Baltimore Orioles 2010 preview

After 12 consecutive losing seasons and back-to-back last-place finishes, the Orioles had a productive offseason. They added four veterans — two corner infielders, a No. 1 starter and a closer — to a core that features several in-their-prime hitters as well as several ready-for-prime-time youngsters. However, Baltimore still plays in the majors’ toughest division, and bad luck already has struck: Righthander Brad Bergesen injured his shoulder while filming an Orioles TV commercial in December.

Kevin Millwood’s veteran leadership should give the Orioles a nice anchor atop their rotation.
Kevin Millwood’s veteran leadership should give the Orioles a nice anchor atop their rotation.

Three questions

1. How much better will the rotation be?
It can’t be much worse. Orioles starters finished last in the A.L. and 29th in the majors with a 5.37 ERA last season. Jeremy Guthrie led the Orioles with 10 wins last season but also had 17 losses and a 5.04 ERA. Enter Kevin Millwood, acquired from the Rangers this offseason. Millwood is the veteran workhorse this young rotation needs. "I don’t think a lot of people realize his ERA was as low as it was—and he pitched in Texas," Orioles Hall of Fame righthander Jim Palmer said. "He should help everybody. He’s been around. He came up with Atlanta, so he was there with (John) Smoltz, he was there with (Tom) Glavine, he was there with (Greg) Maddux. He’s a No. 1 guy on that staff and takes a lot of pressure off Guthrie."

Still, the back of the rotation is young, with Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Bergesen having combined for 39 career starts—all last season.

2. Can Miguel Tejada play third base?
For several seasons, Tejada resisted making the move from shortstop to third. However, as he entered free agency this offseason, he admitted it was time for the change. Orioles third basemen (namely, Melvin Mora) finished fifth in the majors with a .968 fielding percentage in 2009, so the bar is set high.

In his 13-season major league career, Tejada has played no defensive position other than short. The Orioles know he isn’t the hitter he was during his first go-round with the team (2004-07), but they have to hope Tejada can follow in the footsteps of another well-known shortstop who made the same transition late in his career. Some guy named Cal Ripken. Until we see Tejada at the hot corner in spring training, the jury is out.

3. Will Garrett Atkins rediscover his stroke?
Atkins, primarily a third baseman in his career, will take over at first. But the Orioles signed him for his bat, not his glove. Trouble is, Atkins, who averaged a .305-25-110 stat line with Colorado from 2006-08, slumped to .226-9-48 last season. The Rockies nontendered him in December.

"We are confident that Atkins will have a year more in line with what he showed three out of the last four seasons," manager Dave Trembley said. "A new league, a guy (who) has proven he is an RBI guy and I have a lot of confidence in Terry Crowley, our hitting instructor, to get Atkins back on track."

Projected lineup
1. 2B Brian Roberts: Led majors with 56 doubles.
2. CF Adam Jones: Breakout season: 19 HRs, 70 RBIs in 119 games.
3. RF Nick Markakis: OPS dropped from .897 to .801.
4. 3B Miguel Tejada: Career .321 AVG at Camden Yards.
5. C Matt Wieters: Hit .312 at home, .265 on road.
6. LF Nolan Reimold: Team-best .831 OPS in rookie season.
7. DH Luke Scott: Career-best 25 HRs led team.
8. 1B Garrett Atkins: Hit .199 vs. righthanders.
9. SS Cesar Izturis: Has a career .298 OBP.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Kevin Millwood: 3.17 ERA at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark.
2. RHP Jeremy Guthrie: No months with a sub-4.50 ERA.
3. LHP Brian Matusz: Allowed .315 BA vs. righthanders.
4. RHP Brad Bergesen: 7-1, 268 ERA at home; 0-4, 4.56 on road.
5. RHP Chris Tillman: 15 HRS allowed in 65 IP.

Projected closer
LHP Mike Gonzalez: Career-high 90 K’s in 74 1/3 innings for Braves.

Grades

Offense: B. The Orioles finished in the middle of the pack in most key offensive categories, but this unit has top-10 potential. Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis are arguably the majors’ most underrated outfield trio, and there is speed atop the order with power throughout.

Pitching: D. The rotation has plenty to prove, and the relievers’ 4.78 ERA ranked 28th in the majors. Millwood will help, and Mike Gonzalez will fill the ninth-inning void left by the trade of George Sherrill late last season. Much will depend on the young arms’ maturation and Guthrie’s bounce-back ability.

Bench: C. Assuming he isn’t dealt, Ty Wigginton provides plenty of versatility and some pop. Outfielder Felix Pie finally broke through in 2009, hitting nine homers in a reserve role. Robert Andino can play just about anywhere but hit just .222 last season (nine points better than his career average).

Manager: C. In his first two full seasons in Baltimore, Trembley is 132-191 (.409 winning percentage). However, he hasn’t had much with which to work — until now. He has a nice mix of veterans and emerging youngsters, and improvement will be expected.

Sporting News prediction: With so many promising young stars reaching the majors, there finally is hope. Unfortunately, it won’t translate to more than a fourth-place finish in MLB’s toughest division.

