposed to be, I don't know, the next Johnny Bench or something, and it didn't happen last year. Instead, Wieters was just, you know, not terrible, especially for a catcher. But he's only 25 this year. Could he put it all together? Of course he could. Or Adam Jones. Here's a guy who's (also) 25, can play centre field, can hit okay (107 OPS+ last year), has some power; you have to be optimistic about a player like that.

Others, like Pie and Reimold... it seems the Orioles aren't expecting as much from them. They may get shoved out so that Luke Scott and Guerrero can play. Still, they're around, they're youngish, they have some talent. It's not impossible that they'll find themselves in the lineup and come through big time. Why not?

Then there's Nick Markakis. The only reason I included him on the list of players who might improve is that he's 27 this year and therefore theoretically reaching his peak. It's not realistic to expect that he's going to get better, because he's already real good. (Let me put it this way: if he doesn't get better, and the Orioles don't dramatically improve, it's not Markakis's fault for only being a good player; it's the fault of the non-good Oriole players.) But if, somehow, he did get a lot better, obviously that'd be a big plus for Baltimore.

Now for the pitchers. This is the big thing, to me: it looks like the Orioles may well have a better offense this year than last (see below), but if a few of the young pitchers can put it together, that could make quite a difference. At the moment the rotation looks like some combination of Jeremy Guthrie (32), Matusz (24), Arrietta (25), Zach Britton (23), Brad Bergesen (25), Tillman (22), and Justin Duchscherer (33). Guthrie's been decent for the Orioles, but at his age I'm not counting on him getting any better. Bergesen is young but, with low strikeout numbers, I don't really believe in him. Duchscherer has a few too many miles on him and is fighting a hip problem. Matusz looks like he just needs to improve his control to be reasonably good. Tillman hasn't shown much in the majors yet but has good numbers in the minor leagues, as does Britton. Arrietta keeps the ball in the park and is still young enough to improve. There's certainly the potential for Baltimore to find five useful guys in this crowd.

Here are the players the Orioles brought in in the off-season who might help: J.J. Hardy (SS), Vladimir Guerrero (DH), Derrek Lee (1B), and Mark Reynolds (3B). (They also brought in Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo. Best of luck to both of them, but I don't see either one having a major impact on Baltimore's season even if they pitch great.)

These additions don't get the Orioles any younger, which they could probably use, but they may contribute in the short term. Reynolds replaces Miguel Tejada at third and should hit better, although there may be a defensive cost. Similarly, J.J. Hardy replaces Cesar Izturis; Hardy will almost certainly hit a lot better and isn't bad defensively himself. Guerrero could still be good (he's 36) or he could fall off a cliff or anywhere in between; he's not necessarily an improvement over the guys he's replacing (mostly Pie and Corey Patterson, I guess), although he certainly could be. Lee is only a year younger than Guerrero and about equally likely to be an improvement over Ty Wigginton.

Remember Tampa Bay a few years ago? Everybody kept saying, "the D-Rays are getting better, they've got a lot of talent, this could be their year." And for quite a while, it didn't happen. Now, everyone was right: they did have a lot of talent, and they were getting better. But it was a long wait until it was their year. The Orioles could be in the same boat. The Orioles are kinda getting better, and they have some talent. It isn't going to be their year, but it could be more their year than last year was.

So the Jays have to step on them hard to prevent any progress from taking root. Here's what has to happen.
1. Paste the Orioles' young pitchers to the outfield walls. I trust I don't have to elaborate on this.
2. If the Orioles have to beat the Jays, let them do it with veterans. You know how people always say stuff like, "whatever you do, don't let Guerrero beat you?" Not this time. Now it's, "whatever you do, don't let anyone other than Guerrero beat you." The idea being, if the Orioles have a disproportionate amount of success because of their veterans, they may be deked into crippling their own youth movement, to their long-term detriment.
3. Test the infield defense. It might pay off. Bunt, steal, hit and run. Not because I'm a big fan of smallball, but this could be a weakness to exploit and a way to get into their heads. They deserve it!

