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Record-low crowd watches Orioles sink even lower

Posted on 12 April 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles dropped another game 5-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but fewer people watched it than any other in the history of the beautiful 19-year-old ballpark.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

The picture, taken about 15 minutes before first pitch, says it all. Very few people entered the gates afterward as the the paid attendance of 9,129 was a record low, breaking the previous all-time low of 10,130 set on May 26, 2009 against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The number of actual people in the stands was far lower—probably around 4,000 by best estimation—but we’ve been through that discussion time and time again.

The excuses will start.

It’s April; the kids are in school.

The weather isn’t nice (It was only a frigid 66 degrees, after all).

Tampa Bay isn’t an attractive team to watch (It’s clear very few think the Orioles are either).

Did the small crowd bother the players?

“No, not at all,” said right fielder Nick Markakis. “We still have to go out and play. I could care less if there is nobody in the stands. You have to go out and play and can’t worry about that kind of stuff.”

Markakis’ words certainly don’t translate well to print, but I’ll give him a pass on this one. He lives in the community, is very charitable, and is clearly frustrated with the 1-6 start to the season. His underlying point was the need for the team to focus on improving and no other outside distractions.

A poor choice of words though.

Starter Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched well in a losing effort against Tampa Bay pitcher Matt Garza, took a more diplomatic approach in offering his thoughts about the crowd, citing the enthusiasm exhibited on Opening Day as proof that fans still care about the Orioles.

“I think if we do our part, [the attendance will] turn around.”

Quite frankly, the Orioles haven’t been a team worth forking over any amount of money for a ticket—plus the $2 day-of-game surcharge—in the first seven games of the season.

While Guthrie was strong for a second straight start to begin the season—pitching seven innings and giving up three earned runs—Garza silenced the Orioles bats over eight innings (allowing only a Felix Pie home run to lead off the bottom of the first) to pick up his second win of the season.

“He’s shown himself to be one of the better pitchers in the league,” said manager Dave Trembley.

Again, the Baltimore lineup was anemic, as the Orioles are now just 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position over their last three games and 9-for-57 (.158) for the season. The Orioles have scored three runs in their last three games. They’ve touched home plate in only two of their last 28 innings.

Must I go on?

Something needs to change quickly. From top to bottom—with a modest nod to Miguel Tejada and Matt Wieters—this lineup has been completely outmatched by numerous pitchers.

When asked about the possibility of shaking up the lineup, Trembley was receptive but offered nothing specific.

“Yeah, I probably should do something. Maybe just to show a different look.”

He’d better.

Whether he puts them in numerical order, alphabetical order, shortest-to-tallest, or takes a page from Billy Martin and draws names out of a hat, it HAS to be better than the look we’ve seen over these seven games.

Even using the already-low standards of the previous 12 seasons, it’s getting to be very difficult to watch.

All you have to do is look around at all the empty green seats.

Check out the final box score here.

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Good evening from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as the Orioles (1-5) prepare to take on the Tampa Bay Rays (3-3) in the first of a three-game set. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. with Jeremy Guthrie (0-1, 4.26) will take the hill against Tampa Bay starter Matt Garza (1-0, 1.13) in a rematch of the second game of the season in which Garza stifled the Orioles’ bats in a 4-3 Rays win.

The Orioles will try to rebound from a very disheartening three-game sweep at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays in the first home series over the weekend. The Rays most recently lost two out of three to the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field, including CC Sabathia’s flirtation with a no-hitter on Saturday afternoon in a 10-0 Yankees victory.

In a move surprising no one (especially if you subscribe to the WNST Text Service), the Orioles placed Brian Roberts on the 15-day disabled list with an abdominal strain. The organization has recalled infielder Justin Turner from Triple-A Norfolk to take his spot on the 25-man roster.

In Dave Trembley’s pre-game comments, he would not commit to a set starter at second baseman but said Turner will provide depth. All indications point to a combination of Julio Lugo and Ty Wigginton receiving a bulk of the starts in lieu of Turner, a career .307 hitter in the minor leagues.

I’m not sure how this move helps Turner, and if the Orioles are so desperate to receive an offensive lift from Wigginton or Lugo, the team has bigger problems than we thought.

In what might be a piece of good news for Orioles fans (Hey, just being honest…), Mike Gonzalez will not be with the club until tomorrow as he is with his wife in Arizona awaiting the birth of his daughter. Gonzalez is expected back tomorrow, so there is no chance of a Gonzalez meltdown this evening.

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

Tampa Bay
SS Jason Bartlett
LF Carl Crawford
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B Carlos Pena
CF B.J. Upton
DH Pat Burrell
2B Reid Brignac
C Dioner Navarro

SP Matt Garza (1-0, 1.13 ERA)

Orioles
LF Felix Pie
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
3B Miguel Tejada
C Matt Wieters
DH Luke Scott
1B Garrett Atkins
2B Julio Lugo
SS Cesar Izturis

SP Jeremy Guthrie (0-1, 4.26 ERA)

As always, please join us for our Orange Crust chat, hosted tonight by Bob Haynie and starting at 7:00 p.m. Remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates from the ballpark.

Please check below for updates (time-stamped) leading up to the first pitch, after which I’ll be joining Bob and other WNST personalities in the chat room.

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6:25 p.m. — Here’s your strange stat of the evening. Tejada is 6-for-14 with a home run and six RBI batting with men on base and 0-for-11 with the bases empty.

At least he’s economical.

6:05 p.m. — Trembley said before the game that Roberts would not accompany the team on the upcoming West Coast trip and said the second baseman may received another epidural injection for the herniated disk in his lower pack (Updated: he has received a second epidural injection). Though Roberts is on the DL due to an abdominal strain, it’s clear the back is still very much a concern for the Orioles’ leadoff hitter.

Roberts is eligible to be activated on April 25, but it is unknown whether the second baseman will return on that date.

In his absence, Trembley mentioned Pie, Lugo, and Jones all as candidates for the top spot in the order as well as the light-hitting Izturis. Regardless of who it is, the Orioles will sorely miss Roberts’ plate discipline and tendency for two-baggers (56 last season).

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A forgettable opening week for the Orioles

Posted on 11 April 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — What’s left to really say about such an awful week of baseball?

To their credit, the Orioles found a new way to cost themselves a ballgame Sunday afternoon when Miguel Tejada’s fielding miscue led to a Jose Bautista two-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning to push Toronto ahead 3-2. The Blue Jays added two more runs to complete a 5-2 win and a three-game sweep at Camden Yards.

Starting pitcher Kevin Millwood cruised through the first 7.2 innings of his start, looking every bit like the strong veteran presence the Orioles envisioned for the No. 1 spot in the rotation. However, Millwood unraveled after the error—the Orioles’ first of the season—and gave up back-to-back home runs to Bautista and Alex Gonzalez (who also went deep in the fourth).

“Millwood pitched a great game,” said manager Dave Trembley. “If we make the play in the eighth inning, he finishes it and completes the game, and we’re on our way and it doesn’t happen.”

Unfortunately, it’s happened all week as the Orioles now look at an ugly 1-5 record, only a shaky save conversion from Mike Gonzalez on Thursday night stands in the way of this team being 0-6.

Maybe we should be thanking him? Well, maybe not.

Failing to close games, not capitalizing with runners in scoring position, and now a critical error have been the difference between quite possibly a 4-2 record and their current 1-5 mark.

Therein lies the problem. Baseball is a game of inches. The difference between winning and losing can be minute in any single game, an idea the Orioles either haven’t understood or been able to capitalize on in the first week of the season.

The Orioles have scored two runs—both in the first inning of Sunday’s game—in their last 19 innings. They’re an abominable 9-for-54 (.167) with runners in scoring position this season.

Completely unacceptable.

We know how badly the new closer has struggled, and it now appears imminent that Brian Roberts is heading to the disabled list.

But what about the rest of the team?

Sure, the games have been close, but that doesn’t really matter.

By inches or not, the Orioles simply aren’t getting the job done. All you have to do is look at their record.

– This is the Orioles’ first 1-5 start since 2002. That team went on to have a 67-95 record, which included a 4-32 finish to the season.

– The Orioles have now allowed runs in the eight or ninth inning in all six games this year. They’ve allowed a total of 11 runs in the final two innings.

– The Blue Jays hit four home runs in Sunday’s victory over the Orioles. Sunday’s game marks the 11th time in Orioles history they’ve allowed seven or fewer hits with four or more of those being home runs.

The last time was September 28, 2009 against Tampa Bay.

– Nick Markakis drew a walk in his first at-bat in the first inning today, giving him nine for the season, more than anyone in the majors.

– Tejada’s error in the eighth inning opened the door for three Toronto runs. It was the first fielding error of the season for the Orioles, who were the next-to-last team in the majors to commit an error.

The Minnesota Twins have yet to commit one this season.

– Gonzalez’s home run in the eighth inning gave him his seventh career multi-homer game and his first since May 7, 2007 against Houston when he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

– The Orioles will send Jeremy Guthrie (0-1, 4.26) to the hill to start a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards at 7:05 p.m. on Monday night. Matt Garza, who dominated the Orioles last week at Tropicana Field, takes the mound for the Rays.

