Orioles ready to take flight in AL East
Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 00:03
For the past decade, the AL East race has consistently been a two-man show. The division has been dominated by the Yankees and the Red Sox, and it was not until recently that the Devil Rays finally made good on all of those first-round draft picks and made a trip to the World Series, solidifying itself in the conversation.
The offseason was characterized by serious acquisitions by the Red Sox, who signed both Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. The Yankees made some moves of their own, acquiring Rafael Soriano and Russell Martin. Even the Rays joined in, signing outfielders Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. However, as the season quickly approaches, it is another AL East team who is making noise in spring training: the Baltimore Orioles. Driven by new players and a veteran coach, the Orioles appear to be the breakout team of the year.
Feeling the need to strengthen their team, the Orioles were uncharacteristically active this offseason. The Orioles began their additions by addressing infield concerns. With veteran Brian Roberts the only mainstay at second base, the Orioles added first-baseman Derrek Lee, shortstop J.J. Hardy, and third-baseman Mark Reynolds to the mix. A once relatively unknown infield now consists of solid players at every position.
The new faces should provide instant power in the middle of the Orioles' lineup, as well as experience. Along the same lines, the Orioles' signing of veteran Vladimir Guerrero provides them with a veteran All-Star who still has the ability to hit any pitch out of the park. Morever, the Orioles also added help on the mound, signing pitchers Justin Duchscherer, Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo.
These additions alone would not be enough to move the Orioles from the cellar of the AL East. But the Orioles have also quietly developed many talented players over the past few years. The Orioles are counting on Matt Wieters to be the catcher of the future. The outfield is guided by Nick Markakis and Adam Jones. Altogether, lack of talent will no longer be a problem for the Orioles, as the combination of team veterans and new faces contribute to a well-rounded team.
Equally important to the Orioles' formula for success is coach Buck Showalter. After a forgetful start to the beginning of last season, the Orioles tapped Showalter, a manager at the time, to guide the team. With low expectations, Showalter did the unthinkable: led the Orioles to a winning record. The Orioles earned 34 wins in their remaining 57 games, and although the team missed the postseason, Showalter effectively saved the season. What once was another standard season for the perennial last-place team in baseball's toughest division was transformed into an inspirational finish that has continued through the offseason and into spring training.
Although it is impossible to pinpoint what will happen across a 162-game season, the Orioles will undoubtedly improve on last season and should confidently finish .500 or better. The competition is never lacking in the AL East, but don't be surprised if these birds don't fly south for the winter, but instead end up near the top of the division.