The Orioles are continuing their modus operandi from the past few years and are teasing us with winning baseball at the beginning of the season. If you are a true orange and black fan it is hard not to get excited at the start of a new season, especially when they have started off so well winning each of their first three series. Opening Day was an incredible experience this year and it surpassed past years due to the uncertainty of the weather and the eventual payoff at the end of the game. The clouds threatened to rain on our parade and one of the best parties of the year in Baltimore. The sun peeked out for a while in mid-afternoon but the rains came again right before game time which seemed like an omen representing the big bad Yankees hanging over our heads.
As you know by now the game was not rained out after all and the Orioles were like a bright ray of sunshine cutting through the clouds. The bats came alive for 10 runs that day and chased Cy Young award winner and 161 million dollar mercenary CC Sabathia in the 4th inning. It was an absolutely fantastic day for baseball and it was made even better by the fact that loyal Orioles fans did not let the Yankee supporters in attendance drown out their cheers. The infamous lets go Yankees chant that can be clearly heard at Camden Yards in the later months of the season as the seats turn from orange to green was overpowered by boos for Tex-liar. For the first time in over a decade I could feel the camaraderie of O’s fans permeate the stadium. The way the O’s dominated the majority of that game made the Boog’s BBQ and the ample amount of brew taste that much sweeter.
I have been impressed with the way the Orioles are swinging the bats this season. Izturis capped off the great Opening Day win with his first and probably only homerun this season, but aside from that he is the only player who needs to significantly increase his offensive production. He was signed to upgrade a poor up the middle defense and has been a drastic improvement over 2008’s garbage group barring last evening’s boot in the third inning against the Rangers. Zaun has not dominated with the bat so far but as all O’s fans know he was signed to mentor Matt Weiters once he is called up, and Zaun has done an adequate job in his stead. We are however waiting with bated breath for Weiters’ arrival.
Aubrey Huff has impressed me with his transition to full-time first baseman. Like I said he will never be mistaken for JT Snow over there but he is serviceable, and a significant upgrade over Kevin “Red Sox” Millar. Huff won a Silver Slugger at first base last year which is a significant accomplishment considering first base is typically an offense first position. The way he has been swinging the bat lately I really think the O’s should try to sign him to an extension. Three or four years might get it done and they don’t have anyone in the minors even close to ready to supplant him in the near future. Gone are the days of guys like Calvin Pickering and Ryan Minor toiling in the minors waiting to get a shot. Lets get over our huff about what Aubrey said (it really wasn’t all that bad to start with) and embrace what he has been doing for the ball club.
Speaking of toiling in the minors, the trade for Felix Pie, who has been yanked up and down by the Cubs over the last few years, was a low risk/high reward deal. Pie represents a potential impact player on defense, and a capable offensive player with speed. The only thing the O’s gave up was Garrett Olsen a below average lefty who had virtually no upside, and unless he pulls a John Maine and comes out of nowhere to be a decent end of the rotation guy this is a can’t lose scenario. The mastermind of the Orioles recent terrific player personnel decisions Andy MacPhail has really outdone himself on his two biggest trades. Trading a steroid using, older than he claimed to be, unhappy player with declining power and range for 5 players including Houston’s best pitching prospect in Troy Patton, Luke Scott our starting DH, as well as Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate who are strong bullpen contributors has to be one of the biggest hoodwinks of all time. It is only outdone by MacPhail’s other conquest over former Seattle Mariner’s GM Bill Bavasi. A trade in which he dealt a disgruntled, no heart, only wants to pitch six innings crybaby who never lived up to the potential of his great stuff in Erik Bedard for 5 players including future face of the franchise centerfielder Adam Jones, as well as stud pitching prospect Chris Tillman and All-Star closer George Sherrill.
O’s fans may not agree with everything MacPhail has done but no one can argue that this team has not improved significantly over past couple years, especially with building depth in the minor leagues. The one complaint that I would raise is to question why they are starting guys like Adam Eaton and Mark Hendrickson who are guaranteed to have an ERA over 6.00 in place of young players like Brad Bergesen. Bergesen could give up a ton of runs and be chased in the early innings just as easily, however Bergeson is in his early 20’s and actually has some upside. With a little bit of experience he is almost destined to be better than those two stiffs. Hendrickson was drafted by the 76’ers, 31st overall in the 1996 NBA draft, to quote EJ Pipkin’s 2004 campaign catchphrase “Who Knew?” Maybe he should think about a return engagement with the NBA and put us out of our misery. Prospect Radhames Liz is thought to be a starter and has recently been recalled; however he is a bullpen guy, period. Liz has no upside as a starter but as a reliever he may find some late inning success.
The off-season signings of Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts seem like a harbinger of good things to come. As the team continues to develop I hope that MacPhail will be able to sign our young players to long-term deals and keep the core guys together throughout their careers from the minors to major league success. Let’s hope the O’s can continue to remain competitive for the remainder of the season, I want to see a game that matters in September for a change.