Check out the final box score here.

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Good afternoon and Happy Sunday as we’re set for the finale against the Toronto Blue Jays here at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35 p.m.

The Orioles will attempt to rebound from a 3-0 shutout, as Blue Jays lefty Dana Eveland stifled the Baltimore lineup for 7.1 innings for the Toronto bullpen polished off the shutout. Kevin Millwood will take the hill for the Orioles in his second start of the season. In his Opening Night start in Tampa Bay, Millwood pitched five innings, giving up two runs while scattering nine hits.

Here are today’s lineups:

Toronto
RF Jose Bautista
SS Alex Gonzalez
DH Adam Lind
CF Vernon Wells
1B Lyle Overbay
C John Buck
3B Edwin Encarnacion
LF Travis Snider
2B John McDonald

SP Shaun Marcum (0-0, 3.86 ERA)

Orioles
LF Felix Pie
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
3B Miguel Tejada
DH Luke Scott
C Matt Wieters
1B Ty Wigginton
2B Julio Lugo
SS Cesar Izturis

SP Kevin Millwood (0-0, 3.60 ERA)

Don’t forget to join us for a special Orioles/Masters final round edition of the Orange Crust chat, hosted today by Nestor Aparicio and Drew Forrester. For the quickest updates, please follow us on Twitter (@WNST). I’ll be providing pre-game updates right here (time-stamped below) leading up to first pitch.

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1:29 p.m. — A few final notes before I head over to the Orange Crush chat:

Markakis is 9-for-18 with five home runs and six RBI in his career against Toronto starter Shaun Marcum. Tejada is 6-for-13 with three home runs and seven RBI against the right-hander.

And if you’re desperately searching for a positive on the Orioles at this point, they and the Minnesota Twins are the only teams in baseball with a field error.

Does that make you feel better? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

12:35 p.m. — Reports are circulating from MASN that infielder Justin Turner is being summoned from Norfolk, a good indication that Roberts will be placed on the 15-day disabled list. Turner is already on the 40-man roster, so no corresponding move would be needed in that regard.

Trembley would most likely use Lugo as his primary option at second base, but Turner, 25, is a career .307 hitter in the minor leagues. It would definitely be nice to give the infielder a look, as he would have a much better chance of fitting into the team’s long-term plans than Lugo.

12:15 p.m. — To say the Orioles’ start is disappointing would be an understatement, but their performance against Toronto this weekend is especially troubling. Playing without arguably their best player Aaron Hill (36 home runs and 108 RBI last year), the Blue Jays are a win away from completing a sweet at Camden Yards. Toronto was 1-8 in Baltimore last year.

With such a tough schedule on the horizon—not to mention the sheer reality of playing in the AL East—the Blue Jays are a team the Orioles SHOULD beat. Based on this series and the two teams’ respective starts through five games, perhaps preseason prognosticators were selling Toronto short by picking them as the consensus last-place team in the division.

Of course, we’re only five games deep into the season.

12:00 p.m. — With Roberts still out of the lineup with an abdominal strain, Dave Trembley will use Pie in the leadoff spot this afternoon. The outfielder has been battling a sore throwing shoulder, but the Orioles skipper had previously said he would return to the lineup this weekend. While he’s certainly not your prototypical leadoff man, Pie is a far more attractive option at the top of the order than Lugo.

Roberts is still day-to-day, but the Orioles could decide to place him on the disabled list after reevaluating him. Of course, any move would be retroactive, but Trembley does not want to play with a short bench for an extended period of time.

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Orioles’ early-season slumber could lead to nightmarish awakening

Posted on 10 April 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Dave Trembley and the Orioles continue to repeat the same cliches.

It’s early.

There are 162 games in the season.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

And they’re still right on all accounts, but with each passing loss, the frustration is beginning to show. It was a very somber clubhouse following Toronto’s 3-0 win on Saturday night, and while everyone continues to say the right things, it’s clear this team desperately needs a lift.

David Hernandez continued the same pattern of his fellow starters—sans Brad Bergesen—the first time through the rotation: good, but not great. The 24-year-old right-hander pitched six solid innings, giving up two runs, striking out five and walking four. The problem is Hernandez could have been perfect over nine innings and still wouldn’t have been in line for a victory.

“Hernandez went out there and threw a good game,” said centerfielder Adam Jones. “We put up
a doughnut for him. We didn’t really go out there and swing the bats the way we normally do.”

Toronto starter Dana Eveland stifled the Baltimore lineup over 7.1 innings, surrendering just five hits. The same lefty that posted a 7.16 ERA last season in Oakland—a pitcher’s haven—shut out the Orioles at Camden Yards, picking up his second career win against the team in the process.

In 14.1 career innings against the Orioles, Eveland has not allowed a run while surrendering just eight hits.

While Mike Gonzalez’s struggles have grabbed the early headlines, the Orioles’ inability to capitalize with runners in scoring position is a bigger reason why this team stands at 1-4 and needs a victory on Sunday to avoid a sweep in their first home series.

The Orioles hitters are just 8 for 46 with runners in scoring position, a .174 batting average. Last year, the Orioles finished second in the American League with a .284 average in that category. The opportunities were few and far between against Eveland, but it doesn’t take a math major to see an 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position won’t get it done against anyone.

“We haven’t gotten big hits when we needed them,” Trembley said. “And some games that we obviously could’ve won, we haven’t won them.”

The loss of Brian Roberts—who is day-to-day with an abdominal strain and did not play in Saturday night’s loss—sets a trickle-down effect on a lineup already lacking a genuine cleanup hitter in the middle of the order. Julio Lugo or Felix Pie or Cesar Izturis cannot bring what Roberts brings to the lead-off spot. You simply don’t replace 56 doubles no matter who you put at the top.

It’s too early to panic or call for anyone’s head (even Gonzalez’s), but this is the supposed easy part of a brutal April and early May schedule in which the Orioles play 16 games before their first day off and 21 of their first 28 against the American League East. With the expected dominance at the top of the division from New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay, aren’t the Orioles supposed to beat the Blue Jays, a team picked to finish last in the division?

Following Sunday’s finale against the Jays and a three-game set against the Rays, the Orioles travel to the West Coast for seven games against Oakland and Seattle, never an easy task.

But wait, it gets worse.

After finally getting their first day off on April 22, the Orioles then begin a stretch of 12 consecutive games against the Red Sox and Yankees. Baltimore went 7-29 against the two baseball powers in 2009.

So when you see a 1-4 record that should be 3-2, you only need to look ahead to see why this team needs to be concerned. If the Baltimore bats don’t awaken from their early-season snooze, the results will resemble a nightmare later this month.

It’s probably not the time for a players-only meeting or for Trembley to ream out the team behind closed doors, but it is time to stop hitting the snooze bar and finally wake up for the 2010 season.

It’s cost them at least two or three games already, a margin of error they simply cannot afford in this division.

Rise and shine, guys, or you’ll have a nightmare to deal with very quickly.

– Matt Wieters threw out Jose Bautista trying to steal in the top of the third inning for the third out. The second-year catcher has now thrown out four of five attempted base stealers this season.

– The Blue Jays hit five doubles in Saturday’s game, a season high allowed by the Orioles.

– With Toronto scoring on a Adam Lind RBI double, the orioles have now allowed at least one run in the eighth inning or later in every game this season.

– The 3-0 loss was the first game this season in which the outcome was decided by more than one run.

– The paid attendance was 21,148 after setting an Opening Day attendance record yesterday.

Check out the final box score here.

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Good evening from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as the Orioles are set to take on the Toronto Blue Jays in the second of a three-game set at 7:05 p.m.

Dave Trembley just spoke to the media and told reporters Brian Roberts will not play tonight after suffering an abdominal strain in the first inning of yesterday’s 7-6 loss. Roberts injured himself stealing second base and came out of the game after scoring a few moments later.

Julio Lugo will start at second base in his place and will lead off for the Orioles.

The other piece of significant news is the status of closer Mike Gonzalez. Trembley and Rick Kranitz spent much of last night and this morning studying tape of Gonzalez with the Atlanta Braves last year and have discovered some mechanical issues. The lefty is throwing from a different arm angle and falling off the mound much sooner than he did last season, according to Trembley.

Gonzalez will not be the closer this evening, due in part to the amount of work he received in the first four games and his mechanics. The struggling pitcher will work on his mechanics with Kranitz in the bullpen, but Trembley also said this wouldn’t prohibit him from being used in save situations while he works with the pitching coach.

The manager would not reveal who he would use in a save situation tonight and then went on to say he would never reveal who is available or unavailable to pitch before a game. That’s funny, because Trembley said yesterday that situational lefty Will Ohman would be unavailable for Opening Day, but I digress.

So for those of you dreading another Gonzalez appearance, you at least have a one-night reprieve.