It's quite possible that the Blue Jays could take a modest step back this year, and that the Orioles could take a similarly demure step forward. I still think Toronto can take them. And that's not just a consolation prize, either; these guys are worth beating. Any year the Jays finish ahead of the O's is not a wasted year.
Baltimore Orioles 2011 | 13 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Smithers - Thursday, March 24 2011 @ 10:48 PM EDT (#231672) #
Guilty until proven innocent in my books.  Fifth place to the Orioles is the only position in the AL East I feel confident in predicting, it seems like it should be a birthright for the current generation of Baltimore fans.  Deservedly so since last I checked they're still owned by Peter Angelos (I'll refrain from the slimy lawyer comments knowing a little of the demographics of da Box roster).  He's the real reason that the Orioles were driven into the ground, somewhat analogous to Interbrew's years with the the Jays - although Angelos' reign appears to be in perpetuity.  He's earned the Worst Owner In Baseball title the hard way, and only when Cal Ripken can put together an ownership group a la Nolan Ryan will the O's be saved from their torment. 

Although the O's played a lot better under Buck Showalter at the end of last season, I don't expect that was their true talent level and 2011 will deliver yet another crushing blow of disappointment around the increasingly deserted (but still beautiful!) Camden Yards.  I agree that this signing over-the-hill veteran free agents route is not the ideal way to go about building a franchise that can compete in the AL East.  There's a reason that each of the other teams had a winning record in the division - the other four teams are significantly better.  But at least the vets should make them more respectable versus the Clevelands and Kansas Citys of the league, even with the second toughest schedule in all of MLB. 

That being said, being crappy for so long does have its benefits in stockpiling young talent and I would be more than happy to see a number of the young O's in Jays colours.  Namely Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Weiters at the big league level, and Manny Machado does seem like an intriguing prospect worth keeping an eye on.

One last point of note is that the Orioles are myopically trimming back on their minor league system, allowing the Jays to poach the Appy League franchise in Bluefield from Baltimore during this past offseason's affiliate merry-go-round.  Bluefield Blue Jays just has a much nicer ring than Bluefield Orioles.  
Kelekin - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 04:46 AM EDT (#231675) #
Matt, when you finish Homicide, you need to watch The Wire.  NEED.
Chuck - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 07:37 AM EDT (#231676) #
Concur about The Wire, quite possibly the finest television series ever produced. And The Corner was very good, a thematic precursor of The Wire. Homicide was very good though it did go off the rails during the final two seasons when numerous cast changes took place.

I wish I could say I love Treme, but I think it's merely good, not great. Treme, of course, has nothing to do with Charm City, but is David Simon's current show.

On the Orioles, I know Mike Green is bullish and has been for a while, so I imagine he'll weigh in favourably and optimistically. As for me, I'm with Smithers as being from Missouri when it comes to this team. Yes, the brass has changed and some of the young players are prospects and not suspects, but man, they're the Orioles. That stink just can't seem to wash off. I'm sure I'll be a year late to the Orioles' party, but I need to be convinced first.
Mike Green - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 08:57 AM EDT (#231678) #
I've already said my piece about the O's recently, but it's been a while since I have sung the praises of The Wire.  Best TV series I have ever seen.  And it is not close.  You do have to stay with it though; season 4 is Babe Ruth great.  Acting, directing, writing, the Wire has it all. 

Incidentally, one of the actors from the Wire, Tom McCarthy has a new movie out that I want to see, Win-Win.  Paul Giammatti stars, and the National are on the soundtrack.  McCarthy last directed The Visitor, which I highly recommend.

The O's and baseball play a supporting role in The Wire, including an X-rated and memorable reference to Gus Triandos. 

christaylor - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 09:10 AM EDT (#231680) #
Couldn't agree more. When I look at Stringer Bell, I see a smart, power-hitting RF. Omar Little would be a wily lead-off hitter. McNulty is the very definition of scrappy white guy (in the Billy Martin mode).

The Gus Triandos bit is awesome.

Not sure if I agree that season 4 is the best -- they're all great. Save for a little lull at the beginning of season 2, it is hard to choose a best season in my books.
bpoz - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 09:26 AM EDT (#231681) #
Everyone has a style of writing. I really enjoyed reading your article, it had an enjoyable mood.
What you said & the comments about it, I am sure will be insightful.

Anyone have any idea on how to rate the results B Showalter will have, from the point of view of "progress". That is a vague question I know. I ask because Jeff Blair has had AA, Farrell & J Hawarth on his show, Jerry said the Jay's 2011 record could fall to 80-85 wins but they could still be a better team overall. JPA's ML growth, V Wells loss & the 1st base experiment will have an effect according to Jerry. Jerry also sees B Lawrie joining the team soon.

I know that Jays predictions will have a thread so I did not intend to jump the gun. Instead ask for input on youth movement/influx. Baltimore could qualify as having a youth movement. We had a successful youth movement in the very early 80s with J Barfield etc arriving, I only remember Ron Shepard as not able to stick.
The Jays rotation got younger starting in 2009 but since it was not intended it cannot be labeled a youth movement. Similarly the line up seems to be getting a little younger from 2009.
zeppelinkm - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 12:30 PM EDT (#231687) #
There is no way that Omar is a wily lead off hitter. He brings the heat and brings it hard.  Ace reliever seems more appropriate to me. You don't see him often.. but it's almost always something critical.  What a brilliant show though. I literally just finished it last night.
Ryan Day - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 04:22 PM EDT (#231690) #
Markakis is funny - he looked like a star in 2008, then slipped a bit and settled on being very good. And of course, Matt Wieters remains a disappointment to all those who expected him to have won an MVP by now, despite being a pretty decent player with room to grow.

I'd say you can move on after finishing season 4 of Homicide - the increasing cast turnover took its toll, and it ran out of steam.

David Simon's book is extremely good - he spent a year with the Baltimore homicide squad, and the first season or so of the show is strongly inspired by it. Several of the real detectives show up in Homicide & The Wire - most notably Gary D'addario (Giardello) and Jay Landsman, who inspired both Det. Munch on Homicide and Sgt. Jay Landsman on The Wire. (So when Richard Belzer shows up for a brief cameo on The Wire, there are essentially three Landsmans in one episode)
Matthew E - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 07:44 PM EDT (#231693) #
I'd say you can move on after finishing season 4 of Homicide - the increasing cast turnover took its toll, and it ran out of steam.

David Simon's book is extremely good - he spent a year with the Baltimore homicide squad, and the first season or so of the show is strongly inspired by it. Several of the real detectives show up in Homicide & The Wire - most notably Gary D'addario (Giardello) and Jay Landsman, who inspired both Det. Munch on Homicide and Sgt. Jay Landsman on The Wire. (So when Richard Belzer shows up for a brief cameo on The Wire, there are essentially three Landsmans in one episode)

Well, I own the whole series on DVD, so I'm going to keep at it. Anyway, I was a big fan of the show when it was first on, and stuck with it for about the first six and a half seasons; it was only partway through the last season that I kind of fell away from it. But I know that there's some stuff at least in Seasons 5 and 6 that I'm looking forward to seeing again. The conflict with Luther Mahoney, for one thing. And I've lost track of how many times I've read Simon's book.

I keep hearing how great The Wire is and I imagine I'll track it down at some point.
JB21 - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 10:00 PM EDT (#231695) #
You guys are making me want to watch The Wire over again... easily the best series I've ever seen.
Chuck - Friday, March 25 2011 @ 11:47 PM EDT (#231697) #
Many of us have to like The Wire. We have no choice.
92-93 - Saturday, March 26 2011 @ 12:53 AM EDT (#231701) #
Someone should tell DeAngelo that Brett was traded to the Astros.

"Where's Wallace at? Where's the boy, String?....Where's Wallace, that's all I want to know. Where the **** is Wallace?"

Season 4 was my favourite as well.

BlueJayWay - Monday, July 11 2011 @ 09:48 AM EDT (#238432) #
Sorry to bump an old-ish thread, but the wheels some to have come off the Orioles bandwagon in a huge way.

I think it's funny that in recent history, every year in pre-season a lot of people around baseball predict Baltimore to pass the Jays, and every year the Jays blow right by them.  Given the state of their farm, and apparent ineptness of Andy McPhail, I think the O's are screwed for quite some time to come.

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