At last, the baseball season is upon us—and what better reason for a completely off-topic blog post?  As the famous saying goes, everyone is in first place on opening day.  As an Oriole fan, Opening Day always means different things in different years.  In some of the tough years (like 2001-2003), I went in with zero expectations other than pain. After all, the teams weren’t very exciting, they were clearly on the decline, and there was no reason for optimism.  Then came the middle of the 2003 season when things started picking up.  They weren’t necessarily winning, but they became exciting. Luis Matos and Brian Roberts were called up and provided a shot in the arm.  Sidney Ponson and Jay Gibbons started delivering on some of the potential that had been promised for so long.  I actually started enjoying baseball again.  When the O’s picked up Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, and Rafael Palmeiro last year, I finally got optimistic on Opening Day—but I still managed expectations, knowing they weren’t a playoff team.  As it turned out, they still played below 500, but take away their play against the A’s and Yankees (against whom they just seemed jinxed) and they were a quality team.  They kept improving and gelling as the season wore on.  And they were definitely exciting…

 

So, for the first time in at least five years, I believe the Orioles will be in contention in September.  The expectations are actually raised.  Call me hopelessly optimistic, but I think they will be better than last year and make a run at the Wild Card.  But I get deflated when I watch the so-called experts and their picks for the year.  ESPN had about 20 guys pick who would win the AL East and the Wild Card and, with the exception of one who picked the Indians as the Wild Card, the Yankees and Red Sox were the teams picked by everyone.  Everyone!  Not one person hinted that the Orioles could even surprise.  The naysayers of doom feel my Orioles don’t have enough starting pitching to sustain a winning season.  The offense is solid (and got more solid with the addition of Slamming Sammy Sosa) and they didn’t lose anyone vital (unlike the Pedro-less Red Sox), but they couldn’t add an ace.  The Orioles tried to upgrade in the off-season, but they were turned down by free agent Carl Pavano (who decided to go to the Yankees) and failed to pull off a deal for Tim Hudson.  That said, as pitching coach Ray Miller put it, it wasn’t a tragedy to lose out on Pavano (at least with that kinda $$ being tossed around) or Hudson (actually, he admitted this was a tragedy as Hudson is a special pitcher, but not that bad given the young talent the A’s were asking for) because there’s a lot of talent on the Orioles pitching staff that no one credits.  Rodrigo Lopez is good for 15 wins if he stays healthy.  Don’t get me started on Sidney Ponson, other than to say that he’s not a bad fourth guy to have when he keeps his head on straight and I see 10-15 wins out of him.  Bruce Chen is a serviceable fifth guy that’s probably as good as most fifths.  So that leaves #2 and #3—Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard.  These guys have an immense amount of talent and were some of the best kept secrets in the American League.  But apparently, according to the experts, it’s better to invest in overpriced free agents (Pavano, Matt Clement, Jaret Wright, etc.) than take a chance on young guys.  Sadly, people ignore the details (the Orioles went from the worst pitching team in the AL to the second best after Ray Miller was hired) and continue to use conventional wisdom that says that they must be known names to have a chance of succeeding (can you say “Moneyball”?).  I don’t know if Cabrera or Bedard will necessarily be vying for the Cy Young Award at year’s end, but if they stay healthy, I bet at least one of them wins 15 games.  And, of course, when Bill Beane was trying to make the deal for Hudson, he was eying Hayden Penn and John Maine, who are down in the minors.  So, needless to say, there is some talent waiting in the wings that comes highly endorsed...

 

Will the Orioles win the AL East?  I doubt it.  The wild card?  Probably not.  But they might—and that’s what makes baseball so much fun.  Everyone makes predictions and, at the end of the year, there is a whole host of “I told you sos” tossed out by the guys that made the good calls.  Well, I am going to challenge the opinions of the 20 experts.  It says here that if they stay healthy, the Orioles are going to surprise a lot of people. And I guarantee they will be fun to watch.  I know I’ve already got my tickets for their next trip to Safeco Field and my MLBTV subscription for when they’re elsewhere.  Bring on the season!

 

{Nirvana - With The Lights Out}