Here is tonight’s lineup for the Orioles:

2B Julio Lugo
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
3B Miguel Tejada
DH Garrett Atkins
C Matt Wieters
LF Nolan Reimold
1B Ty Wigginton
SS Cesar Izturis

SP David Hernandez (4-10, 5.42 ERA)

And for Toronto:

2B Mike McCoy
RF Jose Bautista
DH Adam Lind
CF Vernon Wells
1B Lyle Overbay
3B Edwin Encarnacion
SS Alex Gonzalez
LF Travis Snider
C Jose Molina

SP Dana Eveland (2009 stats with Oakland: 2-4, 7.16 ERA)

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates throughout the evening and please join us in our Orange Crush chat, the newest way to watch a game in town!

Check back for updates (time-stamped) leading up to the first pitch when I’ll be shifting over to the Orange Crush chat.

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6:55 p.m. — Adam Jones just received his 2009 Gold Glove award and gave a big hug to coach John Shelby in the process. Congratulations to Mr. Jones.

I’m still not convinced Jones was very deserving of the award, but any positive recognition for the Orioles cannot be taken for granted.

5:50 p.m. — While most attention centers around the health of Roberts and the status of Gonzalez, we’ll get our first look at right-hander David Hernandez tonight. The 25-year-old won the fifth starter spot, beating out top prospect Chris Tillman in spring training.

Of course, Hernandez got his feet wet at the big-league level last season, going 4-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 19 starts. The soon-to-be 25-year-old has a power fastball and showed much better commander of his slider in the spring. After walking 46 batters in 101.1 innings in his rookie season, Hernandez walked just three batters in 15 spring innings, a major factor in nailing down the final spot in the rotation.

Many still feel Hernandez is best suited for a late-innings role in the bullpen due to command issues and questions of how deep he can go into a game, but now is the time to figure out whether or not he can be a middle to back-of-the-rotation starter before you slide him to a relief role.

As for Tillman, hopes are still high, but he’ll have to wait it out in Norfolk.

5:30 p.m. — Following up on the Gonzalez news, Trembley brought up the early-season struggles of George Sherrill last season when the closer was temporarily stripped of exclusive closer duties after blowing his second save in three chances against Toronto on May 2. At the time, Sherrill was 4-for-6 in save opportunities with a 5.06 ERA.

After May 2 and until being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sherrill was 16-for-17 in save chances with a 1.47 ERA.

While certainly a far cry from Gonzalez’s struggles in his first three appearances, every closer struggles from time to time—even Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon—but those struggles will clearly stand out on a new team during the first week of the season.

Does that mean Gonzalez will eventually straighten himself out? No, but it’s far too soon to give up on the guy entirely.

At the very least, it’s encouraging that the coaching staff has discovered flaws in his mechanics, if they have indeed found them and it isn’t a front to buy some time for the left-hander.

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Orioles, Gonzalez again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

Posted on 09 April 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The good vibes of Opening Day and the first week of the season are one of the few occasions when Orioles fans are typically allowed to feel good.

Spring is in the air, the Orioles are back in town, and the standings look a little better—at least for now.

However, as Mike Gonzalez walked off the mound following another terrible performance and his second blown save in three chances, optimism quickly transformed into ugly frustration as Baltimore fans pounded the left-hander with a chorus of boos only reserved for former Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller in recent Baltimore sports history.

It was a troubling display from the home crowd, regardless of how lousy Gonzalez has been in his first week as an Oriole. Twelve years of losing will do that to you.

The Orioles and Gonzalez have to be looking at themselves with utter disbelief. A team fully expecting—or at least saying so anyway—to be improved now finds itself with a 1-3 record when it very well should be 3-1, or could be 4-0.

But they’re not, and therein lies the rub with the fans at Camden Yards.

Couple that with the comments made by general manager Andy MacPhail to USA Today about competing in the American League East, and this season already feels just like the previous 12.

So much for feeling positive on Opening Day.

Gonzalez continues to claim he isn’t injured, and it’s a matter of simply trying too hard. At this point, Orioles fans might prefer he not have the chance to try at all.

Whatever the case, it’s hard to recall a newcomer with relatively high expectations that struggled as much as Gonzalez has in his first three appearances. You almost had to feel for the guy as Dave Trembley pulled him from the game after Jose Bautista hit the go-ahead sacrifice fly, essentially throwing Gonzalez to the wolves and exposing him to the jeers of an angry crowd.

“I think more than anything right now I just have some built up energy. I want to go out there and get it done,” Gonzalez said after the loss.

Dave Trembley was clearly irritated with his closer’s performance but appears committed to sticking with him in the ninth inning for now. The manager reiterated the frustration of failing to close another game that was theirs for the taking.

“You should win this game today, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “The game is ruined because we don’t close it out.”

As frustrated as fans might be, we’re still in the middle of the first week of a 162-game marathon. Every team in the big leagues, from the Yankees down to the Nationals, will lose three out of four at least a few times this season.

Still, the way in which they’ve lost has destroyed optimism in even the most apologetic of fans. And it only figures to get worse with the always-challenging west-coast trip and 12-straight games against the Yankees and Red Sox looming over the next few weeks.

Gonzalez and the Orioles still have plenty of time to right the ship and start playing better baseball to avoid the 90-plus loss plateau, but they better start very soon.

It might only be four games, but it’s already feeling just like the last 12 years.

– Brian Roberts left the game in the top of the second inning with a strained abdominal muscle. The Orioles second baseman was injured stealing second base and came out of the game after scoring on a Miguel Tejada single.

Trembley had no update on Roberts’ status for Saturday night’s game.

– In his return to Baltimore after spending two seasons with the Houston Astros, Miguel Tejada drove in four runs on Friday, his first four-plus RBI game since July 28, 2009. Tejada’s two-run homer in the fifth inning tied the game at 5-5.

“I’m honored to come back here and try to do the job for the fans,” he said.

It was Tejada’s first home run as an Oriole since September 21, 2007.

– Brad Bergesen was not sharp in his 2010 debut, giving up five earned runs and eight hits in 4.2 innings and becoming the first Baltimore starter to not get out of the fifth inning.

“Bergesen didn’t have a lot of sink [on his pitches],” Trembley said. “I thought his tempo was really slow today.”

– The Orioles have now allowed at least one run in the eighth inning or later in each of their four games this season, giving up a total of six runs in that span. It was also the third game in which they gave up the tying or go-ahead run in those innings.

– With Friday’s loss, the Orioles fell to 37-20 overall and 13-6 at Oriole Park at Camden yards in home openers. This was the first ever home opener against the Blue Jays.

– Today’s paid attendance was 48,891, which set a new record for an Orioles Opening Day crowd, surpassing the 48,607 mark set against the Yankees last season.

– The Orioles will send David Hernandez to the mound against Dana Eveland on Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. Check back right here at WNST.net for all of your Orioles coverage this season.

Check out the final box score here.

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Good afternoon from Oriole Park at Camden Yards! It’s Opening Day (the home variety anyway), and the Orioles (1-2) are set to take on the Toronto Blue Jays (2-1) at 3:05 p.m.

Here is the starting lineup for the Orioles this afternoon:

2B Brian Roberts
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
3B Miguel Tejada
LF Luke Scott
C Matt Wieters
DH Nolan Reimold
1B Garrett Atkins
SS Cesar Izturis

SP Brad Bergesen (2009 stats: 7-5, 3.43 ERA)

And for the Toronto Blue Jays:

RF Jose Bautista
SS Alex Gonzalez
DH Adam Lind
CF Vernon Wells
1B Lyle Overbay
C John Buck
3B Edwin Encarnacion
LF Travis Snider
2B John McDonald

SP Brandon Morrow (2009 stats with Seattle: 2-4, 4.39 ERA)

I’ll be providing updates and tidbits throughout the afternoon leading up to the first pitch at 3:05. Just scroll below the break for the latest updates (time-stamped for your convenience). Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates and join us in the Orange Crush chat, hosted by Nestor Aparicio!

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3:54 p.m. — Our Orange Crust chat is in full force, but just wanted to pass along some injury news. Brian Roberts left the game in the top of the second inning with a strained abdominal muscle.

Just when it looked like the second baseman was getting into the swing of the regular season, he comes down with another injury.

Tough news for the Orioles.

2:40 p.m. — Opening Day festivities are underway and not surprisingly, Cito Gaston received an unfriendly welcome. It’s hard to believe the 1993 Mike Mussina All-Star Game snub was 17 years ago.

Don’t forget to join us in the Orange Crust Chat during the game. Nestor Aparicio will be your host, and I will be chiming in with in-game thoughts throughout the afternoon.

And remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for musings and analysis as well.

2:15 p.m. — The Orioles and Blue Jays split their 18 games in 2009. Baltimore was 8-1 at Camden Yards and 1-8 at Rogers Centre. Pretty interesting breakdown right there.

With the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays expected to be three of the best teams in the American League, the Orioles must take care of business against Toronto this season if they hope to approach the .500 mark. We continue to hear the Orioles are an improved team—and they are on paper—so they need to beat up on the rebuilding Jays.

2:05 p.m. — Matt Wieters is clearly off to the best start of any Oriole regular, and it’s clear Trembley and pitching coach Rick Kranitz have more confidence in the second-year catcher to handle the pitching staff, leading to the decision to keep Craig Tatum as the backup catcher in lieu of veteran Chad Moeller.

Wieters is now calling pitches on his own, and Trembley credited the tutelage of Gregg Zaun and Moeller to prepare the young catcher for that responsibility.

“It’s helped him a lot with the experience he got last year,” he said.

In just three games, Wieters is hitting .500 with a home run and two RBI, including the game-tying single in last night’s big four-run sixth inning. He also became the first catcher in club history to open the season with three consecutive multi-hit games.

1:55 p.m. — As we inch closer to the pre-game festivities, we begin to turn our attention to the Toronto Blue Jays. Most preseason prognosticators have picked the Orioles ahead of the Blue Jays in the American League East, but of course, both teams are considered afterthoughts after the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays.

The Blue Jays, managed by Cito Gaston, won their opening series of the season against the Rangers in Texas. Toronto earned the series win with a 3-1 comeback victory yesterday.

Brandon Morrow takes the hill for the Jays in his first start since being acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the off-season. The 25-year-old right-hander shuttled back and forth from the starting rotation and the bullpen in Seattle, but it appears Toronto is committed to making him a starting pitcher. He will be on an 85-pitch limit in today’s game, according to Gaston.

You may remember Morrow’s name in the Erik Bedard trade discussions a couple years ago before Andy MacPhail settled for a package of Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, and two others.

1:05 p.m. — Despite a tough turnaround after playing the series finale against Tampa Bay last night, Baltimore’s Opening Day starter shouldn’t have any issue with fatigue. Bergesen flew home early to prepare for this afternoon’s start against the Blue Jays.

While some fans have debated whether Brian Matusz should have received the nod for the home opener, Trembley never considered it, telling the media he told Bergesen three months ago that he’d be getting the ball today.

Of course, those plans became uncertain after Bergesen famously injured his pitching shoulder filming a MASN commercial in the off-season.

“He really caught up in a hurry,” Trembley said. “I think he’s the right guy to represent us on Opening Day.”

12:35 p.m. — The Orioles are currently taking batting practice, and the Opening Day festivities are scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m.

Manager Dave Trembley said in his pre-game press conference that Felix Pie is closer to returning to the lineup after battling a tender throwing shoulder in the opening series in Tampa Bay.

“He’ll play in this series, and you’ll see him start in this series.”

Trembley also mentioned in his pre-game presser that closer Mike Gonzalez will be available today if needed despite throwing 26 pitches—only 12 of them for strikes—in last night’s nerve-wracking 5-4 victory at Tropicana Field.

The skipper also mentioned he preferred to rest situational lefty Will Ohman after the newcomer saw action in all three games of the Tampa series. The other left-hander in the pen, Mark Hendrickson, has yet to throw a pitch this season.

In injury-related news, Trembley had no update on the status of Koji Uehara who is on the disabled list (hamstring) and still in Florida at extended spring training. It is believed that Uehara has not thrown off a mound, so it doesn’t appear his return is imminent.

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Let The Bashing Begin …..

Posted on 07 April 2010 by Rex Snider

Well, it’s almost 7am …. on the morning following the Orioles first defeat of the season. No worries, there will be plenty more wins that “slipped away” before we tuck the 2010 season away in mothballs.

No, I’m not throwing in the towel on my prediction of 76 wins – I still think the birds will have a pretty decent season, as they continue in another chapter of Andy’s Rebuilding Project. But, last night’s game was a tough pill to swallow …..

Ugh, I’m also operating on two hours of sleep. I couldn’t get a wink, last night.

No, I don’t take Orioles baseball that seriously. I’m just excited to talk about last night’s pain, along with some renewed hope, this evening. After two months of bantering back and forth about incidental, debatable topics and vanilla-laden spring training updates, Ray Bachman and I finally have some real substance to discuss, at 2pm.

I’ll imagine many area baseball fans are chomping at the bit to complain about one thing or another. In fact, I’ve purposely steered away from Drew Forrester’s show (which KILLS me), because I don’t wanna hear any of the callers whom we share between both programs.

I’m sure some fans wanna blame certain members of the lineup – who failed to drive in 11 of 12 runners in scoring position …..

Fair enough, but that’s gonna happen. In fact, there will be nights when the very same lineup drives in 9 of those 12 runners.

Watch and see.

I’ll also agree the Orioles lineup is vulnerable with hitters ill-fitted for their spot in the order. I get it – but, it’s not the reason they lost last night’s game. They held a lead entering the bottom of the 9th, PERIOD.

Mike Gonzalez MUST eat this one, all by himself. He’s the guy who cannot surrender runs. His job is clearly defined and it pays quite handsomely for a reason – it takes composure and veins of “ice water,” as some old school insiders would suggest.

Regardless of what the guys swingin’ lumber do, a 9th inning lead must be protected. If not, the team and FANS are in for a season of gut-wrenching disappointment, and walk-off losses.

Look, as much as I’ve hated the last 12 seasons, I’ve understood the meaning behind 9-3 losses with box scores revealing the Orioles were beaten in every aspect of the game. Those are the easy losses to absorb – just chalk it up to playing a much better team.

Last night, Mike Gonzalez didn’t do his job. And, that has seriously destructive consequences …..

Wanna blame Miguel Tejada? Fine ….. he can go 0 for 5 and strand 6 runners. How about Brian Roberts, you wanna hang it on him? He can boot a couple balls and also strand a handful of runners. Yet, the team can still win if that stuff happens.

But, if Mike Gonzalez does not accomplish the ONE THING for which he’s employed, this team will lose each time he fails. Okay, they might pull a couple out …..

But, you get the point.

Last night’s observations of Gonzalez were stressful. He was clearly overthrowing and lacked poise. It appeared he was bent on dispelling the rumors regarding his supposed loss of velocity, in spring training.

While I was impressed by the quick strikeout of Pat Burrell, I also noticed Gonzalez fed him 3 straight fastballs of 91, 94 and 93 miles per hour.

He started off the next hitter, Sean Rodriguez, with another fastball. And for the record, all 4 of those pitches were above the knee caps and over the plate.

Note to Mike ….. YOU’RE GONNA GET RACKED THROWING 4 STRAIGHT BB’s DOWN THE MIDDLE. I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE FLIRTING WITH THE 100 MPH BARRIER – MIX IT UP, MAN.

And, while we’re at it, lets point out the back to back hits, by Shoppach and Crawford. Mike, you can’t get by with “BOOBIE HIGH” fastballs in the American League. Where is that famed slider …..

I understand and sympathize with the concern over the Orioles hitters leaving so many runners stranded in scoring position. And, yes, that stuff will eventually come back to haunt them – but, saying “if we would’ve scored more runs, we would’ve won,” is ridiculous.

The Orioles lineup provided enough runs to win. Mike Gonzalez couldn’t provide enough outs to ensure it.

Yeah, the situational hitting must improve. And, it will. I wouldn’t be surprised if this lineup looks much different when July rolls around. Maybe it will take a little longer, but Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are gonna inherit the #3 & #4 slots in the lineup. Making such a switch will provide the freedom to move Tejada down to 5th or 6th, while also moving Markakis up to the #2 spot.

I know most fans think Markakis is the best hitter on the team. He’s not. He’s not the best outfielder on the team, either. And, seeing him draw those walks with such a disciplined eye, last night, really reinforced my hope for seeing him set the table for the bigger sticks.

It’s just one game, but stranding runners cannot become an epidemic for this team. And, I do think getting the better bats into the heart of the lineup will aid in downplaying such situations. They’ve gotta score runs.

But, make no mistake about it ….. Mike Gonzalez held last night’s game in the palm of his hand and he dropped it.

I’ll talk to you, this afternoon.

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Orange Chatter: 10 Questions for 2010 (Part 2 of 2)

Posted on 03 April 2010 by Luke Jones

In Part 1 of my 10 Questions for 2010, we pondered the health of Brian Roberts, the status of Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Tillman, and the platoon of Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold.

Here are my second five of 10 questions entering the 2010 season:

6. Is the bullpen up to par?

Following the trade of George Sherrill last summer, it was clear the Orioles struggled in the late innings with Jim Johnson better suited in his previous role as a setup man. Andy MacPhail responded by signing free agent closer Mike Gonzalez to a two-year, $12 million contract, the club’s largest signing of the offseason.

Gonzalez has 54 career saves in a seven-year career, including 10 last season in Atlanta. While the lefty seems capable of closing games–keep in mind Sherrill was never a closer before the trade to Baltimore–Gonzalez battled a stiff back and appeared hesitant to cut it loose in Sarasota until recently. He closed out the spring with a perfect outing against the Mets on Saturday, striking out two and lowering his spring ERA to 5.14.

Gonzalez is joined in the bullpen by two mainstays in Johnson and lefty Mark Hendrickson, who thrived in the bullpen (3.44 ERA) after being moved out of the starting rotation (5.40 as a starter) last season.

However, after these three, the bullpen becomes a bit murkier, especially with Koji Uehara on the disabled list (hamstring) to begin the season. Cla Meredith had a tremendous spring (0.84 ERA) and pitched well in Baltimore after being acquired from the Padres last season but is certainly not a household name with a track record. Newcomer Will Ohman figures to provide plenty of laughs, but Trembley would like to see him evolve into an effective left-handed situational arm (a career 4.25 ERA in seven seasons).

