The Orioles margin for error this season has been razor thin. They know it, and the statistics back it up. That streak was snapped in a 6-3 Orioles loss before an announced crowd of 36,508 at Camden Yards.
As Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette sat in his office at the Ed Smith Stadium complex on a sunny afternoon earlier this month, overlooking a well-manicured cloverleaf of fields, a bitter winter seemed like an eternity ago in more ways than one.
Tommy Hunter was at first a secondary option for the ninth inning. The Orioles would prefer to keep him in last year's eighth inning role, but with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, it's almost inevitable that Hunter will be the leading candidate to assume the closer job.
The possibility of the Orioles opening spring training with Tommy Hunter as the team's closer is becoming more real by the day. Once the team dealt 50-save closer Jim Johnson to Oakland, the club saw Hunter as a fallback option. But now he's turning into much more of a possibility.
If you view the attempt to complete a deal with veteran closer Grant Balfour totally in its own context, there¿s no way to fault the Orioles for balking at the results of his physical and -- apparently -- pulling back the two-year contract that was agreed upon by both sides pending the medical examination.
Grant Balfour's two-year, $15 million deal with the Orioles is now in major jeopardy, after team doctors expressed concern with Balfour's right shoulder during his physical, according to industry sources.
The lobby at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort quickly emptied out as Major League Baseball's winter meetings ended Thursday. While the Orioles only added a pair of Rule 5 draft picks this week, the club continued efforts to land a free-agent closer.
Members of the Orioles starting rotation have had their struggles getting deep into games, but right-hander Jason Hammel gave the team a gritty six-inning effort against the Dodgers in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader.
But when Matt Joyce¿s solo homer off reliever Tommy Hunter sailed into the right field seats ¿ giving the Rays an 8-7 walk-off win over the Orioles ¿ it ended a bullpen outing very uncharacteristic of the 2012 Orioles.
Orioles reliever Pedro Strop assembled with his new World Baseball Classic Dominican teammates three weeks ago for their first workout in Tampa, and that's when the tone for an undefeated championship run was set.
The American League East has long been considered one of baseball's toughest divisions, and that should hold true again in 2013. But it's no longer a division dominated by a couple high-spending teams and the occasional upstart. Suddenly, the AL East is being recognized for its depth.