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Sunday morning thoughts: Orioles find hope in Rays' success

By Eduardo A. Encina

The Baltimore Sun

8:07 AM EST, March 4, 2012

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Now that the Orioles have played their two intrasquad games, they’re looking forward to the beginning of the Grapefruit League schedule.

The Orioles open up Monday with a day-night, split-squad doubleheader, traveling to Port Charlotte for an afternoon game with the Rays and then hosting the Pirates at night at Ed Smith Stadium.

In today’s Sun, I wrote a story about how the Rays are suddenly big fans of the Orioles (To read the story, click HERE). Obviously, Tampa Bay has the Orioles to thank for helping them get into the postseason last year, but in the Rays clubhouse this week, there’s was nothing but kind words about the professionalism the Orioles showed by finishing the year strong.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said this week that he’s used the Rays recent success – they have gone to the playoffs three of the last four years after never having a winning season prior since coming into the league in 1998 – as proof that Baltimore, too, can compete in the AL East.

“I use them as an example for our guys,” Showalter said.” Everyone keeps talking about the American League East. That doesn’t hold any credence and that’s why. It can be done but it takes time, regardless of the payroll. You’ve got to be smart, you’ve got to develop players and you’ve got to sign and scout quality people. You need to stay true to who you are and how you do it. They haven’t fluctuated from that. They know who they are and they know who they’re not.”

“They’ve shown that it can be done, that it doesn’t always revolve around payrolls,” Showalter added. “We’re in a unique position that I think we’re going to be able to do both when that time comes.”

The Orioles and Rays split their season series 9-9 last season. And offensively, the Orioles were better than the Rays in several offensive categories, including hits, runs, home runs and RBIs. Offseason upgrades Carlos Pena and former Oriole Luke Scott should help them there this season.

But the difference has been pitching. The Rays, anchored by a entirely home-grown starting rotation, had the second-best team ERA in the American League (3.58), while the Orioles had the worst in baseball (4.89).

“For them, it’s all about the five guys they roll out there,” Showalter said.