Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. We’ve already looked at the NL Central and NL East and this week we’re analyzing the AL East teams not based in New York or Boston. We looked at the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday and the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. Today we’ll wrap up the division with the Baltimore Orioles.
Off-Season Moves: The Orioles had a relatively quiet off-season as compared to the rest of the AL East. They brought in third baseman Mark Reynolds — he of the major league-leading 211 strikeouts in 2010 — from Arizona in exchange for two right-handed pitchers. They also traded for shortstop J.J. Hardy and acquired first baseman Derrek Lee, designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, and right-hander Justin Duchscherer via free agency. Baltimore lost second baseman Julio Lugo, left fielder Corey Patterson, first baseman Ty Wigginton and rightie Kevin Millwood to free agency. Finally, the team re-signed reliever Koji Uehara and signed reliever Kevin Gregg.
Strengths: Three of the team’s four 2010 leaders in home runs and RBI — plus the top three batting averages — make up this year’s starting outfield; left fielder Luke Scott (.284, 27, 72), center fielder Adam Jones (.284, 19, 69, pictured above) and right fielder Nick Markakis (.297, 12, 60). The fourth member of that group is the departed Wigginton (.248, 22, 76).
The Orioles had a respectable .259 team batting average in 2010, 13th in the majors, and their off-season should ultimately bring that up. Scott represents an upgrade over Patterson (.269) average-wise, while Scott’s replacement at DH, Guerrero (.300), represents an upgrade there as well. Lee (.260) brings a slightly higher average than the guy he’s replacing, Wigginton. Hardy (.268) at shortstop should hit for a higher average than last year’s regular, Cesar Izturis (.230). The only hit to the team’s average is the addition of Reynolds (.196), but he’s got a career average of .242, so he should hit better than last year.
The back end of this bullpen should be relatively strong also. Gregg appeared in 63 games for the Blue Jays last year and recorded 37 saves with a 3.51 ERA. Uehara saved 13 games for the Orioles last season with a 2.86 ERA in 43 appearances.
Weaknesses: While the back end of the bullpen looks strong, Baltimore is likely going to have tough time getting them the ball with a lead. Rightie Jeremy Guthrie (11-14, 3.83, pictured above) looks to be the No. 1 guy, followed by left-hander Brian Matusz (10-12, 4.30) and righties Brad Bergesen (8-12, 4.98), Chris Tillman (2-5, 5.87) and Jake Arrieta (6-6, 4.66). Only Guthrie and Matusz would even have a shot at cracking almost any other major league rotation.
Aside from a decent batting average, this team really doesn’t do anything very well offensively. They ranked in the bottom third of baseball in almost every offensive category last season including runs, home runs, walks, stolen bases and on-base percentage. Only one Oriole stole more than 20 bags last year, Patterson (21). His departure leaves second baseman Brian Roberts (12), who continues to battle neck and back issues, and Izturis (11), who is unlikely to see regular playing time, as the only other Orioles to steal double digit bases. None of their off-season moves did anything to improve that facet of the team, so they’ll probably take a step back, hurting they’re already horrible offensive numbers.
Summary: The Orioles won just 66 games last year, finishing last in the division. Lee, Hardy, Reynolds and Guerrero should help offensively, but there is no way they get enough pitching to be at all competitive. They need catcher Matt Wieters to take a big step forward in his progression, but that’s also unlikely to be enough to past the Blue Jays for fourth in the division. I’m predicting 68 wins and another fifth place finish.Google+