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If I had been born and raised in Maryland instead of just living here the past twelve years, I’d be rooting for the team I’m writing a preview of: the Baltimore Orioles.

Twelve straight losing seasons has taken a hit on the once-proud franchise and its fan base. With their glorious stadium opening in 1992, things looked promising with their marquee shortstop-turned-3B superstar Cal Ripken, the Orioles were the team to beat in the AL East in the early 1990s — until Peter Angelos bought the team. Since then, nothing has gone right except for the ability for the team to get high draft picks, and it will pay off dividends this season.

Offense: Angelos finally did something decent and brought in Andy MacPhail to clean up the franchise, and in the years since, I’ve seen the Orioles become a decent team to watch every time I visit Camden Yards. There are several stars on the team to keep an eye out for. The first is Adam Jones. Jones has shown improvement during his first two years in Baltimore. If he stays healthy in 2010 we could see big things from Jones atop the Orioles lineup.

With their No. 7 pick in the 2003 draft the Orioles selected Nick Markakis. Markakis had a stellar 2008. 2009 was an all-around down year for him. It’s unlikely Markakis will have an off season again, so he should anchor the middle of the lineup.

The star of the future is catcher Matt Wieters. When drafted in 2007, he didn’t play until 2008 and that season earned him the top spot in Baseball America’s Top 100 for 2009. The Orioles opened him in AAA but called him up after 163 PA, installing him as their primary catcher. He hit well, though he didn’t quite live up to the considerable hype surrounding him. Watch for him to break out in a big way this season.

Last but not least, Luke Scott is another player to watch. He will primarily fit into the DH role while serving as a back-up outfielder.

Pitching: Admittedly, the pitching rotation is pretty poor for the Orioles, with such young arms. To combat that, the Orioles traded for Kevin Millwood to give them a veteran presence on the mound and in the clubhouse. The O’s have Jeremy Guthrie right behind Millwood to offer a decent 1-2 punch. There are other pitchers to keep an eye on.

One is Brad Bergesen, a fourth-round pick in 2004 and a high school teammate of Phil Hughes,  made great strides in 2008, leading to his call-up in 2009. A comebacker off the shin cut short his 2009 season, but Bergesen has looked good this spring and will slot in behind Guthrie.

The No. 4 overall pick in 2008, Brad Matusz signed late and missed the minor league season. His first full professional season was 2009 and he cracked the Major League rotation. He features an above average fastball, curveball, and slider, and is working on improving his changeup.

The bullpen doesn’t appear strong at all. With Chris Ray gone Jim Johnson will assume the primary setup role. He was excellent in 2008, throwing 68.2 innings and posting a 2.23 ERA. Behind him Mark Hendrickson will be the long man and Koji Uehara will slot in somewhere once he comes back from his hamstring issues.

Prediction: They are at least better than the Blue Jays, but not ready to contend yet. They have two potential top of the rotation arms in the rotation to start the year and then have another who nearly cracked the Opening Day rotation. Beyond that their # 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 prospects are all pitchers. If they head into next season with Matusz, Bergesen, and Tillman with one or two of those prospects in tow, we could see big things in 2011. As for 2010, unless something big goes wrong that the O’s will climb out of the AL East cellar and finish ahead of the Jays. The Orioles have better hitting and better pitching in the current talent column, and really they have better future talent as well.

81-83, Fourth Place

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In the very first live game I watched in Taiwan, Andy Pettitte was overpowering, retiring his first 20 batters before an error spoiled both his perfect game and no-hit bid, as the Yankees defeated the Orioles 5-1.

With the win tonight, Pettitte passed Lefty Gomez for third place on the all-time Yankees wins list with No. 190. Pettitte also improved to 50-19 career in August. His .724 August win percentage stands third best all-time.

Pettitte was ready to finish the seventh without allowing a baserunner, but Jerry Hairston let a two-out grounder slip through his legs for an error.

With his 190th victory with New York, a number bested by only Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231), Pettitte allowed one run and two hits, struck out eight and walked none to improve to 4-0 in his last seven starts. Brian Bruney gave up a walk and a single in the ninth before Mariano Rivera got two outs for his 37th save — and career-best 33rd in a row.

Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie allowed two runs and four hits in six innings. Nick Swisher led off the third with his 22nd homer. New York used successive doubles by Robinson Cano and Swisher to make it 2-0 in the fourth.The Yankees pulled away with a three-run eighth that featured an RBI single by Johnny Damon and a two-run double by Robinson Cano.

AJ Burnett takes the mound on Tuesday night at 7:05pm. It was a good game for me to watch this morning — remember there’s a twelve hour difference between Taiwan and the east coast in the U.S.

Burnett won his fourth straight decision and Nick Swisher had a big game with his bat and glove, leading New York over the Baltimore Orioles 6-4 on Wednesday for its sixth consecutive victory.

Jorge Posada homered and drove in two runs, Alex Rodriguez had an RBI single and Rivera threw a called third strike past Aubrey Huff to convert his 24th consecutive save and 28th in 29 chances this season.

Swisher capped the early outburst with a two-run single and made three fine plays in right field, making up for a third-inning error. Swisher missed Roberts’ fly ball for a two-base error to start the third. But with runners at second and third, Burnett struck out Huff before Swisher ran down Ty Wigginton’s drive into the right-field corner.

Derek Jeter got New York started with a leadoff double, and Posada’s RBI double in the eighth made it 6-2. It appeared the four-run cushion would provide Rivera with a well-deserved rest, but Bruney couldn’t close it out after fanning his first two hitters. Bruney allowed two straight homers in the ninth to Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Then Rivera entered.

Burnett took a four-hit shutout into the seventh.

Phil Hughes worked a scoreless eighth that included a strikeout and a double-play grounder

The Yanks welcome Oakland to town and the return of the G-Man. It will be the Big C as Sabathia takes the mound for the Bombers at 7:05 pm tonight.

Sergio Mitre earned his first win in two years, Robinson Cano hit a two-run homer and the surging Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-4 on Tuesday night for their fifth straight victory.

Alex Rodriguez had a key two-run single. The Yankees are a major league-best 43-22 since Rodriguez came off the disabled list May 8 following hip surgery.

The Yankees improved to a season-best 19 games over .500 and took a one-game lead in the AL East over Boston, which lost to Texas.

Mitre, who was called up from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before the game, allowed four runs, three earned, and eight hits over 5 2/3 innings in his first major league start since Sept. 15, 2007. It was his first win since July 29, 2007.

After winning each of the last three games 2-1 for the first time in franchise history, the Yankees raced out to a 6-2 lead in the fourth. Rodriguez picked up two RBIs with a two-out single off Rich Hill in the third and Cano went deep after Nick Swisher led off the fourth with a walk.

Johnny Damon added an RBI single to finish the scoring in New York’s three-run fourth.

Alfredo Aceves then came in the 6th inning and got Matt Wieters to fly out to end the inning. Aceves also worked a perfect seventh, Phil Coke pitched the eighth and Mariano Rivera got three outs for his 27th save in 28 opportunities.

AJ Burnett will take the mound for the Bombers Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. as they go for their seventh straight win against the O’s. The Yanks last lost to the O’s on May 9.

Andy Pettitte pitched a big game tonight for the Yankees. He went 7.1 innings, allowing only one run and fannung 7 batters. His final line was 7.1IP 6H 1R 1ER 2BB 8K. With Pettitte’s up-down season, it was a good way for him to start the second half. Phil Coke pitched an inning of scoreless ball in relief. Alfredo Aceves picked up the last two outs of the 9th inning, and picked up the win. He now has a record of 6-1 on the season.

The offense didn’t produce much last night. The only run they scored before the 9th inning was a solo HR by Eric Hinske. Hinske has gone 5-for-15 since joining the Yankees with 4 HR’s and 5 RBI’s.

The real story of the night was Hideki Matsui’s walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th inning. For that, he earned a pie in the face from A.J. Burnett.

The Red Sox lost again tonight to the Texas Rangers, which means both New York and Boston tie for first place in the AL East. The Yankees have now won 4 in a row since the All-Star Game. Last year they went on a tear, winning 8 straight. Perhaps this can happen again?

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