And with three pitchers 25 or younger in the starting rotation, the club will go with two long men in Matt Albers and Jason Berken. Albers was very effective in 2008 (3.49 ERA), but a shoulder injury (torn labrum) and questions surrounding his conditioning led to an abysmal 2009 season in which he pitched to a 5.51 ERA and was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk on three different occasions.

Berken shifts to a long-relief role after starting 24 games last season (6.54 ERA). While the 26-year-old lacks the stuff of an effective starting pitcher, Trembley will look for him to eat innings should a starter be knocked out early. Of course, Berken could find himself back in the starting rotation should there be an injury or two over the course of the seaosn.

A player to keep an eye on at Norfolk is Kam Mickolio, a hard-throwing righty (part of the Erik Bedard trade with Seattle) who appeared to have a good chance of making the 25-man roster before a groin injury limited his opportunities in the spring. He projects as a late-inning man with closer potential.

As is the case with any bullpen on any team, the starting pitching will ultimately decide its fate. If starters are unable to reach the sixth or seventh inning on a consistent basis, this bullpen will inevitably wear down as we’ve seen just about every summer over the last 12 years. Improved starting pitching will hide the weaknesses in the bullpen and allow more opportunities to finish games.

7. Will Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins prove to be capable stopgaps?

The corner infield positions were two of MacPhail’s biggest priorities to address in the offseason, and he responded by adding two veterans accustomed to playing different positions than they will in 2010.

Tejada’s return to Baltimore was a controversial decision, but his ability to adjust to third base will be critical to the infield defense and pitching. Most seem to think Tejada will become a capable third baseman, but it’s hard to forget the initial struggles of both Cal Ripken and Melvin Mora when they shifted to the hot corner. One would expect Tejada to struggle in the first month or two of the season before settling in to be an average third baseman.

Tejada will also be asked to handle the cleanup spot in the order, at least until Matt Wieters is ready to grab the reins. While no longer capable of hitting 25 home runs per season—he hit just 27 in two combined seasons in Houston—Tejada led the National League with 47 doubles in 2009.

Across the diamond, Atkins shifts to first base after primarily manning the hot corner in his seven seasons in Colorado. Atkins has played 105 career games at first, so the transition should not be as drastic as Tejada’s.

The acquisition of Atkins was a curious one with the 30-year-old coming off the worst season of his career (.226, 9 home runs, 48 RBI) and safer options such as Adam LaRoche available. The club hopes Atkins can regain his pre-2009 form when he averaged 25 home runs and 110 RBI over three seasons.

Neither player figures to be in the fold when the Orioles aim to contend in the next few years—both signed one-year deals—but with prospects Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder likely a year away from the big leagues, Tejada and Atkins will be depended on for offense and steady defense on the corners. At the very least, neither contract will come back to haunt the club should either player prove ineffective.

8. How good will Brian Matusz be?

Though the hype hasn’t rivaled the insane expectations for Wieters, Matusz appears set to contend for the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year after starting eight games down the stretch, going 5-2 with a 4.63 ERA.

His 2009 minor league numbers look like something out of a video game, as he went a combined 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA at Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. In fact, Matusz was even better after being promoted to Bowie, going a perfect 7-0 record with a 1.55 ERA in eight starts.

Matusz was fantastic in the spring, finishing with a 2.59 ERA while striking out 21 and walking just three in 24.1 innings.

There’s a reason why he’s on every top-10 prospect list you’ll find this spring. Though Matusz would be hard-pressed to match Mike Mussina’s numbers in his first full year in 1992, don’t be shocked if he’s the Orioles’ best pitcher by mid-season. He might be already.

A scout was recently asked about Matusz in Baseball Prospectus: “He might have been the best pitcher I saw all spring, and I’m not just talking about prospects.”

Need we say more?

9. Is Dave Trembley managing his last season in Baltimore?

While many wondered about Trembley’s job security as the Orioles collapsed down the stretch last season, which included a 13-game losing streak that nearly pushed the club past the 100-loss mark, MacPhail retained Trembley while also declaring the 2010 season would be judged more critically on wins and losses.

It’s clear Trembley has had a near-impossible task trying to win with inferior talent in the AL East, but the skipper cannot expect a free ride either. Baserunning gaffes, poor fundamentals, and questionable bullpen management were major issues in 2009, regardless of who was on the field. It’s no secret the Orioles lack the talent of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, so playing fundamentally-sound baseball is an absolute necessity if the club wants to improve in 2010.

Trembley’s supporters continue to claim he hasn’t had a chance to compete in his three seasons as manager, but the lack of talent cannot excuse some of the problems witnessed in 2009. Having bad players doesn’t mean you’re a bad manager, but it doesn’t mean you’re a capable manager either.

It’s imperative for the club to make significant improvement in 2010, or Trembley will be shown the door at the end of the season—if not sooner.

10. Will the Orioles make it an unlucky number 13?

Twelve years.

Twelve painful, long years.

The Orioles begin the new decade after closing out the first 10 years of the century without a winning season, their last winning campaign coming in 1997.

But unlike most of the last 12 years, it really looks as though the team will improve from where it was a year ago, though it’s difficult to go any direction but up after a 98-loss season. The problem is even a 15-game improvement–a tremendous accomplishment—would only create a 79-83 mark and a 13th straight losing season.

If the Orioles have any hope of a .500 season, they not only have to thrive against the AL Central and West but must find a way to avoid the utter embarrassment experienced last year against the Yankees and Red Sox.

The Orioles were 5-13 against the Bronx Bombers, and the results were even worse with the Red Sox, as Baltimore was an egregious 2-16 against Boston. Another 7-29 mark—far and away their worst record against the two AL East powers over the last 12 seasons—is unacceptable, if not unfathomable.

Forget about money, competitive imbalance, or recent history. A .194 winning percentage over 36 games against the Yankees and Red Sox should never happen.

When it all adds up, the Orioles can make significant improvement in 2010, but it looks like a 13th consecutive losing season is almost inevitable.

A record in the neighborhood of 77-85 will not rejuvenate the fan base immediately, but it would be a sizable step in the right direction.

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Orange Chatter: 10 Questions for 2010 (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on 02 April 2010 by Luke Jones

With a brutal, record-setting Baltimore winter thankfully in the rear-view mirror and a beautiful start to April upon us, we now turn our attention to spring and another season of baseball.

Despite a 64-98 record (the club’s worse since 2001) and a second straight last-place finish in 2009, the Orioles appear to be inching closer to respectability, and optimism has grown with a promising collection of young players–both at the major and minor league levels–not seen in these parts in quite some time.

Still, the cold reality of playing in the American League East leaves the possibility of contention as nothing more than an impractical daydream. Even with sterling seasons from the likes of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Brian Matusz, and Brad Bergesen, the stronghold of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays at the top of the division leaves the Orioles overmatched in the toughest division in baseball.

With that said, Andy MacPhail has made it clear the 2010 campaign will be judged on wins and losses after acknowledging his first few seasons in Baltimore were nothing more than developmental years. The pressure will be levied on Dave Trembley after compiling a 172-244 record in his three seasons as skipper of the Orioles.

Substantial improvement is an absolute necessity in 2010, both in continued player development and results on the field. If not, mass changes will be in order, and the absolute confidence bestowed upon MacPhail since arriving halfway through the 2007 season will need to be reconsidered.

But before significant progress can be witnessed in 2010, a plethora of questions must be addressed. Here are the first five of my 10 questions for the 2010 season (click here for Part 2):

1. Will Brian Roberts’ back hold up over the next six months?

Back issues are bad news for any athlete, but when it’s your 32-year-old leadoff hitter and starting second baseman, it’s hard to envision Roberts’ herniated disk in the lower back as an injury that won’t resurface at some point this season.

After receiving an epidural injection in Baltimore in mid-March, Roberts returned to Sarasota, playing in five games and hitting .214 through Friday. All reports indicate the Orioles second baseman is feeling good, but 14 at-bats in sunny Florida is a far cry from the rigors of a 162-game season. Trembley will certainly need to monitor Roberts’ playing time, especially in the cooler climate of April.

MacPhail did provide a nice insurance policy in acquiring middle infielder Julio Lugo from the Cardinals earlier this week. An upgrade over Robert Andino, Lugo would figure to get the nod at second base when Roberts rests.

Even with Lugo in the fold, any extended absence from Roberts would wreak havoc on the balance of the lineup with Lugo, Felix Pie, or Adam Jones being far less attractive options at the top of the order.

2. Will the real Jeremy Guthrie please take the hill (or do we want him to)?

After going 17-17 with a 3.66 ERA and establishing himself as the Orioles’ top starter in the previous two seasons, Guthrie struggled mightily last year, losing 17 games, pitching to a 5.04 ERA, and surrendering a league-high 35 home runs.

With the Orioles acquiring veteran and Opening Day starter Kevin Millwood in December, Guthrie slides down to the No. 2 spot, but his performance in Sarasota has only raised concerns of a hangover from his forgettable 2009 season.

Guthrie is 0-4 with a 7.40 ERA and has surrendered four bombs in his six spring starts. Whether you subscribe to the validity of spring training performance or are willing to overlook it, the veteran no longer appears to have a rock-solid grasp on a spot in the rotation with Chris Tillman waiting in the wings at Norfolk.

