Predicting O's win total is a lose-lose situation

April 02, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

I'm thinking of a number between one and 162.

It's the number of games I think the Orioles will win this year, and I'm hesitant to reveal it for fear it will reveal me as a negative guy.

I'm a little sensitive about that. Nobody wants to be universally loved more than me - except maybe Jimmy Hunter, whose number is 108 - but the number I'm going to throw out there is so, well, right on the money that I'm probably going to get it from both sides of the Orioles fan psyche.

Angry Bitter Orioles Guy is going to call me a homer, because the Orioles, and I quote, "are never, ever going to do anything until Peter Angelos sells the franchise."

Happy Deluded Orioles Guy is going to call me on the orange carpet for bashing "Pete" and perpetuating all the negativity that has surrounded the Orioles for the past nine years.

Of course, my experience as a part-time talk show host tells me that Angry Bitter Orioles Guy and Happy Deluded Orioles Guy could, very possibly, be the same person under varying levels of medication. They might even be "Pete" for all I know, which opens up all sorts of strange psychological possibilities, since I could be referring to Mr. Angelos or I could be referring to me.

(This is getting creepy, because if I'm referring to me, it's possible I could end up dressed like my mother and running a roadside motel with a gothic mansion behind it, which - when you stop and think about it - is only slightly scarier than the other "Pete" running a baseball team.)

The number, by the way, is 78.

That would seem to be a fairly benign number, since it would represent significant improvement over last year's 70 victories and only fall a few wins short of the stated near-term goal of the front office, which is to reach .500. You could even make the case that I'm copping out, since the number is so noncontroversial that it probably looks to a lot of people like I'm afraid to take a strong position on the 2007 season.

Frankly, I would love to write one of those rose-colored season previews that predicts the Orioles will surprise the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but Hunter wasn't willing to meet my price so I'm going with my gut. The team clearly is better than last year. The front office filled all the gaping holes in the roster. The Orioles will be more competitive on a daily basis.

How that translates into a higher win total, however, is another story when you have to play more than one third of your games against big-payroll divisional opponents.

The Yankees have some issues, but they have the wherewithal to acquire help at just about any juncture of the season. The Red Sox already were pretty solid when they added Daisuke Matsuzaka to their starting rotation. The Toronto Blue Jays need to stay healthy, but they have far more established talent than the Orioles.

Count your blessings. I could be like Dayn Perry of, who recently wrote that the Orioles are one of the four most hopeless franchises in baseball (along with the Washington Nationals, the Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), but I like the Orioles' young starting pitchers and I'm satisfied with the direction the front office took over the winter. The mountain is just too high to climb in one season.

Here's a simple calculation that illustrates how difficult it will be for the Orioles to make a major move up the standings. The Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays each won at least 40 games in the division last year. That's an average of at least 10 victories against each of the other teams in the American League East.

It's certainly within the realm of possibility that the Orioles could win the 19-game season series against the Yankees or any of their other division rivals, but can you honestly look at the current roster and imagine the Orioles winning the season series against every one of them?

Too much depends on Opening Night pitcher Erik Bedard and the other two young starting pitchers. They all need to pop at the same time for the Orioles to have any chance of threatening the divisional status quo. That could happen, and it still might not be enough to fuel a legitimate wild-card run.

Sadly, the Orioles have put themselves in a position where modest progress won't cut it. They need to send a message to their fans that it's time to come back to the ballpark. Single-season attendance has dropped from a high of about 3.7 million in the late 1990s to an Oriole Park low of 2.15 million last year, and there is legitimate concern that the downward trend will take the franchise below 2 million if there isn't a dynamic shift in the on-field fortunes of the team.

The new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network eventually is going to boost revenues and allow the front office to spend more on talent, but even the success of MASN is subject to a kind of chicken-and-egg relationship with the performance of the team. That's why this is a watershed year for the Orioles franchise.

I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 162, and it is not enough.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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