Orioles are in a perfect spot heading into 2013 season

March 31, 2013|Kevin Cowherd

Let's agree that the Orioles are saying all the right things as they get ready for Tuesday's season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.

They're saying last year's 93 wins were no fluke.

They're saying they're hungrier than ever after finishing second in the American League East and making the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

They're saying all this talk about "regressing to the mean" is hogwash and they'll be better than ever with all their experience and with Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold back.

Now all they have to do is go out and prove it.

But the fact is that everything is setting up perfectly for the Orioles this spring. Actually, it's so perfect it's scary.

For openers, there's hardly any pressure on them, with most so-called experts predicting they'll fall back to earth after shocking the world last season.

This plays wonderfully into the hands of Buck Showalter, who has elevated playing the underdog to an art form.

"We're back lying in the weeds again, and that's fine," the manager told The Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina. "We work pretty good out of the weeds."

Yep, poor ol' Orioles.

Oh, you can see Showalter working the clubhouse now: it's us against the world, boys, nobody believes in you guys, those stupid pundits give us no respect, etc.

Here's the other thing: Not only is there little pressure on the Orioles, but the division is more wide open than it's been in years.

If there's pressure on anyone, it's on the Toronto Blue Jays, who apparently went out and robbed Fort Knox to add big names like Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buerhle and Josh Johnson.

Sure, the Jays could win 95 games and win the AL East. Or they could tank despite the infusion of talent. No one knows how all that talent will mesh, which means the Jays are still unproven at this point, and so is every other team.

The Tampa Bay Rays have their usual great pitching, although losing James Shields could hurt. And their lineup, especially without B.J. Upton, is strictly so-so and could struggle to score runs.

The Boston Red Sox added Shane Victorino, who hit only .255 last year, and Mike Napoli, whose creaky hips are worse than mine. Even shoring up their bullpen with our old friend Koji Uehara, they don't seem to have enough talent to contend. And the Yankees are older and more broken down than that '66 Corvair in your grandfather's driveway.

Of course, the Orioles didn't do a whole lot in the off-season to upgrade significantly, either. And that's putting it mildly.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette didn't go out and get a power-hitting first baseman, which seemed to be the team's most pressing need. Instead, he continued to eschew big-name free agents for over-looked value, and we'll see how that works out this time around.

In fact, the Duke just signed a pair of 36-year-old right-handers, Freddy Garcia and Scott Proctor, for pitching depth, proving you're never too old or too broken down for the Orioles to take a chance on you.

Garcia and Proctor are the kinds of re-treads on which Duquette likes to gamble. Garcia spent the last two seasons with the Yankees, and Proctor pitched for the Doosan Bears in South Korea.

What, you never heard of the Bears? If Kim Jong-un wasn't so crazy, the Duke would probably be scouting in North Korea, too.

Now I'm waiting for the Orioles to sign, I don't know, Charlie Hough next. Heck, they took a look at ancient Miguel Tejada last season, didn't they?

Maybe the Duke's next move is to talk Jim Palmer out of retirement. And, hey, Rick Dempsey's still in town. Maybe he'd give up that MASN gig and the boutique tie biz to catch his old battery-mate again.

I know you can't count heavily on either player because of their injury histories, but I like having both Roberts and Reimold back.

And, by the way, Showalter's decision to have Roberts bat ninth is perfect. It takes a lot of pressure off Roberts, which can only be a good thing.

The former All-Star second baseman has played in only 115 games over the last three years because of concussion issues and a hip injury. This lets him ease back into being an every-day player again. Now he doesn't have to worry about batting lead-off and setting the table for everyone else.

Roberts says he's fine batting ninth, and why wouldn't he be? His main concern now is staying healthy and getting back to being a valuable contributor to this team. Same for Reimold, who adds outfield depth behind Nate McLouth and can DH, provided he can stay off the disabled list.

If they stay healthy and their pitching holds up, the Orioles should be contenders again.

We'll see how they do lying in the weeds.

Showalter loves the view from there.



Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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