A brief look at an opponent we play this weekend.
Dates we play them: 4/29-5/2 at home, 8/8-8/11 @ Baltimore
Offense: Brian Roberts-2B, Nick Markakis-RF, Derrek Lee-1B, Vladimir Guerrero-DH, Luke Scott-LF, Adam Jones-CF, Mark Reynolds-3B, Matt Wieters-C, Robert Andino-SS. Bench: Felix Pie-OF, Cesar Izturis-SS, Jake Fox-UTIL.
And it is officially one of my favorite days of the year, the day I get to write the Baltimore Orioles preview. Baltimore is on their 7th manager in the past nine years. Buck Showalter has been brought in to do what Mike Hargrove, Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo, David Trembley, and Juan Samuel could not: get the team back above .500. Showalter is a very hands-on manager with a history of being an asshole. So you're saying we have an old white authoritarian running the show? That would never happen in Baltimore! Don't be shocked when Buck winds up getting relieved from his position much like Rawls. Brian Roberts is the longest tenured Oriole on the team. The 33 year old second baseman has spent his entire career with the O's, for better and for worse. This makes him the Bunk Moreland of the team. The veteran has had his share of shining moments (6.7 WAR season in 2005/the numerous solved homicides) and flaws and failures (steroid allegations, numerous trips to the disabled list/drinking problem, infidelity). If he can stay healthy, Roberts is still very valuable as he'll put up a mid-.700s OPS with 10 homeruns and 20+ stolen bases. He's not great defensively any more, but he's not bad either. If Roberts is their Bunk, then Nick Markakis is without a doubt McNulty. Two prime examples of world class talents that just haven't lived up to their great promise. Markakis seems to have peaked as a 24 year old. Since his breakout 2008 season his power numbers, steals, and defensive ability have all decreased and/or grown worse. That's not to say that he's become a bad player, just one whose flaws you need to embrace and accept if you want to enjoy the high points as well. Just like our favorite Irish detective. Derrek Lee is the steady older veteran newly assigned to the detail. His best days are definitely behind him, but he still has some left in the tank and can be that good veteran presence you want on a young team like this. In other words, Lester Freamon. Lee can no longer steal bases, but he's more than capable of an OPS around .800 with good defense. He's losing bat speed and has become more vulnerable to fastballs.
Vladimir Guerrero is off to such a bad start that it's beginning to look like he's no longer fit for the game. His edge seems to be gone and his bat is looking really slow compared to what he was capable even two years ago. Yup, that makes him Cutty. His BB% has been plummeting the past few years and he is yet to draw one this season. He absolutely cannot play in the field and will provide a very hollow 20-25 homeruns. If he sticks around another two seasons after 2011, he'll reach the 500 homerun plateau but it will not be fun to watch. There's been a lot written/said about Luke Scott as of late. Despite seeming likeable early in his career, he continues to put his foot in his mouth and make himself harder and harder to root for. He earns his place as Herc. Scott strikes out a good amount, but has the power to make up for it (.235 career ISO). It was kind of surprising that the O's signed Guerrero this winter, seeing as Scott can't play defense either even in left field. Despite his early season struggles, he's still the second hottest bat in Baltimore so far. Like Jim said this morning, if you think our offense is struggling wait until you see tonight's opponent's. Adam Jones was once a top prospect, the crown gem of the Erik Bedard trade with the Mariners. He stumbled out of the gate the past few seasons, only just cracking the 2.0 WAR mark last season. Squandered potential finally coming around? Jones will never have a league average OBP, but he has good power for a center fielder which allows him to have an at worst league average bat all around. He's not a great fielder, but he's no butcher out there either.
Mark Reynolds left the pitching heavy NL West to join the equally pitching heavy AL East. Reynolds is an absolute strikeout machine (38.4 career K%). He offsets this by averaging just about 35 homeruns a year over the past three seasons though. He won't hit under .200 again, but he's probably not going to hit too much higher than it either. Ignore the 24 stolen bases from 2009, he's not passing 15 again any time soon. He's not a good defender either. His poor approach at the plate severely hampers his value, preventing him from reaching the ceiling you'd expect out of a player capable of a 40 homerun season. Matt Wieters may have been the most hyped positional player prospect since Alex Gordon of the Royals. His first two seasons were decent, but he wasn't any better than the average catcher, he was just cheaper. This season he seems to be taking a more prominent role on the team, making him Sydnor in this extended metaphor. His wOBA currently sits just above average, but until he cuts down on strikeouts his lofty ceiling won't be reached. That being said, plus defense from a catcher who can hit 15-20 homeruns is always a nice thing to have. Robert Andino is only starting because J.J. Hardy is on the disabled list with an oblique injury. Andino was at one time the Marlins' shortstop of the future, but fell out of favor when they obtained Hanley Ramirez. The future should have been his, but he had to watch someone close to him just pass him by. He's a utility player at best with marginal power, a terrible batting eye, and a decent glove.
With Brian Matusz on the DL, Jeremy Guthrie continues to remain the default ace of the Orioles. The longest tenured member of the rotation has the second lowest ceiling, but can at least be a mentor to the younger pitchers as they come up. Guthrie struggles with the long ball and doesn't get many strikeouts, but he has good command. He throws a low 90's fastball, a sinker, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. His fastball and slider tend to be his best offerings. Jake Arrieta is one of four young arms establishing themselves in the Charm City. Of the core three (Matusz, Britton, and Arrieta), he projects to be the least of the group, making him Snoop. The 25 year old will suffer growing pains due to his iffy control, but he keeps the ball down and gets a decent amount of strikeouts. Jake has a low to mid 90's fastball, a slider, a curve, and the occasional changeup. The slider is a plus pitch. Zach Britton, the sole southpaw in the rotation with Matusz (who would have been Marlo) on the sideline, has some good power pitches for a lefty. He's never been a big strikeout guy but gets more than his share of groundouts. He gives up few homeruns (obviously since he's a groundballer) and should thrive when J.J. Hardy makes his way back to the infield. Britton has a plus fastball that sits in the low 90's, a plus slider, and a decent changeup. When all is said and done, he'll be Brian's number two guy.
Chris Tillman is the least of the new core four, making him Monk. Tillman hasn't been the same since leaving the minors, as his strikeout rates have dropped a great deal without the accompanying drop in walk rate you would hope to see. Tillman is a flyball pitcher, which is a bad thing to be at Camden Yard. Tillman uses a high 80's fastball, a curveball, a changeup, and a show-me slider. Brad Bergesen once had a place in the rotation, but all the young bloods coming up from the minors have started forcing him out. Once Matusz comes off the DL, Bergesen is almost certain to lose his spot. Brad is a groundballer but has been struggling and giving up too many flyballs for a player with his low strikeout totals. He has a low 90's fastball, a good/decent slider, a changeup and rare curveball. Kevin Gregg has taken his Rec Specs to his fourth team in as many seasons, joining the Orioles as their closer until mid-season when he should be shipped off to a contender. Gregg walks too many guys to be anything more than middle tier (3.77 BB/9), and his strikeout numbers have been declining since he rejoined the American League. He tosses a low 90's fastball, a cutter, a slider, and a split finger. That's a lot of fastballs.
Outlook: While the White Sox have been giving us too many 40 degree days as of late, the Orioles have been down in the 20's. We haven't played them well over the past few years, but there is no reason to think a nice 5-3 season record is unobtainable. Just have to take it step by step.
And go visit Camden Chat. Good people, great writing.