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MLB preview: Baltimore Orioles

The AL East is home to 3 really good and potentially great teams, anoter decent team on the rise and a laughingstock that's less likely to make the playoffs than any other MLB team. Guess which one of those the Orioles are.

2011 record: 69-93 (5th in AL East). Projected 2012 finish: 61-101 (5th in AL East).

Projected starters: C Matt Wieters, 1B Chris Davis, 2B Brian Roberts, SS J.J. Hardy, 3B Mark Reynolds, LF Nolan Reimold, CF Adam Jones, RF Nick Markakis, DH Wilson Betemit, SP Tommy Hunter, SP Wei-Yin Chen, SP Zach Britton, SP Jake Arrieta, SP Jason Hammel, CL Kevin Gregg, RP Jim Johnson, RP Matt Lindstrom.

Half-full outlook: Well ... Wieters, Markakis, Jones and Hary are all good players. None is great, yet, but they're all young enough that their best days may be ahead of them. Maybe Davis figures it out. Maybe Reynolds hits 50 homers to better offset his inevitable 180-plus strikeouts. Maybe Roberts takes a time machine back to 2009, when he was last healthy and productive. If everything breaks right, the Orioles could have an offense that rivals some belonging to the behemoths with whom they share a division. Even so, it will take a series of miracles, not just a series of breaks, for this pitching staff to be effective. The most optimistic thing I can say about Orioles pitching is that it's baseball — you just never know!

Half-empty outlook: Jeremy Guthrie is just a guy, but the reality is that being just a guy makes you, arguably, the most valuable pitcher in Baltimore. Guthrie was just traded to Colorado. The 24-year-old Britton produced a team-best 2.5 WAR last season, so it's easy to think he'll be the Orioles' best pitcher going forward. Then again, everyone thought the same thing about Brian Matusz following his 2.7 WAR season in 2010, and he was 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA last season. Baltimore has some young pitchers, but none are considered potential aces, and all might well be capable of blowing up like Matusz did. And when Gregg and Lindstrom are the potential backbones of your bullpen, the ends of games may be just as painful as the beginnings.

Halfway between the two outlook: This offseason may have cemented Baltimore's status as the most hopeless franchise in baseball. Rather than impliment some kind of a plan to build for the future, since the Orioles' present is so, so bleak, new Executive VP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette instead devoted his time to decisions like giving Betemit, a 30-year-old journeyman, an inexplicable 2-year deal. I think it's telling that the Orioles haven't even bothered to update the depth chart on their own website to include Betemit, who signed with a week left in January. The Royals and Nationals have bright futures. The Pirates at least have some reasons for hope and are in a weak division. The Orioles, in the AL East, are going nowhere fast.


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