Orioles will play role of underdog once again heading into this season

If you're among the legion of rejuvenated Orioles fans who will show up for Opening Day expecting big things after the team's spring training spending spree, the rest of the baseball world thinks you're fooling yourself.

The national media consensus is that the Orioles will finish fourth in the tough American League East this year. The people who crunch the numbers and set the betting lines in Las Vegas think that they are barely a .500 team.

So, what else is new?

The Orioles shocked the world by reaching the playoffs in 2012 and stayed in contention until the final weeks of the 2013 season, but if they thought all that — and a $67 million free-agent infusion — would get them into the top half of anybody's preseason power rankings, well, they were sorely mistaken.

That apparent lack of national respect met with some mild consternation in the Orioles clubhouse before Sunday's indoor workout at Camden Yards, but it also was treated as a welcome motivational tool.

"We'll let our playing do the talking," first baseman Chris Davis said. "That's kind of where we've been the last couple of years. Nobody expects us to finish at the top of the division, which is kind of how we like things. We like to be the underdog, so to speak. I think that's something that will really help us."

It puts Davis in an interesting vortex, since he will be one of the players at the top of the individual expection curve this season. He has spent the spring fielding questions about the tough act he has to follow after leading the major leagues in home runs and RBIs, which could become a burden, so he seemed happy enough to play the no-respect card for his teammates.

"A couple years ago, we played with a really big chip on our shoulder and really didn't care what anybody else thought or what they said — just wanted to go out and play good ball, and we did that," he said. "That's something we kind of got away from last year a little bit, lost a little bit of our edge. Hopefully, we've gotten that back and can use it as motivation."

Maybe Orioles manager Buck Showalter put out some talking points, because there was fairly universal agreement that the thing to do in the face of national skepticism is to ignore it and just hit the ground running against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

"The games start tomorrow," center fielder Adam Jones said Sunday. "It doesn't really matter what I say. We're going to do this. We're going to do that. We've got to go out there and prove it on the field. If we don't, it doesn't matter. Our actions are going to speak."

The Orioles certainly are not going to get the opportunity to ease into the new season. Boston starter Jon Lester is one of the top left-handers in the game and has had tremendous success against them in his career. He's 15-3 with a 2.94 ERA lifetime against the Orioles, but just 1-3 against them over the past two seasons.

They follow the three-game series against the Red Sox with a six-game road trip against the defending AL Central champion Detroit Tigers and the retooled New York Yankees. And the schedule never really lets up. It is, by some accounts, the toughest in baseball, which explains the lack of preseason prominence.

"I think it's good to be an underdog," right-hander Tommy Hunter said. "You look around the clubhouse. We've got a chance to be really good. … I mean really, really good. I hope that happens because I guess we'll surprise a lot of people. We'll shock a lot of people. We'll have a lot of people saying we caught lightning in a bottle again, or whatever you can say, but I think we have a lot of guys that have a lot of confidence coming into the year. I think we have a lot of guys who are confident with the team that is here in the clubhouse."

Showalter has taught them well. He doesn't abide excuses, and he doesn't care what the rest of the baseball world thinks of his team or the challenges it will face this year.

"There is a quiet drive with this group all the time, and I think some of the new guys that are here, that weren't here last year, bring that with them, too, but we'll see," Showalter said. "What's that expression? … 'Your actions speak so loud I can't hear a word you say.' That's kind of where we are right now."



Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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