Coming Monday: Phillies preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

After 12 consecutive losing seasons and back-to-back last-place finishes, the Orioles had a productive offseason. They added four veterans — two corner infielders, a No. 1 starter and a closer — to a core that features several in-their-prime hitters as well as several ready-for-prime-time youngsters. However, Baltimore still plays in the majors’ toughest division, and bad luck already has struck: Righthander Brad Bergesen injured his shoulder while filming an Orioles TV commercial in December.

Kevin Millwood’s veteran leadership should give the Orioles a nice anchor atop their rotation.
Kevin Millwood’s veteran leadership should give the Orioles a nice anchor atop their rotation.

Three questions

1. How much better will the rotation be?
It can’t be much worse. Orioles starters finished last in the A.L. and 29th in the majors with a 5.37 ERA last season. Jeremy Guthrie led the Orioles with 10 wins last season but also had 17 losses and a 5.04 ERA. Enter Kevin Millwood, acquired from the Rangers this offseason. Millwood is the veteran workhorse this young rotation needs. "I don’t think a lot of people realize his ERA was as low as it was—and he pitched in Texas," Orioles Hall of Fame righthander Jim Palmer said. "He should help everybody. He’s been around. He came up with Atlanta, so he was there with (John) Smoltz, he was there with (Tom) Glavine, he was there with (Greg) Maddux. He’s a No. 1 guy on that staff and takes a lot of pressure off Guthrie."

Still, the back of the rotation is young, with Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Bergesen having combined for 39 career starts—all last season.

2. Can Miguel Tejada play third base?
For several seasons, Tejada resisted making the move from shortstop to third. However, as he entered free agency this offseason, he admitted it was time for the change. Orioles third basemen (namely, Melvin Mora) finished fifth in the majors with a .968 fielding percentage in 2009, so the bar is set high.

In his 13-season major league career, Tejada has played no defensive position other than short. The Orioles know he isn’t the hitter he was during his first go-round with the team (2004-07), but they have to hope Tejada can follow in the footsteps of another well-known shortstop who made the same transition late in his career. Some guy named Cal Ripken. Until we see Tejada at the hot corner in spring training, the jury is out.

3. Will Garrett Atkins rediscover his stroke?
Atkins, primarily a third baseman in his career, will take over at first. But the Orioles signed him for his bat, not his glove. Trouble is, Atkins, who averaged a .305-25-110 stat line with Colorado from 2006-08, slumped to .226-9-48 last season. The Rockies nontendered him in December.

"We are confident that Atkins will have a year more in line with what he showed three out of the last four seasons," manager Dave Trembley said. "A new league, a guy (who) has proven he is an RBI guy and I have a lot of confidence in Terry Crowley, our hitting instructor, to get Atkins back on track."

Projected lineup
1. 2B Brian Roberts: Led majors with 56 doubles.
2. CF Adam Jones: Breakout season: 19 HRs, 70 RBIs in 119 games.
3. RF Nick Markakis: OPS dropped from .897 to .801.
4. 3B Miguel Tejada: Career .321 AVG at Camden Yards.
5. C Matt Wieters: Hit .312 at home, .265 on road.
6. LF Nolan Reimold: Team-best .831 OPS in rookie season.
7. DH Luke Scott: Career-best 25 HRs led team.
8. 1B Garrett Atkins: Hit .199 vs. righthanders.
9. SS Cesar Izturis: Has a career .298 OBP.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Kevin Millwood: 3.17 ERA at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark.
2. RHP Jeremy Guthrie: No months with a sub-4.50 ERA.
3. LHP Brian Matusz: Allowed .315 BA vs. righthanders.
4. RHP Brad Bergesen: 7-1, 268 ERA at home; 0-4, 4.56 on road.
5. RHP Chris Tillman: 15 HRS allowed in 65 IP.

Projected closer
LHP Mike Gonzalez: Career-high 90 K’s in 74 1/3 innings for Braves.

Grades

Offense: B. The Orioles finished in the middle of the pack in most key offensive categories, but this unit has top-10 potential. Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis are arguably the majors’ most underrated outfield trio, and there is speed atop the order with power throughout.

Pitching: D. The rotation has plenty to prove, and the relievers’ 4.78 ERA ranked 28th in the majors. Millwood will help, and Mike Gonzalez will fill the ninth-inning void left by the trade of George Sherrill late last season. Much will depend on the young arms’ maturation and Guthrie’s bounce-back ability.

Bench: C. Assuming he isn’t dealt, Ty Wigginton provides plenty of versatility and some pop. Outfielder Felix Pie finally broke through in 2009, hitting nine homers in a reserve role. Robert Andino can play just about anywhere but hit just .222 last season (nine points better than his career average).

Manager: C. In his first two full seasons in Baltimore, Trembley is 132-191 (.409 winning percentage). However, he hasn’t had much with which to work — until now. He has a nice mix of veterans and emerging youngsters, and improvement will be expected.

Sporting News prediction: With so many promising young stars reaching the majors, there finally is hope. Unfortunately, it won’t translate to more than a fourth-place finish in MLB’s toughest division.

Coming Monday: Phillies preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

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