In last week’s Five for Friday post, I half-filled my coffee mug with orange Kool-Aid, listing five reasons to be optimistic about the Orioles finally breaking the .500 mark in 2011. But today, my mug is half-empty, and the sweet taste of winning baseball has been replaced by Haterade.
I apologize in advance for being a Debbie Downer, but it’s only fair that I present the flip side of things after listing potential positives last week. The Orioles upgraded their roster on paper in the offseason with a couple of trades and a few low-risk free-agent signings. But as we have seen too often over the past 13 years, what looks to be a good team on paper can get shredded by injuries, ineptitude and perhaps some sort of curse.
So let’s look at the five biggest reasons to be pessimistic about the Orioles’ chances in 2011 (remember, I listed reasons for optimism last week, so drink down this Haterade with a slice of lime and a few grains of salt):
5. The King of the Ks: Reporters have said that new Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds gets a little sensitive when fielding questions about his record-breaking strikeout totals. But he has to know they’re coming after he struck out 638 times from 2008-2010. Heck, avid Scrabble players have seen fewer Ks over the past three years than Reynolds. FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal told me this week that “it doesn’t matter as much as people think” because if Reynolds hits 30 to 40 home runs, too, it will outweigh the strikeouts. There is concern, though, that he will strike out even more now that he’s in the AL East. We shall see.
4. The starting five: Many baseball insiders have said that though the Orioles have a competitive lineup, pitching will be the team’s downfall this season, and Cal Ripken Jr. believes the young rotation is the team’s X-factor. I listed the young pitchers as a reason for optimism last week -- Brian Matusz looked like a near-future star down the stretch, and Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen pitched well, too -- but that was predicated on the belief that they will continue to develop under the tutelage of Orioles manager Buck Showalter. If they don’t, it will be another long baseball season in Baltimore -- or a short one if you’re a bandwagon-jumper.
3. The dreaded injury bug: The Orioles have already been bitten by this pesky, little guy down in Sarasota. Second baseman Brian Roberts missed time on two separate occasions with a stiff neck then a sore back. First baseman Derrek Lee’s wrist hasn’t completely healed from offseason surgery, so we haven’t seen him yet. And injury-prone pitchers Koji Uehara and Justin Duchscherer have already gotten acquainted with the team’s training staff. If this trend continues in the regular season, the organization’s depth will be put to the test.
2. Brian Roberts’ bad back: I know I listed Roberts in the previous item, but his health is so critical to the Orioles’ chances that it deserves extra attention. This spring, we heard that his stiff neck was no big deal, and then we heard it again about the back issue that has sidelined him this week. But given that a herniated disk limited Roberts to 59 games last season and that the Orioles offense was a train wreck in his absence, it’s only natural to be concerned about his health. The lineup will be nowhere near as potent without him.
1. The big, bad AL East: If the Orioles weren’t stuck in baseball’s best division, they might be able to compete for a division title this season. But this is the uphill battle they face -- the one Showalter compared to “Braveheart” at his introductory press conference -- and pretty much everything will need to go their way this season to battle with the AL East’s big boys in Boston and New York. The Rays and the Jays should be competitive, too, which means that once again, there will be no easy wins for the Orioles in division play.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun