2011 MLB Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles 2011 MLB Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles 2011 MLB Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles

2011 MLB Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Over the last 13 seasons, the Baltimore Orioles have been the bottom-feeders of the AL East; often referred as “the toughest division in baseball.”

The O’s started last season 2-16, which added to an already the diminishing fan base at Camden Yard.

Looking for an answer, the O’s made three managerial changes. I guess three times a charm, as on August 1st, Buck Showalter took over in Baltimore and they O’s finally got their man.

Under Showalter, the team went 36-23, the best record in the AL East. The pitching staff made 36 quality starts and the bats averaged .300; so whatever Showalter was cooking, the O’s players were eating.

So, how do the Birds look heading into 2011?

The Positives:

Showalter could not have been a better fit, as his confidence became infectious, proved by O’s ending the 2010 season winning. The fans started showing up again at the Yard and the O’s displayed resilience.

The O’s needed a power bat at third base, so they sent some prospects to the Diamondbacks and got 3B Mark Reynolds in return. Reynolds averaged nearly 35 homers for the last three seasons, but the tradeoff is his 200+ strikeouts each season.  The O’s enhanced their infield defense by signing 1B Derek Lee and trading with the Twins for shortstop JJ Hardy.

The O’s finished their off-season just like they did the 2010 season, as without question the $8 million one-year deal with future Hall-of-Famer and perennial All-Star Vladimir Guerrero was their biggest upgrade. Vlad had a .300 batting average, with 29 homers and 115 RBI last season with the Rangers. Bringing in Vlad makes a statement not only at the plate, but also with his influence. This move was owed, as the O’s have one of the best fan-bases in sports who needed a jump and Vlad’s name does that.

The Birds have young pitching with a lot of promise; so adding veteran SP Justin Duchscherer even with his injuries makes a lot of sense. Also, adding two Blue Jays, Jeremy Accardo and Kevin Gregg solidify their bullpen.

The O’s made a lot of moves this off-season, paying attention to detail in filling the major holes for the immediate season. They were already above average in the outfield with Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, so focusing in on players to surround 2B Brian Roberts was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Point being, the O’s had a constructive few months and the team looks respectable heading into 2011.

The Negatives:

Even though the Orioles could win the most improved award this off-season, but without the team trading themselves out of the AL East they still have ways to go.

Playing the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays 18-19 times each season is tough, but if Baltimore can come in any higher than last place it will be a marked improvement and prove they are on the right track. Still, goal should be postseason, even though it is a long shot if all the cards fall perfectly and the other teams have bad luck, you never know.

For any of this to happen the O’s have to stay healthy, and there new additions don’t come without some injury histories. Every team’s primary target is to stay fit, so the O’s are not alone here.

Players To Watch:

2B Brian Roberts needs to stay healthy. Roberts’ hits leadoff and when any team loses that bat to the DL, it can muddle entire line-ups. He was limited to 59 games in 2010 and O’s have proven to win more when he plays.

3B Mark Reynolds brings power and presence to a weak line-up, but if he can get his strikeout rate down by a lot it will make the O’s a serious threat. Even with Reynolds racking-up 32 home-runs in 2010, his batting average was a pathetic .189 and his 211 strikeouts were the highest in baseball. Roberts had 223 strikeouts in 2009 and 204 in 2008, so he has topped this category for three seasons.  Reynolds needs to cut this number by at least 25%, he is only 27 so it is possible with hard work, maybe not this season but in two or three.

2011 AL East Prediction:

Baltimore Orioles will finish in fourth or fifth place, but will have a record that is over .500.

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