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O's outlook anything but hair-raising

March 31, 2003|by` MARK KELLER

I've been asked several times in the last few weeks what my bet on the Baltimore Orioles is going to be this season.

For those of you who have forgotten, I wagered my scalp last May that the Orioles would not finish above the .500 mark in 2002.

Despite a charge that got them to 63-63 and had me worried (and my wife steamed at me).

You all know how the story ends. I don't have to remind you that Baltimore went 4-32 after they hit level ground in mid-August.

I still have my hair, and my pride. (And even though I have no shot at winning my NCAA pool, I still have my projected champion alive. Woohoo! Go Kansas!)

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Well, let's just say I won't be betting my hair this year. Besides, what fun is that? I don't have that much hair to give anymore.

Nonetheless, here's my view of the Orioles.

The starting rotation has potential, headed by Rodrigo Lopez. If he holds the form he displayed last year, he could equal his 15 wins from a year ago.

His chances of surpassing that total? Not good. The O's probably won't win enough games for Lopez to get more than that.

The rest of the rotation - Sidney Ponson, Omar Daal, Jason Johnson and Rick Helling - are perennial underachievers.

Ponson has never lived up to expectations. Daal, once upon a time the Diamondbacks' ace, is a crapshoot. Though Helling once won 20 games, his best ERA ever is 4.31 and he's hovered around the .500 mark the last four years. And Johnson ... well, he just gets shelled.

The bullpen got better with the addition of Kerry Ligtenberg. With Buddy Groom and Willis Roberts setting up Jorge Julio, the relievers should be the Orioles' strong suit this season.

Unfortunately, it doesn't get any better than that. The infield is average defensively. Deivi Cruz is a downgrade from Mike Bordick at shortstop, while Jeff Conine and Tony Batista will not win Gold Gloves on the corners. Only second baseman Jerry Hairston excels at his position defensively.

The Orioles have a legitimate slugger in Jay Gibbons, who will play right field. Gary Matthews Jr. showed flashes of ability last season, but he hasn't been able to string together many stellar performances. B.J. Surhoff - as much as like scrappers like him - is coming off major knee reconstruction and might have been better served retiring.

Marty Cordova will DH and Geronimo Gil will catch. Both are middle-of-the-pack guys who will hit about 15 HRs each.

These Orioles - with nearly the same everyday lineup as 2002 - will be better than last year's. If Toronto's pitching does not deliver, the O's could climb to third in the AL East.

They should hang right around the .500 mark again.

But my prediction is they fall short ... by a hair.




Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com

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