Orioles face heightened expectations

As the Baltimore Orioles arrived in Sarasota, Fla., for spring training this week, expectations were quite different from just one year ago.

Last spring, few outside of the organization believed the Orioles would field a winning team, the general consensus from most fans being that a 15th straight losing season was inevitable after an offseason of few moves.

This year, those fans are expecting more - a lot more - after a season they won't soon forget.

Baltimore went 93-69, made the playoffs for the first time since 1997, won the inaugural American League wild-card game, and then took the New York Yankees to five games in the AL division series.

"We proved that we can compete against any team," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said last month at Orioles FanFest. "It's not going to be an easy task in 2013."

Jones has played a huge role in the turnaround of the franchise, and signed a six-year extension last May. The 27-year-old proved to be worth it, hitting .287 with 32 home runs and 82 RBIs in 2012.

Jones was one of the first position players to arrive at spring training this week when he showed up to the Orioles complex on Tuesday, along with third baseman Manny Machado (.262, 7, 26) and left fielder Nolan Reimold (.313, 5, 10).

Nearly all of Baltimore's players had arrived on Wednesday, two days before the required day for them to be at camp, and infielder Yamaico Navarro was the lone player invited to the team's major league spring training who had yet to arrive by Friday afternoon, according to the team's website.

The record-breaking attendance at FanFest seems to indicate there are many more fans excited about this season. They want to see another playoff run.

"The expectations are obviously raised now and that's a good thing," Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth said. "We're looking forward to duplicating what we did last year and then moving beyond that."

The consensus among Baltimore players is the team will be able to build off what it started last season, despite another offseason of few moves. Re-signing McLouth was considered to be their most high-profile move.

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (.249, 23, 83) said he hopes the team is ready to go this spring.

"We want to keep improving," Wieters said. "We love the high expectations. Nobody wants to be expected to finish at the bottom of the division."

Not everybody expects Baltimore to make a deep run in the playoffs, or make the playoffs at all, however. Many pundits have criticized the team's lack of offseason moves.

Wieters said the team is used to having critics, and it's not what they say that matters.

"Whether or not what everybody else thought last year, we had high expectations for ourselves, too," Wieters said. "It's not what everybody else thought but what we knew we could do in that clubhouse."

Baltimore right fielder Nick Markakis (.298, 13, 54) missed out on last season's playoff run because of a broken thumb. Markakis, the second-longest tenured Orioles player behind Brian Roberts, said spring training this year will definitely be different.

"It's a new feel," Markakis said. "Whatever we did last year, it's in the past. We're looking ahead now. We want to go further than what we did last year. It's all part of a stepping stone."

Markakis said he thinks getting to the playoffs once will help Baltimore this season and in years to come.

"It's all experience and not getting caught up in the moment," Markakis said. "I think a lot of guys gained that. I gained a lot just being on the bench. We're looking forward to it and hopefully we can get back to where we were and a little further."

The Toronto Blue Jays added several marquee players this offseason including R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and others. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays are also expected to contend for the division, making the American League East a crowded race.

Wieters said he still thinks the Orioles will be up there near the top of the division this season.

"You look at teams that will re-bolster their lineups every year, that doesn't mean you're automatically in the postseason," Wieters said. "You've still got to play the games, you've got to compete."

Markakis said the players know they have a "long haul" ahead of them this season, but he said he thinks they'll be ready come April after six weeks in Florida.

"Myself and the other guys know we've got a lot of work cut out for us," Markakis said, "and we're not even started."

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