Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The O's at Mile Marker 3

Since the fourth week of the season starts about as late as possible for the Orioles, 10:10 on the West Coast, I've taken the opportunity to wait on the evaluation after three weeks until now.

If you're an Orioles fan and you've got a realistic approach to what is going on, you've got to be pleased by what you've seen thus far. This team has shown that might not be the 100 loss team that everyone was expecting. The reason, the pitching hasn't been bad.

The starters have done enough to keep the Orioles in game, and for the most part the bullpen has been fantastic.

As far as the rotation is concerned, Jeremy Guthrie hasn't really pitched as well as he did in his first season with the Orioles, but he's given the Orioles plenty of chances to win. Steve Trachsel has filled innings, and Brian Burres is flat out scary out there but somehow he wiggles out of trouble. Daniel Cabrera has continued his routine of providing enough promise every second or third start to think that someday he might be a star. The difference this time is the bad starts haven't really been that bad. Adam Loewen has been rusty, but I was impressed with his curve ball the last time. If he regains his command of the fastball, and I suspect he will soon, he'll continue to mature as a major leaguer.

The promise has come from the bullpen. It appears the Orioles picked up some fine arms in the offseason. George Sherrill has shown he is capable of serving as the closer. Dennis Sarfate's stuff is quality and he's had many more good outings than bad. Matt Albers has been the team's most consistent pitcher and he even gave them one quality spot start.

Meanwhile, Jim Johnson has transitioned to the bullpen and has been better than ever imagined. All of that has allowed Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford to pitch in more accustomed roles and the manager has confidence in them in those roles.

The young outfield has been the real bright spot for the position players. Luke Scott is probably the only player who has really played above his head right now. He's had an average hovering around .400 all season and has shown the ability to hit lefthanders as well. Nick Markakis is budding on superstardom and despite the fact that team's are trying to avoid pitching to him, he has remained patient at the plate. He's on pace for a 315-26-90 type season. He's the reason to believe in this team. Adam Jones has been above average in centerfield and shown glimmers of true promise at the plate. It's exciting to think about the future, when you think about these guys.

The reality is there probably aren't too many parts of the infield that are going to be around when the team has the ability to truly contend in several years. I've wavered back and forth on whether they should trade Brian Roberts or hold onto him. I think he could be the type of player who yields the Orioles four or five more parts in the rebuilding process just as Bedard and Tejeda did. And passing that up, might not be worth it. The other guys have hit enough and in spurts to help the Orioles score enough runs. I think that Fahey and Hernandez are currently auditioning for the backup shortstop job. I wouldn't be surprised to see Alex Cintron join the team in Chicago or at home next week.

The next 17 of 20 games are on the road. The six this week (the Orioles also play in Chicago next Monday) are against two teams that are now thought of as contenders. Seattle will certainly like to avenge some of the damage the Orioles did in the big sweep the other week, and the White Sox are a team that has started hot and will look to take advantage of the team that is supposed to be at the bottom of the AL East on its home field. I'm a big believer that taking a season, series by series is a key for any team, and especially a young team. The Orioles have fared very well in series baseball this year. I'd love to see them get two of three in Seattle and then split the four games in Chicago.

As an Orioles fan, our expectations have been lowered. The first few weeks of the season have been exciting and they've done something to raise our expectations. Right now, I believe that this team could find a way to win 83 or 84 games, and I'd be upset if it lost more than that. But the reality remains that this franchise is headed in the right direction and I'm on board to continue to remain patient and watch it develop.

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