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Baltimore Chopped

In Baseball, Long form on April 5, 2012 at 12:37 pm

The Baltimore Orioles begin their 2012 season tomorrow. The team wrapped up its spring training with a 2-1 loss to the State College of Florida Manatees, No. 5 in the Florida College System Activities Association coaches’s poll. A quick stop in Norfolk Wednesday, an off-day today, and then the Orioles begin what will most likely be an excruciating 162-game schedule. At worst, the 2012 season will be a tragedy. At best, it will be a farce.

Baltimoreans view the Orioles the way a parent might view a young child who is struggling in school. We may occasionally snicker along with the other parents, and we may often compare them to their better-looking, more successful older sibling (the Ravens). And God knows we don’t attend parent-teacher conferences anymore. But we still love them, and when they demonstrate a flicker of aptitude, like a low B on a pop quiz, we still take them out for ice cream.

The 2012 Orioles, however, are not here for your pity. They ask not for your prayers or your sympathy. Amazingly, after a year that qualifies as one of the most dismal in team history, the Orioles could actually be worse this season. And it’s okay. We’ve accepted it. We’re not with waiting in anger or with flowers, but rather with a comfortable chair and a cold beer, ready to watch one of the most storied franchises in baseball history burn to the ground.

Let’s start with the front office. Better writers than I have chronicled the disastrous general manager search that led to the Orioles settling on Dan Duquette, but that was only the first two months of the Orioles offseason. Since then, the Orioles traded two players and gave $750,000 and a 40-man roster spot to a player they cut before spring training. They signed a 31-year-old pitcher with no major league experience — who will start the season on the disabled list — to a two-year, $8.15-million contract. They traded away last year’s Opening Day starter and cut their fourth starter without any promising replacements waiting in the wings.

The Orioles Opening Day starter this year, Jake Arietta, has a career 16-14 record in 219.2 innings pitched. Their most likely number two starter, Tommy Hunter, was traded by the Texas Rangers last year after shuttling between Texas’s bullpen and starting rotation. The third starter Jason Hammel, gave up two runs on three hits, a walk and a wild pitch in one inning during his latest outing versus the aforementioned Manatees. Fourth starter Wei-Yin Chen has never pitched in the major leagues. And fifth starter Brian Matusz had such a bad 2011 that if you search his name on Google, the second result is “Brian Matusz worst season ever.”

Luckily, those pitchers get to throw to Matt Wieters. Wieters is the closest thing the Orioles have to a star and is perhaps the best defensive catcher in the game. Wieters, shortstop J.J. Hardy, and outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis would make up an ancillary phalanx of solid players on a good team. On the Orioles, they are counted on to be more than they are. Only Wieters has shown that he could one day be a star.

The rest of the lineup is a cavalcade of inanity. The starting first baseman will either be Chris Davis, another Rangers cast off, or Nick Johnson, who has played 24 major league games over the last two seasons. Even so, there is still a good chance Johnson leads the team in on-base percentage this season. Second baseman Robert Andino is famous for two things. One is driving a stake through the Red Sox vampirous heart in game 162 last season. The other is for a segment that aired on the jumbotron at Camden Yards called “Andino at the Movies,” where Andino sums up the plots to movies such as “Gone With the Wind” and “Rio” in 45 second or less. “Rio” received two thumbs up. “Gone With the Wind” was abandoned halfway through.

The Orioles left fielder, Nolan Riemold, is competent but aging, and he will most likely be mismanaged by the team for one more year before losing his spot to Endy Chavez. And then there is Mark Reynolds, Orioles third baseman. Reynolds had one of the all-time worst defensive seasons for a third baseman last season, yet the Orioles seem content to run him out there again this year. The only difference is that Reynolds lost 20 lbs. in the offseason, supposedly to improve his quickness and agility.

Watching Reynolds play third last season was like watching a Deep Purple cover band invite a bear on stage to play the guitar riff for “Smoke on the Water.” The Orioles watched the bear slice the strings, smash the base drum and maul a couple of the fans in the front row and apparently thought, “You know, if we got a smaller bear…”

That is the team the Orioles will field against the best division in baseball in 2012. Lucky for Baltimore fans — and there are fewer and fewer of us ever year — Camden Yards is still a gem of a ballpark. Tickets are cheap, and you are allowed to bring beer into the stadium. And we get to see some of the best teams in baseball visit multiple times a year. That is it.

Orioles fans are not here for your pity. We’re just here to watch the 2012 Baltimore Orioles.

Burning burning burning burning.

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