Wow, has it really been two months since I blogged about the Orioles? Thanks to school starting back, the inevitable losing streak, and a host of excuses, it's been too long. This month is typically dedicated to the teams in the playoffs, but I still want to talk a little orange and black.
At the beginning of the season, I set out three criteria for making this season a success:
1) Matt Wieters establishes himself as an offensive force behind the plate.
2) Felix Pie and Adam Jones show that they are long-term solutions in the outfield.
3) The young pitching does not suffer and significant set-backs.
How did we do?
1) Check. After a slow start, Wieters was impressive in September, batting .333/.395/.486 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI during the month, raising his overall line to a quite respectable .288/.340/.412. Sure it wasn't quite what we had hoped for, but we can still expect great things from young Matt.
2) Incomplete. A great start led to his selection for the All-Star team, but Adam Jones struggled from June onwards, finally succumbing to (another) season-ending injury and missing the final month of the season. April and May had us thinking stardom, but June, July and August--aside from one great stretch from late July into early August--just left us with more questions. The talent is obvious, but I'd still really like to see a full healthy, productive season from Jones. Meanwhile, Pie's season was the exact opposite: a terrible start followed by a fast finish. He looked much, much better as the season progressed, and could be a real asset for the club going forward. There seemed to be a movement afoot late in the season to trade Pie for another bat, but given that he's unlikely to return an impact first baseman and the troubles Adam Jones has had staying healthy, the team is much more likely to keep him around.
3) Double check. Not only did the young talent make it through the season without any long-term injury concerns (Erbe bounced back nicely from shoulder issues, and Bergesen's freak leg injuries are not expected to linger into spring training), but Matusz and Tillman both racked up valuable experience in Baltimore. They didn't pitch great, but they flashed the talent that has scouts drooling.
Unfortunately, we can't stop there. This season had another recurring theme, and it was of a much darker variety: what is wrong with Nick Markakis? FanGraphs chronicled the unfortunate developments that led to Markakis posting a line similar to his rookie season. Obviously, the young kids are an important part remaking the Orioles into a winner. Equally important are Brian Roberts maintaining his high level of play and Nick Markakis being a star. Without Markakis as a big bat in the middle of the lineup, the rebuilding efforts are going to fail. Was he hurt? Distracted by life changes? Was his regression random? Let's hope that 2009 is an anomaly, and he returns to his 2008 level (or better) in 2010.
Finally, the bullpen was just awful, especially after the Sherrill trade. With Guthrie, Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman all ticketed for the 2010 rotation, Hernandez and Uehara should both help bolster the unit next spring. Chris Ray will be another year removed from Tommy John surgery, and perhaps Jim Johnson will look more like the pitcher he was before taking over the closer's role. Given the variability in relief pitcher performance, I'm not too worried about next year's bullpen.
Coming soon, a preview of what the Orioles need to do this offseason to prepare for 2010.