Optimism abounds as Baltimore Orioles take flight

Jake Arrieta leads the Baltimore Orioles' staff of young guns. (J. Meric/Getty Images)

It’s the start of another black and orange spring in Baltimore. A sold out crowd filled Camden Yards for opening day and the Orioles thanked them with a win. Jake Arrieta got the start. He changed speeds and mixed pitches like a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Opening day in Baltimore is a celebration in optimism. It symbolizes the start of spring, the roar of the crowd, crack of the bat and also the end of the optimism, at least as far as baseball is concerned. Most experts predict the bottom of the AL East for the Orioles, and the fans in Baltimore are pretty much in agreement. I will try to push the limits of my own common sense and give you some reasons to feel optimistic about the Orioles season.

I don’t feel great about the starting rotation, but I think it’s better than last season. I was a huge fan of Jeremy Guthrie, but I’m not sure how well a number-four starter trying to be a number-one can lead a group of young guys. I actually think it may be better for them to figure it out on their own, with the help of the coaching staff, of course.

The bullpen concerns me, but I’m glad Jim Johnson is the closer. We got rid of a huge problem in Mike Gonzalez last season, now maybe somebody will be dumb enough to take Kevin Gregg off our hands. New acquisitions Pedro Strop and Matt Lindstrom should at least give starting pitchers some confidence in holding leads late in games. Zach Britton is starting the season on the DL with shoulder problems, and may not be ready until June. I’m not glad Britton’s on the DL, but I’m all for him getting work in the minors. Our starting rotation is as good as it can be without a true ace. Hopefully, Arrieta can continue to change speeds, get his curveball over and turn into our opening day starter for years to come. Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel, Brian Matusz and Wei-Yin Chen round out the starting rotation. Matusz really concerns me; he got destroyed last year and would have probably benefit from starting the season in the minors.

Nolan Reimold is starting in left field. Now we can find out if he’s the player we thought he was. I was a fan of Luke Scott, but believed he was a DH at best. With Scott and Felix Pie gone, Reimold will get consistent playing time. The rest of the outfield will be returning from last year, with Adam Jones in center and Nick Markakis in right. Markakis looks to improve on his worst statistical year, while Jones, who had a great 2011, will look to play even better in what is the final year of his contract. Newly acquired center fielder Endy Chavez completes the outfield, filling in wherever necessary.

I guess the O’s are filling the first base and DH positions by committee. Chris Davis and Nick Johnson are sharing first, and Ronny Paulino and Wilson Betemit will swing away at DH. Betemit will give Mark Reynolds much needed rest at third. In a perfect world, Reynolds would need rest every game, having the 2011 league leader in errors at third concerns me for many reasons. Besides the obvious, I don’t think a young pitching staff needs the added burden of wondering if ground balls are going to get by third.

Paulino will be behind the plate when needed, backing up Matt Wieters, who is poised to have a break out year. J.J. Hardy, one of the only positive stories from last season, returns as our shortstop. Robert Andino will continue to start at second. Brian Roberts is still on the disabled list due to concussion-type symptoms. It really doesn’t look good for Roberts, or the Orioles for that matter, since they’re the ones paying him $10 million a year.

I’m not sure how optimistic all this sounds, but for some reason, the Oriole’s roster seems improved. The names don’t say it, but we seem to have more depth at some positions. We didn’t sign any big power hitters, but we signed a few guys in Chavez, Betemit and Paulino, who could get clutch hits when the game’s on the line. The starting rotation could be worse. They’re young and have the opportunity to establish themselves as the future Oriole pitching staff. The additions to the bullpen are yet to be proven. I won’t say too much about them. I was one of the people excited about Gregg last year, and look where that got us.

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