To succeed, Orioles must fare better vs AL elite
The Baltimore Orioles proved last season they could compete against the vast majority of American League teams.
They also went 11-7 against the National League, including 3-0 against World Series runner-up Philadelphia Phillies.
But the Orioles still finished with a 64-98 record because they couldn't beat the AL's finest.
Baltimore went 2-16 against Boston, 5-13 against the world champion New York Yankees and 2-8 against the Los Angeles Angels. That's a dismal 9-37, a major reason Baltimore suffered through its club-record 12th consecutive losing season.
Club president Andy MacPhail addressed several of the team's needs during the offseason. He upgraded both corners of the infield, obtained a new staff ace and secured a stopper to replace reliable George Sherrill.
By welcoming back Miguel Tejada, trading for starter Kevin Millwood and signing free agents Garrett Atkins and Mike Gonzalez, MacPhail appears to have taken the necessary steps to make sure the Orioles are a better team in 2010.
He can only hope the four newcomers make Baltimore good enough to compete in the AL East.
``You want to bring in guys that want to win. Our record was what our record was, but we were horrible against the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels,'' MacPhail said. ``We need to get better against the real good teams. I think we can play with everybody else, but we're going to have to learn how to play with the elite clubs.''
Defeats against Boston included blowouts of 12-1, 18-10, 10-0, 11-5 and 9-3. Baltimore yielded 17 runs in a home loss against Los Angeles and allowed the Yankees to reach double figures four times.
``It's definitely got to change,'' catcher Matt Wieters said. ``For us to get to the playoffs, those are teams you've got to beat. We need to change our mentality. You have to go from having your eyes wide open, thinking, 'I'm playing against A-Rod and Jeter,'' to 'I'm competing against you and I'm going to beat you on this day in this game.'''
The Orioles were 24-48 against the AL East.
``When you're in this division, you've got to beat the elite individuals,'' center fielder Adam Jones said. ``When you play them 18 times apiece, that's a lot of games. That can really determine a lot. We need to get better against Boston and New York.''
If they can do that, the Orioles will take a major step in their quest toward respectability.
``I think we will close the gap this year,'' manager Dave Trembley said. ``How much is yet to be determined.''
Much depends a starting rotation consisting of Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie (who went 10-17 in 2009) and three young pitchers who made their major league debut last year - Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and David Hernandez.
Millwood's locker at camp this spring was placed between those of Matusz and 21-year-old Chris Tillman. It was not a coincidence. If Millwood can help the young players get better, the Orioles will be that much closer to ending their embarrassing run of losing seasons.
``You're not going to win in any division without pitching,'' said Millwood, 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA for Texas last year. ``It's an honor to be called the go-to guy, but we've all got to be aces when we pitch. If we don't think we're capable of that, we shouldn't be pitching anyway.''
The bullpen is dicey. Koji Uehara will start the season on the disabled list, and no one has stepped up to claim his job as a seventh-inning specialist. Jim Johnson will be the setup man for Gonzalez, who has been given the closer's job despite blowing seven of 17 save opportunities with Atlanta in 2009.
The offense will be sound if leadoff hitter Brian Roberts (back) stays healthy and Wieters, Felix Pie, Nolan Reimold and All-Star center fielder Adam Jones continue to progress. Jones earned a Gold Glove last year, but his production at the plate tailed off dramatically in the second half.
Gonzalez wasn't a part of Baltimore's struggle against the AL East last season, but he knows how important it is for the Orioles to hold their own against New York, Boston and even Tampa Bay, which won 84 games last season after reaching the World Series in 2008.
``They're the big dogs. If you want to put a stamp on your team, it's about going out and getting it done against these guys,'' Gonzalez said. ``If you're a competitor and want to show what you can do, that's who you want to do it against.''