It’s imperative for Guthrie to get into the sixth or seventh inning with three young starters in the rotation and a shaky bullpen behind him. In 2009, Guthrie was unable to make quality pitches in tight spots, and American League hitters made him pay.

Trembley will certainly give his best starter over the last three seasons the benefit of the doubt, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old (his birthday is April 8th) must pitch better than he has over the last 12 months, or the club will need to look in another direction.

A best-case scenario would be for Guthrie to regain his pre-2009 form, allowing MacPhail to shop him at the trade deadline this summer. If he cannot rebound, expect Guthrie to eventually settle into a long-relief role.

3. Will Matt Wieters take the next step toward stardom in his sophomore season?

Not even Superman could have fulfilled the impossible expectations thrown upon Wieters in 2009, and, contrary to popular belief, Wieters does not write for The Daily Planet.

After completing one of the finest seasons in the history of minor league baseball in 2008, Wieters was anointed the savior in Baltimore months before debuting against the Detroit Tigers at the end of May last season.

After a few pedestrian months in the big leagues, Wieters caught fire in the month of September, hitting .333 with four home runs and 17 RBI in his final 29 games and flashing signs of his immense potential without the aid of extravagant–and humorous–Chuck Norris-type jokes.

All spring reports point to a more comfortable Wieters, who will not only be depended upon for huge offensive contributions but will also handle a talented, and young, back-end of the rotation.

The club will try to temper expectations by assigning Miguel Tejada (and his 27 combined home runs in the last two seasons) to cleanup duties to start the season, but the 23-year-old switch hitter would figure to settle into the No. 4 spot if indeed “the sun rises when Matt Wieters decides to wake up.”

4. When will we see Chris Tillman on the hill in Baltimore?

In one of the most surprising stories out of Sarasota this spring, David Hernandez beat out the highly-touted right-hander, sending Tillman back to Norfolk after he had started 12 games and pitched to a 5.40 ERA in 2009.

With an increased emphasis on wins and losses, it’s clear the club thinks Hernandez is more likely to succeed in the major league rotation right now. Hernandez will also be 25 in May, and the club needs to find out whether he can stick in the starting rotation before potentially moving him to the late-inning relief role that many insiders project for him. He outpitched Tillman in the spring (a 3.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts and just three walks in 15 innings), but the jury is still out whether Hernandez’s improved command with the breaking ball will remain when the club heads north.

In his short stint in Baltimore, Tillman struggled to command his fastball, so this will clearly be a focal point for the righty in Triple A. Tillman did not pitch poorly this spring, but his nine walks in 16.1 innings indicates command is still an issue for the talented pitcher.

Whether it’s an injury or ineffectiveness from Guthrie or Hernandez, one would fully expect Tillman to be recalled by late May, if not much sooner. If Tillman is truly the tremendous talent so many claim him to be, this temporary demotion should not have any negative effect on his development.

Whenever he does get the call, hopefully he’ll be ready to stick for good.

5. Who will be the starting left fielder when the dust settles in September?

It’s a far cry from John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but a left-field platoon appears to be surfacing once again in Baltimore.

Nolan Reimold appeared set as the left fielder of the future after a successful rookie season in which he hit 15 home runs and slugged .466 in 358 at-bats before ending the season on the disabled list with a left Achilles’ tendon injury, an injury still bothering him this spring.

On the other hand, Felix Pie reaped the benefit from injuries to Reimold and center fielder Adam Jones late in 2009 after a miserable first half in his first season with the Orioles. Hitting just .240 on August 1, Pie reestablished himself as a legitimate starting candidate after hitting .290, clubbing seven home runs, and driving in 19 runs over his final 41 games before suffering a quadriceps injury in the final week of the season.

Both players have battled ailments in spring training (including Friday when Pie left the game after being hit in the lower right leg by a Mariano Rivera pitch), but Pie has been the offensive star of the spring, hitting .351 and slugging a whopping .676 in 37 at-bats.

With the Orioles starting the season on the turf of Tropicana Field, Trembley has named Pie his Opening Day left fielder in order to protect Reimold’s heel. However, it will be interesting to see how the manager distributes at-bats to the two in the early stages of the season.

Reimold provides more pop but lacks the defensive prowess and all-around ability of Pie, but Pie’s poor instincts have irked Trembley–not to mention just a few Orioles fans–on more than one occasion.

And of course, Luke Scott is currently on the roster and figures to serve as the team’s primary designated hitter. If Reimold and Pie both perform and stay healthy–a major question mark at this point–MacPhail could try to move Scott to clear the designated hitter spot for Reimold.

Regardless of who emerges as the starting left fielder by season’s end, it’s certainly refreshing to have two promising candidates in left field for the Orioles after watching retreads such as Jay Payton and Marty Cordova in the last decade.

***Click here for Part 2 of my 10 Questions for 2010 where I ponder the effect of the offseason acquisitions, Dave Trembley’s future, and whether the bullpen will hold up in 2010.***

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I've Got An Offer For You .....

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I’ve Got An Offer For You …..

Posted on 26 March 2010 by Rex Snider

I always enjoy opportunities to meet WNST.net’s listeners and readers. Whether it’s an organized event or just an informal chance meeting, it’s rewarding to actually see the people who SUPPORT us.

So, in the spirit of putting faces to names, I’m going to buy a steak dinner for one of WNST’s fans. Is there a hook? Of course, there’s a hook. But, it’s not a very demanding one …..

Simply predict the Baltimore Orioles win/loss record for the 2010 season. If your prediction is the closest to the team’s actual record, you’ll be the WINNER. And, as a reward, we’ll head downtown on a mutually agreeable evening and I’ll buy you dinner at one of the nicer, upscale steakhouses …..

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Which steakhouse? I don’t know, yet. Please understand WNST benefits from wonderful restaurant clients and it would be unfair to indirectly promote any ONE restaurant over others. Thus, we’ll leave the destination open-ended. But, rest assured, it’ll be a very nice evening.

Even if you’re not a devout baseball fan, it’s still fairly easy to play. Just take 162 games and guess how many of them will end up in the win column, for the Orioles. If you’re thinking 94 wins, so be it. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll stand alone on such a prediction, too.

However, if you are an Orioles fan, you’re probably starting to develop a firm feeling of what these guys are capable of doing.

Of course, you’ll have to consider the likelihood of aging newcomers staying healthy …..
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And the prospect of “Baby Birds” will weigh into your decision, as well …..
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This Orioles team, like many recent editions is fundamentally dependant on 2 or 3 guys having a decent season, and at least one “sleeper” catching us by surprise. If healthy, you can pencil Roberts, Markakis, Jones, Tejada and Scott in for usual, solid contributions. Keep health a factor and the Millwood/Guthrie combination will likely be a positive, too. Finally, toss good sophmore campaigns by Wieters, Matusz and Bergeson into the mix and the Orioles can exceed the typical results of the last decade.

As I said, the team depends on the above cast of characters STAYING ON THE FIELD …..

If the Orioles lose 2 or 3 of them, it’ll be quite difficult to tread water. Of course, the dependable, consistent guys are the keys to the equation. But, the likes of Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are also the surest of bets.

Winning this steak dinner is not as easy as some might think. You can predict the Yankees inside a 10-game window, right? They’ll likley win between 90-100 games. The same goes for the Red Sox. But, the Orioles are quite fragile. I can see them winning as many as 80 ballgames, and I can see them losing 100 games, again, as well.

I think the Orioles are a 20-game window team.

Hmmm ….. that creates a potential problem, right? Provided I receive at least 20 entries, we could end up with a tie between contributions. I’m nowhere near wealthy, so we’ll add a tiebreaker to the mix. Of course, it’s gotta be a good one – almost like a LOTTERY !!!!

The tiebreaker question has to be something NOBODY can rightfully predict. Oh yeah, I’ve got it. In addition to submitting an entry for the Orioles overall record, this season, you’ll also be required to predict how many innings this guy pitches …..
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That’s right, I told you it would be tough. I don’t think anybody knows what to expect from Koji Uehara, huh?

While I’m pretty certain Dave Trembley isn’t really depending on any firm contribution from Koji, he’s likely to be delighted with anything beyond a month or two of decent health.

If Koji left us with any firm impressions after his 2009 campaign, it’s the doubt in his overall durability. He appears to be as tough as Erik Bedard – minus the blistering fastball and sneaky breaker. I know, what’s left? EXACTLY !!!!

It appears Koji is likely to rob David Hernandez of a final bullpen slot. I think that’s unfortunate for a team that is bent on it’s youth growing up together. But, it’s also a topic for another day.

How many innings will Koji pitch, in 2010? He could pitch as many innings as CC Sabathia …..

But, he could also end up pitching as many innings as the local, cat luvin’ tow truck driver …..
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And, therein, lies the more difficult challenge to winning dinner.

Did I mention Ray Bachmann is coming with us? Of course, he is. I’m buying – and he doesn’t eat red meat. Still, it’s a night of hanging out with Rex & Ray (not a very appealing opportunity) and enjoying a meal, together.

