Bottom of the barrel no longer. Orioles hope to make impact in AL East, Part 1

Teams can often show a lot of promise before falling into generation-long slumps.  The Pittsburgh Pirates, who have now strung together 18 consecutive losing seasons (a major league record), were coming off of three straight National League Championship Series appearances.  Likewise, the Baltimore Orioles were a team that appeared in the 1996 and 1997 ALCS before starting a streak of 13 losing seasons.

Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit fouls off a pitch in a spring training game. No doubt the Pirates' 2011 season will also miss its mark.

This trend may be attributed to playoff futility and the team owners’ blind desires to bring home a title at any cost.  Even successful teams that win a lot of games yet falter in the playoffs fire managers and trade stars in hopes of finding that perfect championship caliber chemistry.  Heck, remember Willie Randolph of the Mets?  In three full major league seasons, his teams averaged 89 wins.  That’s enough to take the wild card spot most years.  But since the Mets had high expectations, and merely making the playoffs wasn’t enough, management felt a shakeup was necessary.

For the Orioles and Pirates, this restructuring phase went horribly awry.  Usually, when a team enters the rebuilding phase, a couple things happen.  First, one or more of the team’s older, reliable vets are traded in return for either prospects or young, up and coming stars.  The team may also trade for draft picks in order to hand select talent out of college or high school.

Can the Orioles return to prominence and make Cal Ripken proud?

Trouble arises when these players don’t exactly pan out as expected.  In other leagues, amateur drafts are considerably smaller.  For instance, the NBA draft consists of two rounds.  Both the NHL and NFL drafts proceed for seven rounds.  The Major League Baseball Draft lasts 50 rounds, seeing more than 1,500 players chosen.  With so many players chosen, only a small percentage ever make it to a major league roster.  And unlike other sports where a top draft choice is expected to have an immediate impact on the team, a number one pick in baseball is first sent to the minor leagues where he usually stays for two or three years.  From there, it’s anyone’s guess as to how his career will unfold.

Teams with losing seasons that span over a decade either have terrible luck, incompetent coaches, bumbling managers, lousy scouts, or maybe a little bit of everything.  The Orioles hope to buck their losing trend this year with a revamped lineup and manager.  As for the Pirates?  Well, let’s just say their fans have come to accept losing and shouldn’t be too disappointed when the Buccos invariably drop another 90 games in 2011.

In the next part (found here), we’ll review the Orioles lineup and how they hope to contend with teams in the AL’s toughest division.

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