First Anquan Boldin dropped his opportunity, then T.J. Housmandzadeh dropped his. They didn’t just drop easy catches — the former a touchdown for the lead, and the latter a fourth-down conversion in a big Divisional Playoff match-up — but they also dropped the hopes of hundreds-of-thousands in Baltimore who just wanted another Super Bowl before Ray Lewis became restrained to a walker and Ed Reed had his final interception.
Some cities, like the New England/Boston area, can say, “Hey, at least we have the [insert baseball team here].”
Baltimore hasn’t been able to say that since the early 80′s (subsequently when the Colt’s left town), and for a small amount of time in the mid-90′s.
But what if we were as privileged as some of those cities?
Since Housh and Boldin used their chest instead of their hands, all we have to look forward to are the answers to these ten questions on the 2011 Baltimore Orioles season:
10) Will the New Seats Installed in the Outfield Really Make a Difference?
Stay with me here.
The unofficial number is $46 million.
That isn’t the payroll, either.
The $46 million comes from the new scoreboards in 2008 ($5 million); new seats in 2010 and 2011, as well as a good ole fashioned brick washing and a new roof for the B&O Warehouse ($10 million); and renovations of both Ed Smith Stadium and Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota, Florida – the spring home of the O’s ($31 million).
In the 2011 renovations, 2,300 seats were eliminated from the maximum attendance. The renovations were focused on the outfield where rows and seats were widened for extra leg room and maximum comfort for overweight fans. If the O’s really wanted to make the stadium look less-empty, they could have took a page out of the Charlotte Bobcats’ book and blocked off the upper deck with a curtain.
To make up for the loss of seats and the big money shelled out for three-plus years of renovations, the Orioles announced today (1/20/11) that single game ticket prices will be raised for the 2011 season for the first time since 2006.
“All tickets — except for the cheapest, left-field, upper reserve seats which will remain at $8 and $9 — will increase in cost for 2011, ranging from $1 to $7 extra depending on the game desired and when the tickets are purchased.”
More can be read here about the price hike.
If fans are drawn by the faux sense of achievement orchestrated by Buck Showalter at the end of last season and stay because of the comfy seats; consider the method a success.
9) Will First Round Draft Picks Manny Machado and Matt Hobgood Continue to Develop?
In 2009, the Orioles took right handed pitcher Matt Hobgood with the fifth overall pick. In 2010, the O’s grabbed shortstop Manny Machado with the third overall pick.
Last season while pitching in single-A Delmarva at the age of 19, Hobgood posted a 3-7 record with a 4.40 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 94 innings. Hobgood walked 38 batters, hit nine, threw 16 wild pitches, and had a 1.362 WHIP.
Machado, drawing comparisons to Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez, hit .345 in low A ball in Aberdeen.
The organizations hopes both players become superstars with the big league club in the future. Hobgood, who will be 20 in 2011, has plenty of time to conquer his control issue. Machado, 18 in 2011, has even more time to learn pro ball and tap into talent that looks to bring 20+ HR/.300+ AVG at the major league level.
Hobgood already has his mind ready for improvement.
“Anyone can handle succeeding; scouts want to see how you do and how you react when you fail. That’s when they figure out what type of player you are mentally,” he told me in an email interview.
8 ) Will Zach Britton Make His Major League Debut?
Zach Britton is the highest ranked prospect in the Orioles’ organization for the 2011 season, and for good reason. Between AA and AAA last year at the age of 22, Britton pitched to a 10-7 record with a 2.70 ERA, 124 strikeouts/55 walks, and a 1.239 WHIP.
Some called for Britton to be called up last season, and pitch along side other young hurlers like Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, and Brian Matusz.
In 2011, Britton will start the year with AAA Norfolk barring a sensational spring.
His call-up is likely during the latter part of the season, but not guaranteed. He has large shoes to fill in order to get called up. He needs to continue his sub 3.00 ERA, and improve his control (18 wild pitches in 2010) in order to get a spot-start in an already young rotation.
7) Will Alfredo Simon Play this Season?
The best way to sum all this up is we don’t know.
The stories are conflicting: some say they can prove Simon didn’t fire the shot; others say they can prove he did.
We do know that Simon was, and remains, the lead suspect in the shooting that killed a man and injured another during a New Years celebration in the Dominican.
Miguel Tejada, Julio Lugo, and others are standing behind Simon, claiming he is innocent, and paying for legal help for the 29-year old.
Whether Simon will pitch in 2011 is also unknown.
Simon is a valuable asset to the Orioles, leading the team in saves in 2010.
If Simon is proven innocent and pitches in the 2011 season, he will have to battle with Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara, Jason Berken, Mike Gonzalez, and Jim Johnson for late inning work.
6) Will Brian Roberts Stay Healthy for the Year?
Brian Roberts, Baltimore’s Opening Day starting second baseman every year since 2004, only played in 59 games last year due to a back injury.
Most point to head-first slides on steal attempts as the cause of the back pain; some say it’s from steroids that Brian admitted to using “once” in 2005.
In the 58 Brian Roberts starts in 2010, the Orioles were 30-28; 36-68 in games he didn’t start. He averaged 5.4 runs created per game. The average Oriole created 4.1 per game.
Just look at 2009 to see what a healthy B-Rob can do: 179 hits, 56 doubles, 30 steals, .283 average, 16 homeruns, 110 runs, and 79 RBIs.
A healthy Roberts is capable of stealing 50 bases (had a low 30 in 2009 because of a conservative Dave Trembley), hitting at least 12 homeruns, and swatting 50 doubles (averages 45 doubles per 162 games).
With the Orioles improving their power with the addition of Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds, Brian Roberts’ presence on base will be crucial to the run production of the team.
5) Will Jeremy Guthrie be a Sufficient Ace?
No, that isn’t the rotation for the American League All-Star team, but hell, it could be. It instead is the aces of the four other teams in the AL East. The top three have proved Cy Young status with Romero proving All-Stardom.
The fifth team in the AL East, the O’s, claim Jeremy Guthrie as their ace.
In the last three seasons, Guthrie has a 31-43 record and a 4.17 ERA. After leading the league in losses in 2009 (17), Guthrie had to battle his way to a 11-14 record despite having a 3.83 ERA and a career low 1.161 WHIP. Guthrie was done-in by having the 6th lowest run support in the American League (4.90 runs per game).
Even though Guthrie had a solid 2010 season, he still doesn’t touch Beckett-Sabathia-Price status, and barely pinkies Romero’s.
Can Guthrie be an ace in the AL East for a winning team? No.
Can he be a number two in the AL East for a winning team? Yes.
So what do we do?
No matter how you look at it, the answer is wait. We either have to wait and see if Matusz, Tillman, or Arrieta jump to ace status like many believe all three have the ability to do, or wait and see if the Orioles, under Buck Showalter for the first full season, can make noise in the AL East. If, come mid-summer, the Orioles are challenging the Red Sox for the top spot in the division, or are in the running for the wild card, a move is going to be made for an ace unless there is a player pitching out of his mind (my guess would be Matusz).
So who is out there if the Orioles are actually good this season?
A deal could be made for Ryan Demspter, Jon Garland, Brandon Webb, C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, or Carlos Silva to name a few. Yes, I know some of them aren’t Beckett-Sabathia-Price status either, but having two good front end guys really helps in the playoffs and pre-playoff push.
We have a long ways to go before we think about that, though.
4) Will all the Money Shelled Out for the Bullpen Pay Off?
$1.08 million/1 year
$10.0 million/2 years
$3.0 million/1 year
Total: $14.08 million
If you throw in the contract of Mike Gonzalez who has still to prove himself, the total rises to $26.08 million spent on the bullpen in two seasons.
The contract specifics above descend from Jeremy Accardo to Kevin Gregg to Koji Uehara.
Last season should have left fans worried about paying millions for bullpen talent after Mike Gonzalez blew two saves in the first week of the season and went of the DL shortly. He was making nearly 13 times more than center fielder Adam Jones.
A deep breath will be reserved for Accardo, Uehara, and Gregg as the O’s start the season.
Accardo is coming off two consecutive seasons in the Blue Jays’ minor league system. Gregg could show signs of fatigue after saving 37 games for the Jays last season. Uehara struggled in the hot weather, but still was able to save 13 games and make himself the best pitcher out of the bullpen for the 2010 Birds.
On paper, the Orioles bullpen could be one of the best in the American League. The late innings could be commanded by any combination of Jim Johnson, Alfredo Simon, Koji Uehara, Jason Berken, Kevin Gregg, Mike Gonzalez, and even Jeremy Accardo.
With the many arms and many millions, though, there is just more room to fail.
3) Will Wieters Finally Have the MVP Season We All Expected?
Let’s be honest with ourselves; Matt Wieters cannot win the MVP on the Orioles the way they are.
But Wieters was supposed to be the next big thing, expecting to win at least one (or 23) MVP before his career ended. He has been a flop since his debut in 2009, batting only .266 with 20 homeruns and 98 RBIs.
Change the .266 to .290 and those would be numbers the ones we expected Wieters to have in a single season.
Instead of being the next big thing in Baltimore, Jesus in Cleats struck out 94 times last season while batting below .249. There were whispers of being sent down to AAA, but it never happened.
