Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Can Baltimore Contend?

No. But just as I answered in DV's post about Tampa Bay two days ago, it's a complimentary no. They probably aren't ready to win the division or get in the mix for a Wild Card with the Yankees and Red Sox atop the division, but like Tampa they are good enough to make it tough on both of these teams and perhaps spoil it for both of them (The combination of these two teams together could really make things interesting in terms of determining the AL East and Wild Card this year. It's going to be a very tough division once again.).

They didn't score runs at all last year, but they added Vladimir Guerrero, Derek Lee, and Mark Reynolds, which is enough to give most teams a lift. If Brian Roberts can stay healthy, it's almost like they have a brand new lineup in 2011. And they already have good to very good pieces in Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Luke Scott. That's not going to be a fun lineup to pitch to, and they are going to score a lot more runs than they did last year. A lot.

They got similarly poor starting pitching last year. But Matusz (in particular), Tillman, and Arrieta are youngsters with upside, they have Guthrie, and added Duchscherer. They probably won't turn this around as dramatically as they will with the offense, but this should be a better rotation.

Their bullpen was actually their highest ranked unit amongst the three last year, which isn't necessarily a good thing since they had the 24th best bullpen ERA and 30 best save percentage. Boston wasn't much better coming in at 24th and 23rd in those categories respectively. The Orioles added Kevin Gregg and the Red Sox added Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, so I would say there is no reason for the Orioles to be any less optimistic about their bullpen than the Red Sox, but they don't have Daniel Bard and the Red Sox do. Gregg should team up with Uehara to improve the bullpen from last year, and I guess it would be tougher for them to be a lot worse. Despite being improved, on paper this does not look like a great unit. Certainly the least improved of the three.

But continuing the complimentary "no" answer to the question posed in this post, the bottom line is they have improved in all three facets of the game. Not many teams can say that. I understand it's easier to do this when you were as bad as the Orioles were last year, because there is a lot of room for improvement. But the bottom line is they used up a lot of that room. Any time you improve all three areas of the game you are going to be better. I'm a buyer on their offense bigtime if they can stay healthy, and if they can get Matusz, Guthrie, and either Duchscherer or one of the kids to offer some consistent pitching, they won't be a pushover.

Obviously there is a long way between not being a pushover and contending, and I primarily titled the post as I did to stay consistent with DV's from the other day. But I also titled it that way to point out that I think Baltimore, while they may not contend, is going to be good enough to mix it up. That's a stark departure from their recent history, as they haven't won 70 or more games since 2006, when they won exactly 70 games. I think this team is going to be very, very different from those teams.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

When I looked at the title of your post I was going to just cut right to the chase and say that there isn't even the need for a can/will distinction, that the answer is 'no.' But then I read the post and the Orioles, on paper, look much, much better than I thought. Of course, I thought they were going to be a 59 win team, so 77 wins, while a HUGE improvement, is not enough to contend. And I think that's probably where they'll be--somewhere between 72 and 80 wins and they'll score some runs. But the entire pitching staff is pretty weak even with all the potential that some of those young guys have and ultimately that will be their undoing.

--the Gunn

The GM said...

I was thinking this team could be an 80-win team, which is progress for this organization. Their lineup is quite good, especially if the second-highest-paid DH of the 2010-11 contract market (more on this tomorrow) continues his renaissance. I also have a man-crush on Luke Scott the same way Pat had a man-crush on Aaron Rowand back in the day.

I was going to say the good Orioles teams were built on pitching, but I just looked at the numbers and found out that was crap. The 1996 team that was one pre-Wesleyan punk away from perhaps a World Series only had one starter (Mussina) with an ERA above league-average. Their bullpen was good, but they were built on a lineup that had seven 20-HR hitters. I know that times have changed a little bit, and I know that this team is getting there offensively. They're close enough to there to win 80 games.

Despite a rotation that will probably struggle unless Duchscherer is 100% and a bullpen where you have to be smoking something if you're excited about Kevin Gregg, the Orioles should be able to have an okay season.

Ross Kaplan said...

The Yankees, Sox and Rays are the only legitimate contenders in the AL East, but the Orioles and Blue Jays are pretty decent and might contend in a different division. My point is that I don't think there's a single horrible team in this division. At least on paper, the bottom 2 have a lot of flaws, but also a lot of young talent.