Everyone, including WNST personalities, is invited to submit a prediction. However, WNST personalities will participate in representation of a specific fan. Thus, “Bob in Parkville” gets to play, too.

Please submit your predictions by Sunday, March 28th, at noon. I won’t post any predictions until ALL are received and accounted – there’s no need to play “The Price Is Right” and base your prediction on existing, posted ones, if you know what I mean. So, I’ll post all predictions at the same time – on Sunday evening.

Remember – simply predict the Orioles win/loss record, as well as Koji’s total innings pitched, in 2010. The win/loss record is the primary consideration. Koji’s total innings pitched is simply a tiebreaker.

Good Luck …..

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Orioles Hall Of Fame Excludes Palmeiro & Alomar - I Don't Get It ....

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Orioles Hall Of Fame Excludes Palmeiro & Alomar – I Don’t Get It ….

Posted on 24 March 2010 by Rex Snider

On Monday, the Orioles announced 2010’s Hall Of Fame inductees. The list includes former pitching coach, Ray Miller, as well as former manager, Johnny Oates. A hearty congratulations to Ray and Johnny’s family …..

When these latest inductees were announced, I was a little surprised. It’s certainly my oversight, but I think of players prior to anyone else ….. and I think some pretty deserving on-field contributors await the team’s distinction. In fact, as Allen McCallum can attest, I’ve been openly campaigning for Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar for more than a month.

Better yet, lets be accurate, I’ve really been feeding the “Palmeiro – Orioles Hall Of Fame” rumblings, since around January 25th – just a couple days removed from the confirmed reacquisition of Miguel Tejada. And, to dispel any suspicions, I wasn’t being a smartass about it.

I honestly believe Rafael Palmeiro belongs in the BALTIMORE ORIOLES HALL OF FAME …..
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Yet, for the past couple years, I’ve bought the common impression and assumption that the Orioles organization is trying to distance itself from any tie to the albatross known as PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS. I don’t blame them …. and if such a standard existed, I would understand and respect it.

That said, it’s hard for me to believe the Orioles really have such an unspoken standard – if they’re paying Miguel Tejada $6 million to bring his “bag of tricks” back to this clubhouse and in a uniform.

I wholeheartedly believe Miguel Tejada will be a benefit to this 2010 Baltimore Orioles lineup. Call him a “stopgap” (I’ve only heard this term 748,529 times in a few months) or whatever else, he makes the lineup better, in the short term.

And, I don’t wanna beatup on Tejada’s character, while rooting for him to drive in runs – in less than two weeks. It seems kinda hypocritical to me.

Yet, when the Orioles announce another Hall Of Fame class, brimming with freakin’ COACHES, and still without one of the organization’s greatest players EVER, I’m compelled to be honest about the situation. It’s deserving of conversation and dissection.

Just as we hold the Baseball Writers accountable for their decisions on who merits a day in Cooperstown, I believe it’s imperative to learn WHO contributes to the consensus on the Orioles annual induction of immortals. Who decided on this year’s class?

I don’t wanna hear the convenient “Orioles Advocates” response, either. Who are they?
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According to the Orioles Advocates website, the team’s Hall Of Fame process is conducted by board members and “prominent media members.” I’ll asume that I don’t work with any “prominent” media members, at WNST. But, I’ll check …..

I honestly feel we have a rightful expectation to know who to lobby for this cause. If it wasn’t important, the Orioles Hall Of Fame wouldn’t exist and the organization wouldn’t dump money and effort into it.

Do Orioles Advocates board members and “prominent media members” make selections and run ’em up the flag pole, to see if the Orioles organization is comfortable with the choices? I would think so. And, I don’t blame the Orioles, one bit, if they have such an enforcement arm.

If I stood in the shoes of Mr. Angelos, I would want final say on selections for the team’s Hall Of Fame. After all, the selections represent the franchise and the franchise has a public face and image. I get that – I really do. If the two entities (the Orioles & Orioles Advocates) are associated in this endeavor, the team needs final say.

But, tell us.

The Orioles Hall Of Fame will be a significant part of this city’s history – just as much as the resume’ of players who play for the team and wear BALTIMORE across their chests, whenever they visit another city. For me, its very much about civic pride.

Some folks might read this far, while assuming I’m on a mission to stir up controversy. I’m really not …..

If the organization was in a spot where the only alumni worthy of enshrinement was coaches, I would understand – while also admitting a tad bit of embarrassment, in front of the baseball world. How does this look to people in New York, Minnesota or Boston?

Ahh, in truth, they don’t even know. After all, I don’t know who the Twins are inducting, this year. But, I’ll go out on a limb and predict it’s a PLAYER. I’ll just check …..

Well, it was a pretty simple search …..
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That’s right, on September 9th, the Minnesota Twins will be inducting Joe Mauer into the team’s Hall Of Fame. He’s definitely deserving. In fact, rumors persist that the state will be renamed MAUERsota, on the same day.

Whow, whoa ….. I’m just kidding. No need to cite or reference this anywhere else ….. if you know what I mean.

In truth, the Minnesota Twins will be inducting Greg Gagne into the team’s Hall Of Fame, on September 9th. You remember him, right? He was a rather light hitting shortstop, who averaged 105 hits, 9 homers and 10 steals, in 8 seasons with the Twins. For the record, Gagne also got caught stealing nearly as many times …..
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My first impression of Greg Gagne is he’s not really one of the GREATER Twins. But, it’s Minnesota’s deal.

I’m sure the Orioles have former players with Gagne’s achievements, who are on the outside looking into the team’s Hall Of Fame. Heck, they have even more stalward candidates.

The likes of Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro are evidently not worthy enough – or mitigating reasons keep them out. Of course, it’s the latter. We’re not stupid, we get it.

However, I’ve maintained and I still maintain that some sort of STANDARD or degree of morality should be exercised on the current Orioles team, if such a character measurement exists for personnel who will be Orioles “life longers” forever.

What’s the difference?

If somebody in the Warehouse is comfortable in saying “we don’t want steroids in the team’s Hall Of Fame, but we’re okay with having steroids on the present-day team,” I’ve got a problem with that. Hanging an alleged steroid user’s plaque on the wall, in the Club Section, won’t hurt anyone. Yet, acquiring a player who used and distributed steroids is very compromising to the team’s fragile and impressionable young cast.

Have you considered the immediate future of this guy?
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Rafael Palmeiro has no influence on Matt Wieters and his array of young teammates. Miguel Tejada does have influence over them. To be fair, it could be a positive, as well as a negative influence. But, the opportunity exists.

I’d be much more worried about the current Orioles culture, as opposed to recognizing former standouts for a day of pomp and circumstance, in late summer.

I’m not sitting in front of this computer and magically absolving Rafael Palmeiro of any misconduct or sins of the game. That era is etched in history and it will never go away. But, when do you move beyond it?

Rafael Palmeiro collected the five most productive seasons of any Orioles player, ever. That was during his first stint with the team and I’m inclined to think he was a different “player” at that time, if you know what I mean ….

Do you really need to hear him baring his soul? What will it do – beyond potentially revealing a dark period of his life, while humiliating his wife and kids? Miguel Tejada did the same thing – but we’ll be cheering for him in two weeks.

You wanna split hairs? Okay – a urine test caught Palmeiro and Congress caught Tejada.

In fact, if Palmeiro comes out and SAYS ANYTHING, he’ll be caught by Congress, too …..
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If there is one guy who merits a best interest in keeping his mouth shut on the issue, it’s Rafael Palmeiro. Anybody in his shoes would do the very same thing.

Yet, he’s a convenient target for fans and media who are bent on driving the Steroids Era down our collective throats, again, and again, and again. I suspect Rafael Palmeiro might end up carrying most of the baggage for guys who did the same thing as him.

What’s the difference between Palmeiro and Brian Roberts? I’m serious …..

We don’t believe Rafael Palmeiro took a tainted supplement, right? But, we also don’t believe Brian Roberts tried steroids just one time, either. Well, at least most of us don’t believe that story. But, we’re looking forward to Brian Roberts leading off for this Orioles lineup.

And, Brian will be in the Orioles Hall Of Fame someday. Heck, he might be there before Rafael Palmeiro gets the nod.

If we knew who to question, in a respectful manner, it might shed some light on the legitimacy of the Orioles Hall Of Fame election process. Perhaps, we would have a clearer understanding on criteria and protocol. And, we might learn about Rafael Palmeiro’s true chances of joining the “club.”

I think we deserve a transparent process.

If Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar are not deserving of plaques at Camden Yards, so be it …..
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But, those who render such a decision should be compelled to defend it.

The absence of really knowing the system and procedure yielding the Orioles Hall Of Fame process makes it kinda like the decicions Vince McMahon makes whenever his World Wrestling Entertainment company holds another event.

We know wrestling is fake, but we’ve trusted that everything about baseball is real.

This would include annual selections of the Orioles Hall Of Famers. Like I said, we deserve that much …..

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Why The Orioles Control Payroll Costs ???

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Why The Orioles Control Payroll Costs ???

Posted on 24 February 2010 by Rex Snider

Throughout my brief radio career, I’ve made a few distinct observations about Baltimore’s sports fans. Some of these impressions are suited for WNST.net and others are more appropriate for a private conversation, over a couple of cold beers.

