Beasts of the AL East: Baltimore Orioles

Beasts of the AL East: Baltimore Orioles

Today begins our 4-part “Beasts of the East” feature here at 4SB. Over the next few days we will be taking a look at the other four teams in the American League East.  To kick the feature off, we’ll be starting with the team that finished last in the division in 2009, the Baltimore Orioles.

Summary of 2009

2009 was a rough year for Baltimore fans, as the Orioles were very clearly in rebuilding mode.  During the offseason, the O’s made a few acquisitions, including Koji Uehara, Cesar Izturis, and Ty Wigginton, but nothing longer than a two-year contract was given.  Baltimore finished the season with a record of 64 wins and 98 losses, worst in the American League.  That said, there were plenty of signs in the ’09 season that Baltimore fans have quite a bit to look forward to in 2010.

Ways They’ve Improved

There is a whole lot to like about the 2010 edition of the Baltimore Orioles, especially when compared to last year’s club.  The Orioles were busy this offseason and made several new additions to their team, solving many of the problems facing their team last year.

AP Photo/Rob Carr

To help out with the offense, Baltimore added the ageless Miguel Tejada, who will be sliding over to third base.  Although, Tejada’s range has been suffering in the late years, he should have no problem manning the hot corner, a less demanding position.  Offensively, Tejada will probably bat around .300 with around 15 home runs, aided by the right-handed hitter-friendly Camden Yards.

Another potentially huge addition to the O’s lineup is the former first baseman of the Rockies, Garret Atkins.  Atkins struggled mightily in 2009, batting a measly .226 with only nine home runs and 46 RBIs.  Given a career line of .289/.354/.457/.811 and the fact that Atkins is only 31, it would be hard for me to believe that last year was anything but an aberration.  Many have claimed that he might just need a change of scenery, and although he will be leaving the hitter’s heaven of Coors Field, Camden Yards isn’t exactly Progressive Field.  Don’t think this is going to be ’06 all over again, but a performance similar to what he did in 2008 wouldn’t surprise me either.  I somewhat optimistically think he’ll hit something around a .280 average with 20 HRs and 90 RBIs, though many in the baseball community believe that the way his numbers have only decreased over the last four years may be a sign that Atkins is on his way out.

The Orioles biggest weakness last year without a doubt was their pitching.  Baltimore’s team ERA last year was 5.15, worst in the American League.  Young ace Jeremy Guthrie, while showing glimmers of potential, just couldn’t seem to keep it together.  The lone bright spot in a very young rotation was rookie Brad Bergeson, who was considered a leading candidate for the Rookie of the Year Award before injuries took him out of the question.  Most analysts agree that the young rotation needed a veteran presence to help guide them.  The front office went out and got just that in right-hander Kevin Millwood.  He had a very good year last year with a 13-10 record, a 3.67 ERA, and 1.34 WHIP.  But I doubt he’ll be able to improve upon that this year.  Instead, I expect Millwood to provide a steady leadership of the staff and help guide a young and very promising, if inexperienced, rotation.

Finally, Mike Gonzalez, the 2009 closer from Atlanta, was added to replace George Sherrill, who went to the Dodgers late last year.  In Gonzalez, the Orioles gained a very talented but inconsistent closer.  At 31 years of age, Mike had a very good year in ’09, posting career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts with a 2.42 ERA and 10 saves.  Given full-time closing duty, I expect saves to rise, but I also think we’ll see that ERA creep up into the low three’s.

Ways They’ve Gotten Worse

Not a whole lot to say here.  I mean it’s hard to get worse from what they did last year.

2010 Outlook

Overall, I think the O’s will give Baltimore fans plenty to cheer about this year.  Having a full year of Matt Wieters, already one of the best catchers in the game, as well as the breaking out of Adam Jones and Nick “The Stick” Markakis gives opposing pitchers a whole lot to worry about in this lineup.  I believe that the rotation will only improve upon last years showing, under the guidance of Millwood, I wouldn’t be surprised to see very big years out of Guthrie and Bergeson.  Also, the up-and-coming prospects of Brian Matsuz and Chris Tillman, have many in Baltimore very excited to see what they can do.  Finally, the bullpen, while still rather weak, is looking at least a little better with the addition Mike Gonzalez.

All in all, don’t expect the Sox to go 16-2 against Baltimore again this year.  The O’s are no longer Boston’s whipping horse and Camden Yards is no longer “Fenway South”.  Baseball Prospectus projects the O’s going 78-84, good for fourth in the division ahead of the crippled Blue Jays.  I have got to agree with them, though certainly .500 ball is not out of reach.  Move over Rays, the Orioles are quickly becoming the new upstarts of the AL East.

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