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Last year's 66-96 record gave the Orioles their 13th straight losing season, but out of a dismal campaign came a few signs of hope.
After the hiring of Buck Showalter as manager in midseason, Baltimore won 34 of their final 57 games. The change of leadership may have been a factor, but the O's were carried by strong late-season pitching. In particular, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz and Brad Bergesen turned in solid performances once Showalter came on board.
While Matusz and Bergesen picked up their pace, the other young starters -- Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman -- did not fare as well. With some of their growing pains behind them, the Orioles should improve on their 4.59 team ERA, which was the second-worst in the American League. Free agent signee Justin Duchscherer will provide an additional veteran presence to Guthrie, not to mention a solid arm, if he can come back strong from hip surgery. Koji Uehara, who saved 13 of 15 games after seizing the closer's role in August, is back, and he will compete with Kevin Gregg for the ninth-inning honors this spring.
With no major hitting prospects on the horizon, the Orioles had to hit the trade market to upgrade an offense that scored the second-fewest runs in the AL last season. Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy will give Baltimore much more thump from the left side of the infield, though incumbents Josh Bell and Cesar Izturis are expected to remain with the team as reserves. The Orioles went the free agent route to replace Ty Wigginton at first base with Derrek Lee.
Even if Reynolds and Lee fail to bounce back from disappointing seasons, the Orioles' lineup could take some sizable strides this year. Hardy provides a major upgrade over Izturis, Brian Roberts is healthier after missing 103 games in 2010, and Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are still looking for their breakout seasons.
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Things are never easy in the AL East, but for the first time in years, the Orioles have some hope for the future. For Fantasy owners of up-and-coming talents like Matusz, Bergesen and Jones, even the present holds some appeal.
Sleeper ... Brad Bergesen, SP
Bergesen had such a miserable first half last year, going 3-6 with a 6.40 ERA, that Fantasy owners might have forgotten that he was a legitimate mixed league option during his 2009 rookie season. During the second half of 2010, he was much more like the Bergesen we saw the year before, posting a 3.94 ERA and improving both his strikeout and walk rates. Even at his best, the 25-year-old doesn't get many strikeouts, but as long as he can induce ground balls and minimize walks, he'll have success. For the better part of his two-year major league career, he has done just that. You could do worse with a late-round pick in mixed leagues, though you could probably acquire him off waivers.
Breakout ... Brian Matusz, SP
Matusz's 2010 stat line -- headed by a 10-12 record and a 4.30 ERA -- doesn't look very impressive, but few pitchers were hotter over the season's final two months. Over his last 11 starts, Matusz went 7-1 with a 2.18 ERA, thanks to superb control and lower line drive and strand rates. These were the hallmarks of his minor league success, so there is reason to think he can carry his late-season accomplishments over to the 2011 campaign. Not only is Matusz a strong candidate to help his own cause by allowing fewer runs and baserunners, but he should get a healthier dose of run support this year as well. This will be the year that Matusz will become relevant in standard mixed league formats.
Bounceback player … Mark Reynolds, 3B
Despite banging out 32 home runs, Mark Reynolds' .198 batting average was such a drag on his Fantasy value a year ago that he was barely relevant in mixed leagues, especially in Rotisserie formats. The twin culprits were strikeout and flyball rates that were well beyond his normal eye-popping levels. Those rates have been on the rise ever since his rookie season, but they took such huge leaps in 2010 that some regression to the mean seems almost inevitable. Reynolds is still just 27, so it's far too early to write him off as being on the slippery slope of decline. While he won't hit for a high enough average to be an elite option, look for Reynolds to rise back into the top 10 of Fantasy third basemen.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Brian Roberts||2B||1||Jeremy Guthrie||RH|
|2||Nick Markakis||RF||2||Justin Duchscherer||RH|
|3||Derrek Lee||1B||3||Brian Matusz||LH|
|4||Luke Scott||DH||4||Brad Bergesen||RH|
|5||Adam Jones||CF||5||Jake Arrieta||RH|
|6||Mark Reynolds||3B||Alt||Chris Tillman||RH|
|7||Felix Pie||LF|| |
|8||Matt Wieters||C||CL||Kevin Gregg||RH|
|9||J.J. Hardy||SS||SU||Koji Uehara||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Mike Gonzalez||LH|
|R||Nolan Reimold||OF||RP||Jeremy Accardo||RH|
|R||Jake Fox||DH||RP||Jim Johnson||RH|
|1||Manny Machado||18||SS||Class A||Class A|
|The third overall pick in the 2010 draft got off to a good start at Short-Season Class A. He's a must-draft in long-term keeper leagues.|
|Sinkerballer had excellent results in Double-A and Triple-A in 2010. Looks ready for the majors at some point in 2011.|
|Can hit for average and has good power for a second baseman. He will probably start the year in Triple-A, but could fill in for Brian Roberts if need be.|
|4||Dan Klein||22||SP||Class A||Class A|
|The 2010 draftee only appeared in five games in the minors last year but could reach the majors as soon as this year.|
|Speedy outfielder showed some on-base skills at Class A, but was overmatched after his promotion to Double-A last year. Has the tools to be a solid major leaguer.|
|Best of the rest: Mycal Givens, SS; L.J. Hoes, 2B; Jonathan Schoop, SS; Ryan Berry, SP; Wynn Pelzer, SP; Joseph Mahoney, 1B; Tyler Townsend, 1B; Matt Hobgood, SP; Brandon Cooney, RP; Bobby Bundy, SP; Connor Naron, SS; Brandon Snyder, 1B; and Caleb Joseph, C.|
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