Time has come for Orioles' lineup to deliver

March 31, 2011|Peter Schmuck

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — — The spring has been awash in speculation about the Orioles' new-look offensive lineup, most of it good and some of it not.

The arrival of three veteran sluggers has created all sorts of run-production possibilities, but they remain only that until the lights come on Friday night for their regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. The lingering injury problems that hampered new first baseman Derrek Lee and leadoff hitter Brian Roberts kept everyone in suspense for much of training camp, leaving just a few opportunities for manager Buck Showalter to see the new batting order in full bloom.

Now, we're about to find out just what the past offseason has wrought.

"That's the great thing about baseball,'' Showalter said, as his team went through a final preseason workout under the dome on Thursday afternoon. "Your curiosity is going to be satisfied."

Well, not right away. The Orioles face Rays ace David Price in the first game of the three-game weekend series that leads into the home opener, so it might be touch and go for awhile, but the all pieces appear to have fallen into place just in time.

"It'll be intriguing to see what it looks like when it starts flowing … how they mesh together … whether we can keep that pass-the-baton mentality so that nobody feels he has to go outside the zone and do something the guy behind him can do even better in the zone,'' Showalter said. "If we can keep everybody on the field, we think it will be a good sum-of-the-parts lineup."

Maybe you won't see Mark Reynolds hit the Pepsi sign behind right center field Friday night. Maybe Luke Scott used up his 450-foot restaurant rocket in batting practice on Thursday. Maybe Price will do what great starting pitchers do to explosive lineups. Catcher Matt Wieters says that the team is not focused on just one game or series.

"I don't think it matters who you're going against,'' Wieters said. "We're just excited about the lineup for the whole season, not just one night. I'm confident we're going to be able to put a good lineup out there every day."

It won't be hard to improve on last year's dismal performance. The loss of Roberts early on prevented the Orioles from developing any kind of consistent offensive chemistry, and the lack of pop in the middle of the lineup made life too easy on opposing pitchers.

This year's model — with Lee, Vladimir Guerrero and Reynolds able to leap tall buildings at a single bound — will be hard-pressed not to show dynamic year-over-year improvement in the run-production department.

"Who knows what the numbers will be, but I definitely think we're going to have the opportunity to score a lot more runs,'' Wieters said. "But it will still come down to pitching and defense."

The sense of anticipation is not limited to the Orioles fans that have been waiting so long for an exciting and competitive team. The starting pitchers, who would figure to be the main beneficiaries of this projected offensive largess, already are enjoying the view from the dugout much more than they did in 2010.

"The days I'm not pitching, I'll be at the top step talking with [Jason] Berken or someone,'' said right-hander Jake Arrieta, "and when Vlad gets ahead on the count 2-1, we're talking about how that ball could travel a long, long way. It seems like every time someone steps into the box, they've got the ability to do something at the plate.

"Not that they didn't last year, but pretty much everybody in the lineup has the ability to hit 20 home runs. It's going to be fun to watch. It's a high-powered offense and it's going to take a little pressure off the starters. We're confident if we go out there and trust our stuff, more often than not, we're going to come out ahead."

There are no guarantees, of course. The Orioles still will go into the new season with some issues, but there is no question that the team has far more offensive upside and enough minor league depth to get over some rough spots.

The time has come to see how it all fits together.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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