Running down the rosters: Baltimore Orioles

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After sitting out the chase for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the Orioles are staring down a fifth straight last-place finish and a seventh consecutive 90-loss season. Such is life in the AL East.

Rotation
Jason Hammel – R
Zach Britton – L
Jake Arrieta – R
Wei-Yin Chen – L
Tommy Hunter – R

Bullpen
Jim Johnson – R
Matt Lindstrom – R
Kevin Gregg – R
Luis Ayala – R
Tsuyoshi Wada – L
Pedro Strop – R
Alfredo Simon – R

SP next in line: Wada, Dana Eveland (L), Brad Bergesen (R), Brian Matusz (L), Chris Tillman (R), Armando Galarraga (R)
RP next in line: Troy Patton (L), Jason Berken (R), Darren O’Day (R), Willie Eyre (R), Pat Neshek (R), Dennys Reyes (L)

Dan Duquette shook up the pitching staff in his first offseason as Orioles GM, trading the team’s one reliable starter in Jeremy Guthrie for Hammel and Lindstrom and importing two Asian pitchers in Chen and Wada. His moves have given the Orioles a ton of pitching depth; in fact, their second five starting pitchers could go toe-to-toe with some of their starting rotations from the  mid-aughts. Still, whether the quality is there to go with the quantity is the big question. If Britton is healthy, if Chen recovers his stuff, if Matusz returns to 2010 form, if…

Unfortunately, many of the bullpen decisions will come down to option years: Strop, Simon and Patton are all out of options and thus may make the team over more deserving pitchers. The Orioles might end up just releasing Gregg if he fails to impress this spring, opening up a spot for someone like Patton or Berken. They could also put Wada in the rotation and send Hunter to Triple-A.

Lineup
LF Nolan Reimold – R
SS J.J. Hardy – R
RF Nick Markakis – L
CF Adam Jones – R
C Matt Wieters – S
3B Mark Reynolds – R
DH Wilson Betemit – S
1B Chris Davis – L
2B Robert Andino – R

Bench
C Taylor Teagarden – R
INF Matt Antonelli – R
INF Ryan Flaherty – L
OF Endy Chavez – L

Disabled list: Brian Roberts (S)
Next in line: C Ronny Paulino, 1B Nick Johnson (L), 1B Joseph Mahoney (L), 2B Ryan Adams (R), INF Steven Tolleson (R), OF Jai Miller (R), OF Xavier Avery (L)

Obviously, the lineup sets up much, much better if Roberts can pull off a successful return from post-concussion syndrome. If Roberts is out, as most expect, then the Orioles will have to try to cobble together their leadoff situation. I prefer Reimold, but Hardy, Andino, Chavez and Antonelli could also see time there. Markakis actually might be the best option of the bunch. It’s not like he’s been hitting for much power lately anyway.

Power is what the lineup has going for it; besides the second baseman, everyone in the lineup is a candidate to hit 20 homers. That won’t make it an elite offense on its own, but if a couple of guys have career years, the team would be capable of surprising.

Then again, things never seem to break quite right for the Orioles. Since winning 98 games 15 years ago, the franchise has finished under .500 every year. At least the team is younger these days, and while the farm system isn’t exactly awash with prospects, the team’s last two first-round picks (SS Manny Machado and RHP Dylan Bundy) appear very, very promising. With Wieters as a foundation, there is reason to hope the Orioles will be in a better position to compete come 2013 or ’14.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.