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Upgrade InAttitude
The call-up of all the talent is a ways off, but believing things will getbetter has its rewards

HAVING LOST 92,93 and 93 games the past three years to stretch its streak of losing seasons to11, Baltimore prefers to measure improvement in ways not easily quantified.Start, for instance, with a clubhouse of players who actually want to be thereand honestly believe that the Orioles, given a year or two, can be the nextversion of the Rays. "Changing the culture" is the mantra of presidentAndy MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley.

"It'sdefinitely gotten better," says rightfielder Nick Markakis, who providedhis own endorsement of the team's direction in February, when he signed asix-year, $66.1 million contract extension. "A month into the season weused to have guys already talking about the end of the season. It's changing alot around here."

An upgrade inattitude may have to suffice before MacPhail's reinvestment in young playersnoticeably takes hold. Baltimore has three of the top 25 prospects in baseballas ranked by Baseball America: switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters, 22 (BA'stop-ranked prospect), and pitchers Chris Tillman, 20, who's ranked 22nd, andBrian Matusz, 22, who's 25th. In addition, the Orioles' inventory ofnearly-ready young pitchers includes Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, DavidHernandez and Troy Patton, all of whom are 23. "All of them will bepitching in the big leagues and all of them will be pitching for a longtime," Trembley says of the six pitching prospects.

"Tampa gaveus a great road map," says MacPhail, mindful of how young pitching helpedthe Rays reach the World Series after 10 straight losing years. "It can bedone here. And the reason it can be done is pitching and defense. We're takingthe same path."

Baltimore hasonly just started on that path. To bridge the gap until the young arms begin toarrive, the Orioles broke up a dreadful staff from last season and signedinexpensive veterans who can provide innings. Gone are six pitchers whocombined to start 91 games last year from a staff that gave up the most homeruns, walked the most batters, struck out the fewest and had the next-to-worstERA in the American League. Signed to provide triage were lefthander MarkHendrickson, 34, who could be starting for his fifth team in seven years, andrighthander Koji Uehara, 33, who walked only 206 batters in 276 games for theTokyo Giants and had more than six times as many strikeouts as walks.

The entirepitching staff should benefit from an improved defense, especially atshortstop, where the sure-handed, if light-hitting, Cesar Izturis was signed tostabilize a position that ran through six starters last season. If fleet formerCubs prospect Felix Pie, 24, can hit enough to seize the opportunity theOrioles are providing him in leftfield, Baltimore will have an athletic, youngoutfield with Adam Jones, 23, set in center and Markakis, 25, a fixture inright.

Having tinkeredwith the roster and attitude, MacPhail's next set of difficult decisions iswhen to bring his best prospects to the big leagues. Wieters is banging, notjust knocking, on the major league door. Last year he hit .355 with 27 homeruns in his first season of pro ball, which he split between Class A and DoubleA. "He's Joe Mauer with power," Trembley says. Though he was sent downto Triple A Norfolk to begin the season, there's little doubt that he'll beback soon—and making an impact much like Evan Longoria did with the Rays in '08after starting the season on the farm.

The crop of youngpitchers may not be far behind Wieters. "In spring training last year Isaid the Rays were going to win 90 games," says ace-by-default JeremyGuthrie. "The reason I said it was because you could see they had fivestrong starters. Our guys are not as far along as those guys were, but you cansee they are all good pitchers."

Playing in thetreacherous East, the Orioles still could wind up with more defeats thanvictories this year. But success in Baltimore these days has its owndefinition. "I'm hoping by the end of the season," MacPhail says,"people are convinced we have the foundation to contend."

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

The Orioles'pitching staff could prove to be the worst in the majors this season, beginningwith a patchwork rotation that has retreads such as righthander Adam Eaton andlefthander Mark Hendrickson in line for jobs. What could make the teamrespectable, however, is Baltimore's backing up that rotation with the bestdefense possible. The arrivals of outfielders Nick Markakis and Adam Jones thepast two years have dramatically reduced the team's rate of doubles and triplesallowed on fly balls. By playing speedster Felix Pie (left), every day inleftfield, and enduring his erratic bat, the Orioles would have a defensiveoutfield to rival that of the Mariners', the league's best. It will make thefranchise more competitive in the short term and make a Triple A-caliberrotation a bit easier to watch.



The Orioles'winning percentage after Aug. 17 last year, when they closed out the seasonwith 37 losses in 44 games. It marked the fourth time in seven years thatBaltimore lost more than twice as many games as it won after that date. Otherignominious finishes included 8--34 in 2002 under manager Mike Hargrove, 13--29in '05 under Sam Perlozzo and 14--28 in '07 under current skipper DaveTrembley.

The Lineup

Manager DaveTrembley

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

*Japanese league stats
†2007 stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)


December 18, 1995

Cal Ripken Jr. signs away, not to rekindle a country'slove affair with its national pastime (that kind of calculation is beyond him)but because somebody wants something and it's easy to give. A teammate offershim a big leaguer's diagnosis: "You're sick." The man shrugs. He hasplayed in more games consecutively than any other man. Punched in, punched out.It's not so much a record, not a reward for greatness, as it is a by-product ofsustained adolescence and unusual good health. A milestone is all it is. Heknows it, too. The man shrugs, signing away beneath the lights. "If youcould play baseball every day," he says, "wouldn't you?"

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CAN'T-MISS KIDS The day is nearing when Wieters and a host of young batterymates will make the Orioles a force again.