Yesterday, Orioles reporter Brittany Ghiroli posted a column on Orioles.com stating that Wieters is hoping for a better offensive season.
Even though Wieters has set the bar low thus far, the third-year breakout needs to make up for the first two seasons of disappointment.
A .300 average, 20 homeruns, 80+ RBIs are goals to look at to make Wieters’ year truly a “break out.”
He can certainly do it under the guidance of Buck Showalter and a new hitting coach (Thank God), but some protection in the line-up could help.
Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds are question marks as to what they can bring to the table, and Nick Markakis and Adam Jones aren’t sufficient enough to protect Wieters.
Hey, maybe he could teach Boldin and Housh how to use their hands.
2) Will Some of the Necessary Bounce Back Seasons Occur for Some Players?
We can just call the 2011 Orioles season The Season for Bounce Backs.
Check this out, 2010 season numbers in bold:
Derrek Lee: .260 AVG, 19 HRs, 80 RBIs, .774 OPS, 134 K’s
His 2010 numbers were down significantly from 2009. In 2009 with the Cubs, Lee batted .306 with 35 HRs and 110 RBIs. The Birds signed him on to play first base in a gamble that looks better than the Atkins one last year. If Lee can split the difference between 2010 and 2009, the O’s will be satisfied.
Mark Reynolds: .198 AVG, 32 HRs, 85 RBIs, .753 OPS, 211 K’s
The man holds the top three spots in the most strikeouts in a single season category, but dammit, he can hit the long ball. That’s why the Orioles got him. They also wouldn’t mind if he brought is average over the Mendoza line and hit 44 homers like he did in 2009. If you put your thumb over the homeruns and the RBIs on Reynolds’ 2010 stat sheet, you probably will find the urge to throw up more poignantly than the last time you ate out at Long John Silver’s. Remember, the only other players on the D-Backs that could score runs were Justin Upton and Chris Young. I like Reynolds’ chances in a line-up with D-Lee, B-Rob, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and maybe Matt Wieters.
J.J. Hardy: .268 AVG, 6 HRs, 38 RBIs, .714 OPS, 54 K’s
For Hardy, it’s a bounce back to 2008 that we’re looking for. In 2008, Hardy hit .283 with 24 homers and 31 doubles. If he has a repeat of 2010, the Orioles would still have upgraded offensively at the shortstop position from light hitting Cesar Izturis.
Nolan Reimold: .207 AVG, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs, .610 OPS, 26 K’s
Reimold went from high to low to lower in 2010. There was a Nolan Reimold bobblehead day that Nolan himself wasn’t present for because he was too busy playing baseball in the minor leagues. He lost his job to fan favorite Felix Pie, and is now forced to crawl his way back to the Bigs.
Adam Jones: .284 AVG, 19 HRs, 69 RBIs, .767 OPS, 119 K’s
For Adam there is just two things to improve:
His strikeouts – don’t swing at the breaking balls in the dirt.
And his defense – what the hell happened to you in 2010!?
Mike Gonzalez: 4.01 ERA, 7 Games Finished, 33% Save %, 1.297 WHIP
Who wanted to kill Mike Gonzalez last season? Yeah, a lot of you, and for good reason. Gonzalez is now forced to fall back into the role of set-up man, an area where he flourished in when with the Braves. He could be just like Jim Johnson – great set-up man but just unable to close.
Jim Johnson: 3.42 ERA, 1.405 WHIP, 5 Blown Saves/6 Opportunities
Speaking of Jimbo …
Jim was moved into the closer role after a series of struggling players tried it out as well. After that, he was never the same. He was knocked around as a closer, and only converted one of six saves. Ouch.
Jim will not be the closer this year (hopefully), and he will also have to battle to get his 8th inning role back.
1) Will the Orioles Finish in Fourth Place for the First Time Since 2007?
Some teams hope to finish first; others second. A few even pray for third. Us Orioles? Let’s wish for fourth.
The Blue Jays can easily be overtaken with their “swing for the fences” mentality, but it will be a close run.
The Orioles have Buck on their side, and they also hope for a little luck.
In the Orange Corner, Derek Lee, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Gregg, and J.J. Hardy have been added; in the Blue Corner, Rajai Davis and Octavio Dotel.
What if the Rays fall as fast as their stars left? Carl Crawford is a Red Sock, Carlos Pena is a Cub, and Rafael Soriano is a Yankee. Their line-up suddenly seems worse than the Orange.
It could be a three-team race for third place this season between the Rays, Jays, and O’s.
Forget fourth, we’re coming for third!
Err… well… we’ll try.