|Hope Abounds in Baltimore||| Print ||
Written by Matt Trueblood (Contact & Archive) on April 04, 2011
Buck Showalter is a fine manager. His track record as manager of the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers proves that he can be successful, given the right team with which to work. After a 34-23 run to finish the season with the Baltimore Orioles in 2010, plenty of pundits have forecast that Showalter will work his magic in long form this year with an Orioles team coming together in a hurry.
And talent abounds. Nick Markakis is a fine all-around player. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are young but continue to learn on the job against the titans of baseball's toughest division. Guerrero, Lee, Reynolds and Hardy bring serious, manly power to the lineup, even if none is in their prime at this point. Luke Scott and Brian Roberts, ever the steady veterans, fill out a strong lineup card.
Defense could be an issue, but then again, Showalter has Felix Pie and Cesar Izturis on his bench to shore up run prevention late in games. Still, as it ever does, the Orioles' victory vine will bare fruit or not based upon the fate of this team's pitching staff.
Talent abounds here, too, but there is danger here. Risk tints the outlook here, too. Obviously, those who pay attention to Baltimore baseball already have their eyes set squarely upon Brian Matusz and his forearm injury. Matusz is the best pitcher at any level in the Orioles system, and if his injury is serious or becomes so, they may as well go back to the draft board.
Setting aside that concern, though, this team could build a winner even in the AL East if a few things break right. Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, who have taken their lumps learning on the job, must mature healthily and emerge as solid mid-rotation starters. Neither will be a stud in 2011 but both could pitch well enough and need to develop over the course of the season going forward.
Zach Britton, Matusz's short-term rotation replacement, has top-tier starter potential and made his debut Sunday. The question is whether he, like Tillman, Arrieta and Matusz have all seemingly done, will take a year or two or three to develop into his best self as a big-league hurler.
More pertinent, perhaps, is the question of whether any of them ever will fully realize their potential. If they do, Baltimore can be a solid team and could even seriously threaten the kings of their realm by the time elite shortstop prospect Manny Machado arrives in 2014. If they do not, given the formidability of their competition, the Orioles will be stuck in the cellar for another decade.