A brief look at an out of division opponent we're playing this week.
Dates we play them: 4/21-4/23 @ Baltimore, 7/17-7/19 at home, 8/21-8/23 at home
Offense: A potential lineup: Brian Roberts-2B, Adam Jones-CF, Nick Markakis-RF, Aubrey Huff-1B, Ty Wigginton-3B, Luke Scott-DH, Felix Pie-LF, Gregg Zaun-C, Cesar Izturis-SS Bench players: Melvin Mora-3B, Ryan Freel-UTIL
Brian Roberts is probably never going to reproduce the power numbers he put up in 2005, but since then he has improved his game in two other key areas for a player of his skill set: BB% and SB success rate. Roberts has posted an OBP of .377 over the past two seasons and has stolen 90 bases while only being caught 17 times. He was just given a four-year extension, which seems odd seing as he will turn 32 during the playoffs this year and Baltimore is probably two years away from being a relevant team in the AL East. Adam Jones is one of the key pieces obtained from Seattle in the Erik Bedard deal. The 23 year old was worth 2.2 wins above replacement last year, based on the strength of his stellar glovework. While one season isn't enough to make assumptions about defensive play, Jones seems to be a plus defender. If his hot start this season is any indication of improvements being made at the plate, Jones could be part of an amazing young outfield that will play at Camden Yards for years to come. Nick Markakis is the new face of the franchise. At 25, Markakis does just about everything well and should continue to improve over the next few seasons, especially now that the lineup around him actually shows promise of improving. Aubrey Huff probably would have been sent packing last season if he hadn't had the second-best season of his career after this wonderful radio interview. He is also pretty much a DH playing first base. This will most likely be his last season in the Charm City.
Ty Wigginton was brought in as insurance for the aging Melvin Mora. Ty is unlikely to match last year's numbers, but at $6 mil for 2 years it doesn't really matter if he does. He was worth the contract. Making Luke Scott the regular DH should help to improve the O's outfield defense, as his replacement in left Felix Pie is more athletic. Somehow Pie is better in center than left. Maybe KW is right about center being the easiest. If Pie and Scott could merge into one player, they would be a decent leftfielder. As we know from experience, it doesn't work. Zaun was brought in to hold down catcher until the top-prospect in all of baseball Matt Wieters is ultimately called up. Zaun will then become a solid back-up, with an amazing website. Cesar Izturis is essentially a Hispanic-Adam Everett. He has no bat, posts a sub-league average OBP, and is good enough with his glove to come out positive in WAR.
Pitching: The current rotation and closer: Jeremy Guthrie-RHP, Koji Uehara-RHP, Mark Hendrickson-LHP, Adam Eaton-RHP Bullpen: George Sherrill-LHP
Baltimore's biggest problem continues to plague them. They have ranked 13th in the AL in runs allowed per game the past three seasons. They may break that trend this year, but probably not by much. Beyond Jeremy Guthrie, there isn't much to look at in this rotation. Guthrie has been a solid pitcher the last two seasons, posting an ERA+ of 125. His marked improvement from his days in Cleveland is most likely a result of keeping his BB/9 under three for the first time in his major league career. I'm not going to lie, I couldn't find much on Koji Uehara, but here are his numbers from Japan. It looks like he was a control freak over there. We'll have to wait and see if that translates to pitching in the AL East, but he seems to love Baltimore and is the Orioles first Japanese born player. Mark Hendrickson is a gigantic left-handed journeyman now playing for his fifth team. He's fairly unimpressive and the most interesting thing about him is that he played in the NBA and was the 31st overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft. Adam Eaton is terrible. He used to be a decent fifth starter/innings eater, but has devolved into crap the past two years. He also seems to be delusional, claiming he helped the Phillies win it all last year and make the playoffs in 2007. You'll notice there is no fifth starter. Baltimore's depth chart doesn't have one listed. Brad Bergesen will be making his major league debut in a spot start against us tomorrow night. Baseball America calls him the pitcher with the best control in the O's farm system.
George Sherill is not long for the role of closer. He walks too many guys and posted a lowly 1.76 K/BB rate last year. The only thing keeping him in the closer role is the fact that his heir apparent, Chris Ray, has been pitching pretty poorly himself so far this season. There is hope for the rotation, as the 22nd, 25th, and 67th best prospects pitch for the O's minor league affiliates. Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta all project to be better than every current member of Baltimore's rotation.
Outlook: While Baltimore's future is starting to look bright after dwelling in the cellar of the AL East for the past decade, they are at soonest about two seasons away from being a true threat to the rest of baseball. We play nine games against the Orioles this year, six of which are at home. I see no reason why the Sox shouldn't take the season series from the O's in 2009.