After 13-year drought, excitement finally surrounds the Orioles

Designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, one of several new faces on the Orioles, had 115 RBI last season.
Designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, one of several new faces on the Orioles, had 115 RBI last season. (Getty Images)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2011; 12:10 AM

Young southpaw Brian Matusz of the Orioles walked past General Manager Andy MacPhail before an exhibition game this weekend and pointed to the lineup card on the wall of the dugout.

"Thanks for that," said Matusz. "That's exciting."

The names on the card included newly acquired Vlad Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy and, as soon as next week, the name of Derrek Lee will be added as well. Combine that new quartet with the promising, but often overwhelmed young hitters that the Orioles already had in Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Finally, include a healthy Brian Roberts and Luke Scott (27 homers last year), and what have you got?

"All of a sudden, you have a one-through-nine American League East lineup," said MacPhail on Sunday. "Last year, Reynolds had an off year [with 32 homers and 85 RBI], but he would have still led our team in homers and RBI. This year, he'll probably bat seventh or eighth for us. To have somebody that dangerous that far down in the lineup, that's quite a change."

It's been a very long time, 13 seasons to be exact, since any comparable excitement surrounded the Orioles. And it's not just the Baltimore batters, like Wieters, Jones and Markakis, who averaged an awful 14 homers and 61 RBI in 565 at bats last year, that are elated after spending last season wanting to scream, "Gimme some help!"

To an even greater degree, it's the young Oriole rotation whose development is helped most by a much-improved offense. Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and this season's hot rookie Zach Britton need serious run support when they run up against the mighty lineups of the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays.

"This franchise needed to change the narrative," said MacPhail, who runs only the third team since '48 to endure at least 13 straight losing seasons. "I know the [current] Pirates [18 straight losing years]. Who's the other one?" The expansion Mariners in their first 14 years, not even an apples-to-apples comparison.

"We were anxious to try to sustain the positive momentum we had at the end of last year with [Manager] Buck [Showalter] on board," said MacPhail of the 96-loss Orioles' dazzling rebound to a 34-23 finish under the feisty, quipping Showalter. "Ownership was willing to move the payroll up $20 million to make it happen.

"We blew through one payroll number. Then we blew through the next one, too," said MacPhail, who wanted to outbid the Nationals for potential closer Kevin Gregg ($10 million for two years), as well as first baseman Lee ($10 million in '11 with all incentives). "We thought we were all done. But Guerrero was still out there."

How often can you add a man who'll be in the Hall of Fame and who batted cleanup in the previous World Series after a 115-RBI season?

Guerrero agreed to defer $3 million of his $8 million deal until '16-'17 and owner Peter Angelos said, "Yes," to that, too.

Sometimes, everything falls in place, plus things you never even planned. That's how the Orioles and MacPhail ended up pulling off the kind of offseason that the Nationals only dreamed of.

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