Well we've got 27 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up first: the Baltimore Orioles.
Lineup: There's plenty of good, young talent to be had here. Matt Wieters looks to build upon a solid rookie year in order to blossom into the superduperstar we're expecting him to be, and the outfield is one of the best in baseball, boasting above-average hitters and/or defenders in all three spots. Brian Roberts is well above-average for a second baseman as well, which means that if Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins can rebound - unlikely, in our view, but hey, nothing wrong with spreading a little hope - this could be an 8-deep lineup. Unfortunately, Cesar Izturis is good with exactly zero of the following: the glove and the bat. Shortstop's been a problem spot for the O's for several years now, and it doesn't appear to be getting better any time soon.
Rotation: The rotation could be a bright spot in the future, as Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, and others are all good-to-great prospects. But for this season, they're relying on Kevin Millwood - who could surprise this season - and Jeremy Guthrie - who disappointed last year after a breakout 2008 - to carry them...and that is not exactly a recipe for success. Expect some improvement as the kids take a step forward, but for now this is a unit that's still going to hamstring a potent offense.
Bullpen: Adding Mike Gonzalez was a significant upgrade to the dross that's been clogging up the pen for a few seasons now, but there's not a whole lot of outstanding talent to be had here. Last season, Koji Uehara demonstrated the good control he was known for in Japan while taking hist urns in the rotation, so they've got a reliable swingman...and beyond that, it's up to Matt Albers and the sidearmer Cla Meredith to relieve a rotation that doesn't figure to go very deep into games too often. At least Meredith doesn't have to worry about that extra Y in his name weighing him down when he's pitching.
Overall: The Orioles have the look of a team that's building for the future, and they've got lots of young talent on the roster and in the pipeline, so that project looks to be well underway. Unfortunately, they're playing in the AL East, and simply cannot compete with the three-headed monster that sits atop the division. In any other division, we'd be more bullish on their chances, but until they shore up the rotation - either internally or by shipping out one of their bumper crop of outfielders - they simply don't stand a chance to compete. However, this should be a really exciting team to watch, unless you really dig 2-1 pitchers' duels.
Predicted Record: 70-92, 4th place
Beer: Oak Aged Dark Lord Imperal Stout. At 13% ABV, this is a strong beer for a strong lineup. No, it doesn't stack up alcohol-wise to, say, Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%; the Yankees), Sam Adams Triple Bock (17.5%; the Red Sox) or even Korruptor (15%; the Rays). Plus, it's oak aged - exactly what the doctor ordered for the up-and-coming O's. Aging, that is, not being put in an oaken cask. Though that might be a convenient way to get rid of Cesar Izturis.