March 08, 2011 | Shawn Credle

“This team is improving. And while it’s nearly the end of the season, one would have to be optimistic about next year’s ballclub. Now, I’m not predicting playoffs just yet. But if the O’s can win at least 16 games per month next season, that will give them a minimum of 96 wins for the year. And I, along with every Baltimore Orioles’ fan, will take that. Don’t give up on the Birds just yet, fans. The best is yet to come. A new winning spirit may inspire a top free agent to come and play in Baltimore. An actual winning record will guarantee it.”

This is what I wrote nearly six months ago. And while people thought I was crazy for thinking that the Orioles can win over 90 games, some have seemed to change their minds after watching what the Orioles did this offseason. The signings of Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee have opened the eyes of many fans, and have opened the eyes of many teams. The Orioles plan on not being the team that other teams want to face in order to get a much-needed win. The O’s plan on being contenders right now.

Now, before you go crazy and plan to buy O’s playoff tickets, hold on a second. I’m not saying that the O’s will win the World Series this year, or even the AL East right now. What I am saying is that they will be a contender. There will be meaningful games in August and September. They have to beat the Yankees and the Red Sox during the regular season. Last season, the Showalter-led Orioles finished 2010 at 34–23, the best record among American League East clubs during the same stretch. A fact many seem to have forgotten.

Hopefully, the Orioles will allow Showalter to finish what he started, which is something the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks did not allow. Watching those two teams win championships right after he left, has left a sour taste in Showalter’s mouth. So, in a sense, Showalter has something to prove, as well as the players. And, possibly, in two or three years, and after a top free-agent pickup, a championship isn’t that far-fetched of an idea.

1. Brian Roberts – 2B
2. Nick Markakis – RF
3. Derrek Lee – 1B
4. Vladimir Guerrero – DH
5. Luke Scott – LF
6. Mark Reynolds – 3B
7. Adam Jones – CF
8. Matt Wieters – C
9. J.J. Hardy – SS
With that projected lineup, there will be no easy spots for an opposing pitcher. With the 1-2-3 spot, that could be one of the best in baseball this year, and get on base a lot.  The 4-5-6 spot – that has a lot of power.  And the 7-8-9 spot, that will drive pitchers crazy. Guerrero batted .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBI last year. Hopefully, we will get at least 85-90% of that this season. Wieters batted .249 with 11 HRs and 55 RBIs last year. And while Wieters has taken a beating in the press lately, this could be the breakout year for him.

Projected Starting Rotation
Jeremy Guthrie
Brian Matusz
Brad Bergesen
Chris Tillman
Jake Arrieta
(Justin Duchscherer)

Plus, one can’t forget about the starting rotation. Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen pitched well for Buck Showalter last season. Many are optimistic that they will improve. Jeremy Guthrie will get more run support this year, and that was a problem for him last year. And Zach Britton and Chris Tillman are waiting for their shot.

So, with the new lineup, and with Showalter enjoying his first full season with the team, 90-72 is my latest prediction for the O’s this year. What’s your prediction?