Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Where'd These Guys Come From?

What's up with the Orioles? Isn't it supposed to be the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox or perhaps Blue Jays showing the way in the AL East? Well the Rays are doing pretty well and the Yankees and Jays are hangin' in there, but the surprise of the year so far has been the O's. 

In 2009 they finished last and lost almost 100 games (98). In 2010 they finished last and lost almost as many games (96). Last year, under Buck Showalter, they still finished last, but they didn't lose quite so many games (93). Do they have enough talent to keep on getting better? Maybe.

Matt Wieters, their Gold Glove, switch-hitting, 6 foot 5 inch catcher from Goose Creek, South Carolina, was the 5th overall draft pick in 2007. He was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2008. In March of '09 he was the Sports Illustrated coverboy as a top prospect - a catcher who can hit. In 2010, his first year in the bigs, Wieters hit 11 homers. Last year he hit 22. He already has 8 this season to go with an .897 Slugging Average.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy may not have great range, but hits a lot of home runs for a shortstop - 26 in 2007 and 24 in 2008 with the Brewers. He hit 30 last year and he has nine already this year. 

In his first three years with the O's center fielder Adam Jones averaged 20 home runs. This year he already has 11. The Orioles have three of the top ten home run leaders in the league at this point.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds still led the league but he did not strike out 200 times last year (196) after years of 204, 223, and 211 K's. Ouch. But in his best year - in Arizona - he had 44 home runs and 103 RBI and he hit 37 homers in 2011, his first year in Baltimore. He has just two this year and guess what - he's still strikin' out a lot - 36 times in 89 at bats! What if he starts making contact? 

How about their pitching? Well, six foot six Jason Hammell was 27-30 in the past three years in Colorado with an ERA over 4.50, but he's 4-2 this year with a 2.68 ERA. Not much was expected of Brian Matusz (1-9, 10.68 ERA in 2011) and he is 2-4, 5.50 this year. Jake Arrieta, who was 10-8 last season, has disappointed so far just 2-4, 5.15. 

The big star has been leftie Wei-Yin Chen. He's 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA. In 2009 Chen had the lowest ERA (1.54) since 1968 in the Nippon Professional League's Central League. Last night he outpitched C.C. Sabathia, allowing the potent Yankee lineup just four hits in seven innings. 

Are these Orioles the same team we have come to know and expect in last place? Sabathia had lost only twice in 24 starts against the O's. He lost to them last night. A fluke? Well, Baltimore pitchers have now held the Yanks to two or fewer runs in four of their last five meetings.

It helps that their bullpen has been great. They are a combined 8-2. Closer Jim Johnson, who had just nine saves last year, got his 12th in 12 chances in '12 last night. And Pedro Strop (3-1) has finished seven of the Orioles' games. His ERA is just 1.29.

So is Baltimore for real? The Blue Jays thought they had their hands full worrying about passing the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox. Now everybody's got to worry about the O's too.

Okay, you know I always have to say something about the old days. And I try to give Rick and our readers a bit of trivia to take to the local watering hole. So here goes. I mentioned that Matt Wieters, the Oriole catcher, was a switch hitter ... name five well-known catchers who have been switch hitters. Stop reading. Flip through the memory files.

How'd you do? According to the Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers, there have been 82 switch hitters behind the plate. I came up with four of these well-known six ... Todd Hundley, Alan Ashby, Butch Wynegar, Ted Simmons, Jason Varitek, and of course Jorge Posada. Now you're ready to head to the bar.

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

I think that we must believe this Oriole team is for real – regardless of Mssr Trembath's prognostications have indicated. At the moment (healthy and confident), the Orioles are playing like a team that should be competitive throughout the season.

From what I've seen so far, the AL East could well be dominated by this team and Tampa Bay. The Sox are still scuffling, the Yanks are reeling from injuries, and the Jays… Well, the Jays are the Jays. Win a few, lose a few and most of the parts of their engine are sputtering. Where would the team be offensively without Encarnacion and Johnson?