Among the most obvious of my observations is that Baltimoreans have been very blunt and sometimes, displayed critical views of the Orioles.

We know the overriding reason for such opinionated outlooks. Everybody knows.

Some people might suggest the Orioles fan base is on it’s last legs. I don’t believe that. We’ve endured an era of losing. In fact, the Baltimore Orioles have played nearly TWO THOUSAND GAMES since concluding their last winning season.

But, people in this city have weathered a legitimate DEPRESSION – yet, they still LOVE baseball.

More than 10,000 people attended a poorly publicized mid-winter event …..
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The initial days of Spring Training are dominating local sports newscasts …..
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Phone lines were CLOGGED with callers as we dissected the team for a couple hours, yesterday …..

Indeed, it’s obvious Baltimore’s sports fans are hungering for baseball season and they’re sharing thoughts, feelings and views. Yeah, that “renewed optimism” I mentioned in yesterday’s blog (The REAL Nick Markakis ….) is alive and well. I dig such interest and hope.

But, expectations are not unrealistic.

For the most part, I’ve found that callers are most interested in seeing the team progress to the next level. And, for the Orioles, such a realization would be something similar to a .500 season. Coupled with a staff of young talent that improves throughout the course of 162 games, I would be very happy with such a feat.

That said, I still have a bad taste in my mouth as I relive a long, long, losing culture. It’s going to take some gratifying success to really remove such horrible memories …..
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I think most fans share my feelings. And, they’ve been very vocal about their discontent. I remember the disgruntled and scorned callers from 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Complaints and criticism have been abundant. The rightful digs covered an array of proposed reasons for the Orioles failures, from both on-field and off-field sources.

However, the overriding culprit OR area of fan concern regarded MONEY. Specifically, fans have openly complained about the amount of money devoted to bolstering the roster, via free agency.

While the pleas for a Christmas season shopping frenzy for free agents have been distinct, it’s not something totally independent to the Baltimore market.

Every November, baseball fans author desirous WISH LISTS of available free agents for their respective hometown teams. This widespread phenomenon is not necessarily a Yankee fan thing – Cardinal fan thing – Mariner fan thing …. or Oriole fan thing.

It’s a BASEBALL FAN THING.

We’re all guilty of it.

Yet, for Orioles fans, I think we’re more deliberate and subsequently obsessive, as we salivate over the list of prospective players. That’s what happens when the cupboard is bare, right?

Prior to 2007, I kinda maintained such a mindset. But, the Orioles finally made a move I trusted …..
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I still trust it.

After years of plugging holes with overpriced, but declining free agents, Andy MacPhail has officially changed the philosophy and mission of the Baltimore Orioles.

Part of his methodology regards building the Orioles from the foundation. This process details the development of a core minor-league system, aplenty of prospects and bonafide potential. I agreed with the recipe when MacPhail took over ….. and I agree with it now.

I’ve hoped the Orioles would tread water while replenishing the organization’s prospect pool. In truth, I haven’t really cared if they finish in 3rd or 5th place – so long as the foundation fortifies. I want the organization to strengthen, from within – and add outside components when the time is right.

Without hesitation, I haven’t wavered on my beliefs. And, it took just one conversation, during Monday’s edition of the “Rex & Ray Show,” to reinforce any and every belief that Andy MacPhail and the Orioles have a PLAN for long-term contention in the AL-East.

While discussing the 2010 version of the Tampa Bay Rays, with Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, it dawned on me …..

Perhaps, the Orioles are trying to ensure they don’t become the NEXT Tampa Bay Rays.

After all, if you think Baltimore’s baseball climate is less than tranquil, it could be much frostier, in Tampa, next spring. In fact, the Rays are likely on the verge of an inevitable setback.

While they’re not in danger of pulling a near-foreclosure, like the Marlins’ famous fire sale, the Rays are set to simply allow their two best offensive forces to walk away, following the 2010 season …..
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Perhaps, Andrew Friedman’s hands are tied. The people of Tampa aren’t exactly flocking to Rays games. They rank 11th of 14 American League teams, in home attendance. And, their TV revenue is incidental compared to many franchises.

Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena will most likely play in different uniforms, in 2011. It’s not as if the Rays were ill-prepared or negligent with their finances. Their respective budget is limited, and they made long-term commitments to Evan Longoria and James Shields, before their free agency windows opened.

They can’t pay everyone – when attendance lags and a new ballpark is nowhere in sight.

The Orioles certainly have greater fiscal means than Tampa. They have higher attendance – with a BAD TEAM. They have a superior ballpark. And, they have something the Rays can only dream of …..
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But, having luxuries such as the appeal of Camden Yards and the marketing arm of MASN does not discount fiscal responsibility. I have no doubt the Orioles budgetary outlook forecasts substantial payroll increases between 2010 and 2015, so long as the team continues to develop, as planned.

I don’t foresee Andy MacPhail telling us how much money the team will spend on payroll, beyond President Obama’s first term. Why should he? Things change and the figures are not wriiten in stone. But, they have a plan. And, in all fairness, I don’t see Theo Epstein, Brian Cashman, Omar Minaya and Ken Williams making such guarantees, either.

If the people of Tampa were more supportive of the Rays organization, the team would probably retain it’s potential free agents. Ironically, the Rays came into existence in the VERY SAME YEAR this Orioles nightmare commenced. Look at both teams, today. The Rays have built an entire organization, from the ground up – in the same period of time the Orioles have taken to nearly hit rock bottom. As much as I support the Orioles of TODAY, this is a fair assessment.

I’ll say something rarely muttered around pro sports …..

THE TAMPA BAY RAYS DESERVE BETTER FROM THEIR FANS. It took a decade to construct a solid, respected AL-East franchise – from nothing more than a blueprint. Mission accomplished. Yet, they’ll now take a step backwards, because of lackluster support. Shame on Tampa – and St. Petersburg.

Carl Crawford will likely have a new address, in 2011 …..
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Carlos Pena will probably be playing elsewhere, too. He’s got an awesome stroke and can anchor a lineup. The Orioles, among other teams, could use his services. Who knows ….. if 2010 brings expected promise, the Orioles could land their legitimate cleanup hitter.

The spirit of this blog really regards fiscal restraint – especially when spending money will make little difference when October rolls around. The Orioles organization is being built with an emphasis on becoming a stable, annual contender. People like asking, “when does the REBUILDING end?” The answer is, “it doesn’t.” The sobering, cold reality of pro sports is seniority is not rewarded with anything more than a pink slip. Franchises always aspire to get younger …..

The Orioles could’ve overpaid for Torii Hunter, following the 2007 season. Many fans were clamoring for it – I remember the calls. He signed a 5 year/$90 million deal with the Angels. It would’ve taken more to bring him here – say, at least, $100 million.

The Orioles could’ve overpaid for Derek Lowe, following the 2008 season. Again, many fans beckoned for it – I took those calls, too. He agreed to a 4 year/$60 million deal with the Braves. Of course, it would’ve taken more to bring him here – probably, $65-$70 million. By the way, the Braves shopped Lowe this off-season. Take notice where he’s still pitching …..

And, the Orioles could’ve overpaid for John Lackey, following the 2009 season. As with the previous examples, many fans wanted this to happen. He ended up with a 5 year/$82.5 million deal with the Red Sox. The Orioles would’ve been required to pay in the neighborhood of $90 million, right?

Yep, the Orioles could be committed to Torii Hunter, Derek Lowe and John Lackey, thru 2012. The team payroll would be $120 million and they wouldn’t win against the Yankees and Red Sox; both rivals would still be stronger. As for Hunter ….. had he joined the Orioles, I guess the Adam Jones deal never materializes. And, how would the likes of Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergeson and David Hernandez earn their innings with pricey veterans clogging the staff?

The prospective names were abundant. Torii Hunter, JD Drew, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez (LOL), Mark Teixeira, AJ Burnett, Derek Lowe, CC Sabathia, Matt Holliday, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Johnny Damon and others were available. But, would such signings really help a team that has committed to building from the foundation?

The Orioles and Andy MacPhail are not blameless. They have made mistakes over the last few off-seasons. The Erik Bedard/Adam Jones deal was a blockbuster win, and Miguel Tejada was traded for maximum value. However, the Orioles also missed out on prime talent that ended up being traded for affordable wares …..
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The truth is the Orioles committed to a long term development plan and an expert stewardship, when Andy MacPhail seized daily control of the organization. I’m convinced he knew what he was doing – and that he KNOWS what he is doing. If the team harbors contracts that amount up to totals exceeding $100 million, what will they do when their homegrown talent requires long term deals?

It’s not a reckless gamble to suggest Adam Jones and Brian Matusz will eventually require REAL MONEY for their services. A couple others will, too.

And, lets not kid ourselves, Matt Wieters and Scott Boras are going to bleed the Orioles, in just a few years. Take a quick look at the current events, in Minnesota, with Joe Mauer ….. and he’s represented by the ethical modesty of Ron Shapiro.

The Orioles are not the Yankees ….

The Orioles are not the Red Sox ….

The Orioles are the Tampa Bay Rays – with money.

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