CHICAGO -- The Baltimore Orioles entered last night's weather watch at Comiskey Park with four victories in their first 11 games, but to hear one of baseball's most knowledgeable scouts tell it, there is no reason to be alarmed.
Los Angeles Dodgers scout Mel Didier has been shadowing the Orioles for the past 10 days, and he has been reading between the line scores.
"I wouldn't be too concerned at this point," he said. "I like their lineup. If the lesser guys like Mike Devereaux and Brady Anderson find a way to get on base ahead of those guys at the heart of the lineup, they're going to be a good offensive club. But I do think that the starting pitching is going to determine how far they go."
Didier has been scouting the major leagues for enough years to view a team such as the Orioles with a very objective -- and critical -- eye. He makes his living evaluating talent and he sees a lot more of it on this year's Orioles roster than last.
"The middle of the lineup really has some pop in it," he said, "and the team speed is good enough to do some things."
The defensive alignment also got decent marks, even though manager Frank Robinson decided at the end of last season that some defensive stability would have to be sacrificed to improve the offensive lineup. The weakest link probably is converted first baseman Randy Milligan, who has been playing most in left field, but Didier doesn't consider that a major area of concern.
"If he plays there every day, that could be a weakness," Didier said. "Not because he's bad. He's just inexperienced. He's working real hard at it. But when you have [Joe] Orsulak out there, with Devereaux or Anderson in center and Dwight Evans in right, they can get the job done defensively."
The player who has most impressed Didier this season probably will come as a surprise. It is catcher Chris Hoiles, who is batting .115 after seven starts.
"He really has improved as a receiver," Didier said. "He still has a way to go, but this is a guy most people looked at as an offensive player. Defensively, he is not a spectacular player, but he looks like he has really worked to improve.
"The infield is solid defensively. The Ripkens are as steady as you can get, and [Craig] Worthington is probably a little better than [Leo] Gomez at third. Glenn Davis made four errors the other day, but I've watched him in the National League and he's a good first baseman."
But the pitching?
"I've always thought very highly of your setup guy [Mark] Williamson, and Gregg Olson is one of the finest young relief pitchers anywhere. Bobby Thigpen gets more opportunities, but Olson -- to me -- has even better stuff."
The starting rotation is the problem, and it might not be when all the kinks are worked out. But the recent injury to Ben McDonald and the uncertainty surrounding Jeff Ballard make the starting five an iffy proposition.
"I've been very impressed with Jose Mesa," Didier said. "If Ben McDonald comes along and Ballard can do what he already has shown he can do, they could be pretty good.
"Jeff Robinson could be a key, if he can steady himself. He always seems to have one good outing and a couple of bad
ones. Dave Johnson is never going to look that great, but give him some runs and he's a battler."
Site: Comiskey Park, Chicago
Orioles starter: Jeff Ballard (1-1, 6.00)
White Sox starter: Charlie Hough (0-0, 4.50)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
At press time, the Chicago White Sox led the Baltimore Orioles, ** 9-1, after six innings after a rain delay of 2 hours, 4 minutes in the second inning.