First things first

The Orioles are returning to Camden Yards for a six-game homestand that begins tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays, who just swept the Boston Red Sox to claw back into the wild card race.

Probably not the best time to be catching these guys.

Zach Britton is seeking his 10th victory. He's faced the Rays three times this season, going 2-1 with a 3.12 ERA in 17 1/3 innings. They're batting .186 against him.

The Orioles have plenty of holes to fill and decisions to make during the winter, and that includes settling on a leadoff hitter.

J.J. Hardy has done a good job in Brian Roberts' place this season, batting .268 with 17 doubles, 18 homers, 42 RBIs and a .525 slugging percentage in 64 games and 276 at-bats. That's the most games for Hardy in one spot in the order. He's hitting .203 in 18 games while batting second.

Hardy would prefer moving down the order, though he's never going to complain, and it's pretty obvious that manager Buck Showalter would prefer having him bat lower. Go ahead and add "leadoff hitter" to the shopping list.

Roberts could solve that problem by reclaiming the starting job at second base, but the Orioles can't assume that he'll report to spring training in perfect health and play 150 games next season. They'll need someone else who's capable of being the table setter.

Is there a second baseman on the market with leadoff skills? Or maybe a left fielder, if Showalter isn't sold on Nolan Reimold? A designated hitter? A third baseman if Mark Reynolds moves to first?

A closer who can steal bases? OK, that's probably not going to happen.

And finally, the rumors are true. I'm another year older. I fought it as hard as I could, but I always lose that battle.

I'm celebrating in the traditional manner - by co-hosting "O's Xtra" with Tom Davis on MASN2. I'm not sure whether he's going to jump out of a cake or sing to me like Marilyn Monroe, so you'll want to tune in and find out.


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