The O's 2011 season has come to an end. The Birds started off the season on a tear, going 6-1 over the first week of play. After that, though, the team went into a slide and never recovered, finishing last in the AL East with a 69-93 record. I was convinced that the O's would finally break .500 for the first time since 1997, but the Birds have now lost 14 consecutive seasons.
So, what went wrong? Obviously, it was a multitude of things...poor starting pitching, unexpected injuries, an inconsistent offense and just plain bad luck were all factors in a disappointing season.
As promised, I'm going to break it down position-by-position in anticipation of the 2012 season:
- First Base: The O's started the season with Derrek Lee at first before trading him and picking up Chris Davis. But it was Mark Reynolds that was most impressive at the position. Reynolds was an error machine at third but looked like a Gold Glover at first. If the O's don't go for Prince Fielder, they have a big-bopper with a great glove at first.
- Second Base: The O's thought this position was covered, but Brian Roberts injured himself early in the season and never returned. Blake Davis, Ryan Adams and Robert Andino all filled in admirably, but they don't bring what Roberts does to the game. Roberts still has a year left on his contract, so the O's won't be shopping for a second baseman over the off-season. Hopefully Roberts returns in 2012, if not, Andino has improved over the last few months and would probably get the nod.
- Shortstop: J.J. Hardy was an absolute beast this season, setting a career-high with 30 homers. He missed a month of the season due to injury but put up solid numbers and was nearly flawless on defense. The O's signed him for the next three years, so if he stays healthy, this position is covered.
- Third Base: Mark Reynolds was brought in as the starting third baseman but was a defensive liability at the position and looks much better at first. Josh Bell hasn't progressed and would be a long-shot. Chris Davis was given a few opportunities and looked decent. Again, this all depends on whether the O's go for Fielder...
- Catcher: Matt Wieters went to his first All-Star Game and progressed both offensively and defensively this season. He is finally living up to the initial hype surrounding him. I wasn't impressed with Craig Tatum at back-up. The Birds should look for a replacement for Tatum, but Wieters has emerged as one of the best catchers in the game.
- Left Field: Luke Scott was the starting left fielder but missed most of the season due to injury. Felix Pie was a bust and was released. Matt Angle doesn't have much power but his speed is impressive...I'd keep Angle as the fourth outfielder and give Nolan Reimold a chance to begin next season as the starter.
- Center Field: Adam Jones continues to progress and put up his best numbers of his career this season. Jones was voted as the Most Valuable Oriole after his solid year. Hopefully the Birds offer him something long-term as he is one of the better center fielders in the league.
- Right Field: Nick Markakis owns this position for the next few seasons. Markakis was as solid as ever on defense but his power numbers declined drastically this season. Hopefully Nick puts in some work during the off-season and gets some productivity back in 2012.
- Designated Hitter: The O's signed an aging superstar to bat fourth in the lineup, and for the most part, Vladimir Guerrero was a solid hitter. He led the team in batting average but lacked the power of a true cleanup hitter. His lack of speed cost the Birds on many occasions, and he grounded into far too many double plays. He was signed for only one season, and I'd be shocked to see him back in 2012. The O's have plenty of options at DH: Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, Luke Scott and maybe even Prince Fielder?? We'll see what happens over the winter...
- Starting Pitching: This was supposed to be the year that the starting pitching came around. It wasn't. Staff ace Jeremy Guthrie led the league in losses for the second straight season. Brian Matusz was injured early and never regained his 2010 form, winning just one game and setting a record for the worst-ever ERA in all of baseball. Jake Arrieta looked good but needed season-ending surgery. Zach Britton led the team in wins, but I was hoping for better than an 11-11 record in his rookie season. Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen failed to make any progress. Justin Duchscherer never made it to the Majors. The O's were forced to use Alfredo Simon, Chris Jakubauskas, Mitch Atkins and Jo-Jo Reyes to fill glaring holes in the starting rotation. I said it last year, but hopefully with another year of experience under their belts this young staff will gel and become a force to be reckoned with in 2012. Regardless, the O's need to bring in an experienced ace of staff next season...maybe even two. Let these kids earn their spots and take some of the pressure off of them in the process.
- Relief Pitching: The bullpen was inconsistent throughout the season. It seemed like if the starters excelled the 'pen would implode, or vice versa. Koji Uehara was amazing, and thus was traded to a playoff-caliber team. Michael Gonzalez was finally looking like the pitcher we expected him to be, but he was traded as well. Kevin Gregg was signed to be the closer, but his "style of pitching" is not what the O's need in the ninth inning or later (or any inning, really). Jim Johnson was a bright spot in the rotation...there was talk of him being stretched out as a starter but the team leaned on him heavily as the closer over the final few weeks. Pedro Strop emerged as a power arm but was never used in the closing role.