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Five for Friday: Bold predictions for the 2011 Orioles season

After a busy winter and months of waiting to see the on-field product, the Orioles begin their season tonight against the Rays in Tampa Bay. But before Brian Roberts walks to the plate and takes the Orioles’ first swing of the 2011, let’s make some bold predictions for the upcoming season.

In this week’s Five for Friday post, I am looking into the Orioles’ crystal ball and giving you five potentially unexpected things to look forward to this season. None of my predictions are too crazy, like Vladimir Guerrero knocking down the Warehouse with a heavy home run or Zach Britton winning the Cy Young and the World Series MVP award. But if you want to go out on a longer limb than I have, feel free to climb on out there in the comments section.

1. Jeremy Guthrie will win 15 games: Despite starting 30 or more games in each of the past three seasons, Jeremy Guthrie’s best single-season win total is 11, which he set in 2010. Tonight’s Opening Day starter, Guthrie has taken his lumps and a bunch of losses over the past few years while being miscast as the ace of an underwhelming pitching staff. He has willingly accepted the responsibility and has stepped up as a mentor to the team’s young pitchers. Guthrie will be steady as always in 2011, and now that the Orioles offense can get him some run support, he will be rewarded this season by finishing with a winning record and reaching the 15-win plateau for the first time in his career.

2. Mark Reynolds will break his own strikeout record, and it won’t matter: The Orioles’ new third baseman holds the three highest single-season strikeout totals in MLB history and struck out 643 times in his last three seasons with the Diamondbacks. Probably the only thing Reynolds has done more often than making that long, lonely walk from home plate to the dugout is answering questions about the whiffs that preceded them. The bad news for Reynolds is that his strikeout totals will rise as he adjusts to AL East pitching, and his name will once again top the league leaders in this dubious category. But if Reynolds rakes like he did in 2009 and smacks 40 homers and knocks in 100 runs, it won’t matter. That kind of production will outweigh the Ks.

3. The Orioles will send three players to the All-Star Game: No Orioles deserved to go to the All-Star Game last year, but the team was required to send somebody, so Ty Wigginton got to go stand in the infield for a few minutes. This year, it will be different. A trio of Orioles will legitimately have All-Star-caliber seasons. Reynolds, whom I just mentioned, will be one. Nick Markakis, the Orioles’ best player and one of the league’s most overlooked stars, will finally have the firepower around him in the lineup to put up numbers All-Star voters can’t ignore. Who else is going with them? Matt Wieters, who will break out at the plate in 2011.

4. Luke Scott is going to be traded: Giving up one of their most dangerous hitters, a guy who can carry a team for weeks when he catches fire, will be a difficult decision for Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail to make. But with Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold riding the pine pony or a Norfolk Tides bus around the Triple-A circuit and the Orioles a year or two away from contending for the AL East title, MacPhail will deal Scott, a 32-year-old fan favorite, in a move for the future. Baltimore will find a new name to chant.

5. The Orioles will be relevant into August: The Orioles won’t make the playoffs in 2011, and they’ll fall short of that elusive winning season. But they will be improved enough to keep fans interested into late summer, even if the NFL lockout comes to an end and the Ravens report to Westminster on time in July. Considering the Orioles were eliminated from playoff contention two weeks into the 2010 season, the fact that they will at least be alive and kicking in August -- and playing their tails off under Buck Showalter -- isn’t too shabby.

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