A new week, a new division, and a new league. After spending the last three weeks previewing the National League, it’s now time to turn our attention to the NL’s little brother, the American League. First up will be the American League East. It’s obviously a loaded division, and one that most of us outside of the Eastern seaboard is tired of hearing about. The AL East may sometimes receive a little too much attention by the press (I’m looking at you, ESPN), but that doesn’t mean that the teams aren’t worthy of the publicity. We’ll start the week, though, by looking at the team with the poorest recent success, the Baltimore Orioles.
As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.
My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…
Last Year: 68 – 93, 5th Place, AL East
|This Year||Last Year||Avg Pred.||Avg Finish|
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008
It’s been eleven years now since the Orioles’ last winning season, when they went wire-to-wire and lost a heartbreaking ALCS to the Cleveland Indians. However, the 2008 season was the first time in that stretch that they finished in last place. Up until then, they always had Tampa Bay trailing behind them. That’s unlikely to be the case again any time soon.
“The Baltimore Orioles haven’t made the playoffs since 1997. But it was comforting during that 10-year fallow stretch to know they could always look down in the American League East standings and see the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays beneath them. No more.
Tampa Bay’s sudden ascent to the top of the division coincided with Baltimore’s first last-place finish since 1991 – when the O’s won 67 games and Cal Ripken Jr. was surrounded by a bunch of guys named Randy Milligan, Joe Orsulak, Mike Devereaux and Chris Hoiles.
The 2008 Orioles were 60-62 in mid-August before crashing and burning with an 8-31 finish. They unraveled thanks to a lack of depth, a terrible record in one-run games and some bruising competition in the AL East. (Lindy’s)”
The O’s are far from a talentless team, though. With Brian Roberts leading off and playing second, and with Melvin Mora and Cesar Izturis playing third and short, the O’s feel pretty good about their infield. And with All-Star George Sherrill closing games out, the bullpen can be rather deep. But it’s the collection of young talent in the outfield that gives fans the most excitement.
“The Orioles appear to be set in center and right for a long time. Center fielder Adam Jones, acquired from the Mariners last winter in the Eric Bedard trade, is a five-tool star in the making. He just needs more experience. He hit .270 in his first season with more than 100 at-bats. Right fielder Nick Markakis deserved a Gold Glove last season after leading the majors with 17 outfield assists, and he also set career highs in six offensive categories, including average (.306) and doubles (48). Luke Scott, acquired from the Astros in the Miguel Tejada trade, must have felt like the Third Tenor despite hitting a career-high 23 home runs. He will get plenty of at-bats playing either in left or as the designated hitter. (Athlon)”
But as excited and privileged as O’s fans feel for having the likes of Jones and Markakis on their team, the most anticipated at-bat of the 2009 season will come sometime in May or June (most likely) when 2007 draft pick Matt Wieters joins the team. Wieters is already being predicted to win the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year award and receiving a lot of hype.
“You hear the hype, but then when you go and you watch him hit, it doesn’t take long to understand the hype. Switch hitter. Knows how to work the count and control the strike zone. Power to all fields. Bat speed, big-time. Tracks breaking balls. Makes adjustments. Everything you could possibly want in a hitter. And he’s not bad behind the plate, either. Good footwork. Nice quick, hands. (TSN)”
Athlon’s “Final Analysis” on the Orioles:
“It will be a small miracle if the Orioles contend in 2009. Their rotation is a major concern. It’s too soon to bring up the kids. If history is any indication, the club will start fast, then fade in August and September due to a serious lack of depth. The bullpen will be taxed. Fans will be told to remain patient. And 2010 can’t come soon enough for them. But there’s a solid core of young talent here with Markakis, Jones, and Wieters. And Roberts either gives them a first-rate leadoff hitter or the promise of more prospects in a trade. The Rays have proved that you don’t have to be a big spender to win. The Orioles need to make it their mantra.”
I’ve said before that I grew up as an Orioles fan. From their 107-loss season in 1988, when I started rooting for them, until well into the 2000s, when I moved out here to Milwaukee, I saw the O’s go through a lot. Their wire-to-wire season in ’97 was the best, and I’ve yet to see much baseball more exciting than that 1997 ALCS. But that was it. After the ’97 season, Peter Angelos fired Manager of the Year Davey Johnson and promoted Ray Miller. The O’s have not had a winning season since, with a third place, 78-win 2004 team being their highest finish.
It’d be nice to say that this streak of failure is only a product of being in the toughest division in baseball, but that’s just not the truth. With bad managers, bad trades, bad free agent signings, and very little youth development, these last 11 seasons have very much been the organization’s fault. Sadly, the near future doesn’t look too much better. The Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees aren’t exactly rolling over this year.
The city has more reason for optimism this year, though, than it has for many years. With Brian Roberts still only 31 years old, and with Nick Markakis and Adam Jones set in the outfield for years to come, and, finally, with Matt Wieters due to make an Evan Longoria-type splash this year, there’s a lot of young talent to be excited about in Baltimore. If the organization can stay smart and patient with these guys, and pick up some pitching along the way, the O’s may finally find themselves at the top of the division in only a few short years. It won’t be happening in 2009, though.