Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Perennial Doormat Set To Surprise in AL East

Since the Baltimore Orioles’ franchise failed to produce a winning season in 13 years, the casual MLB fan may write it off as a club with no chance to compete with the beasts of the American League East in the 2011 season.

With the Red Sox’ acquisitions of outfielder Carl Crawford and first basemen Adrian Gonzalez, the Yankees’ resigning of a number of key pieces to a perennially playoff-contending team and the progress of the Rays’ and Jays’ respective youth movements, many around the baseball community are predicting a last-place finish in the division for the O’s. However, with a complete makeover of their infield and the development of a number of young pitchers, the Orioles could surprise the baseball world with a highly competitive team.

The Orioles’ offseason wish list was quite long heading into this winter’s “Hot Stove” with holes to fill at third base, shortstop and first base. Not only did the 2010 Orioles lack an offensively productive infield, but they had also lacked a sure-handed defense between the bases.

Orioles General Manager Andy MacPhail got right to work at December’s winter meetings, upgrading the team’s infield by acquiring heavy-hitting third baseman Mark Reynolds from the Arizona Diamondbacks via trade. Reynolds is coming off a career low batting average of .198 in 2010 but was among the leaders in home runs during the 2009 season when he hit 44.

MacPhail made another important addition to the left side of the infield when he acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Minnesota Twins for a pair of right-handed bullpen arms. Hardy has been a serviceable shortstop, first with the Milwaukee Brewers and last year with the Twins, but has been slowed by injuries the last two seasons. He posted his best numbers with the Brewers in the 2007 and 2008 seasons when he finished with batting averages around the .280 mark and hit 50 total home runs. The Orioles have had major problems at the shortstop position since the retirement of the legendary Cal Ripken Jr., and Baltimore fans are hoping that Hardy can provide some stability at that position.

To complete the 2011 infield, the Orioles agreed to terms with former Chicago Cubs first basemen Derrek Lee. Lee has put up MVP-quality numbers at times throughout his career, but at age 35, he might be slowing down. Or, it could be that Lee’s lower production in 2010 was due to a thumb injury which was surgically repaired last offseason. Now that he’s fully healthy, it will be interesting to see how Lee responds in the batter’s box in 2011.

The exclamation point of the offseason came with the signing of slugger Vladimir Guerrero. As a designated hitter, Guerrero performed to the tune of a .300 average with 29 homers and 115 RBI for the Texas Rangers, and he was a key part of the team’s run to the 2010 World Series. Vlad gives the Orioles a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat — a luxury they have lacked for years — and rounds out the lineup quite well.

These moves made sense for the Orioles because of the team’s lack of power-hitting infielders last year. Each of these additions should significantly improve the production Baltimore received from those positions in 2010.

Looking at the makeup of the Orioles, the influx of talented hitters at infield positions along with the incumbent outfield of Felix Pie, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis — plus the presence of up-and-coming catcher Matt Wieters — should give the Orioles a chance in the AL East this year.

Offense has certainly been a problem for the O’s the past several seasons, but the team’s pitching has produced some of the American League’s worst ERAs of recent seasons. However, with a nucleus of young pitchers led by Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergeson, the Orioles can have hope that their staff will improve in 2011.

The most impressive member of the pitching staff is the left-handed Matusz. Matusz had his struggles in his first full season as a Major-League starter, but he finished the season strong. In his last 10 starts of the season, Matusz was 6-1 with a sub-2.50 ERA and 43 strikeouts.

Right-handed starters Arrieta and Bergeson have shown promise in their debuts for Baltimore, but they still have work to do if they want to prove themselves as worthy big-league regulars. Arrieta has had problems with control but boasts a mid-90s fastball and a sharp slider, while Bergeson works with a heavy sinker and average off-speed stuff.

McPhail has put together a competitive team on paper with a good mix of solid offense and young pitching. It will now be up to manager Buck Showalter to continue the crafty leadership he displayed at the end of last season and bring together a winner in Baltimore.

John Balkam is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. THOUGHTS OF A HOMEGROWN HOYA appears in every other Friday edition of HOYA SPORTS.

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