I'll save the final predictions for the end of this blog, but let's just say the MLB Network's "30 Clubs in 30 Days" feature last night on the Orioles was real positive.
The network spent some time recently with the Orioles in Sarasota and several interviews were featured on the broadcast last night. Analysts Sean Casey, who was in Sarasota, along with Al Leiter and Bill Ripken back in the studio all took turns with positive comments and observations about the club. Here is a sampling from the show:
Casey on his feeling at O's camp
"Buck Showalter seems to be the man around here. He has legitimately changed a culture here in Baltimore and I think all the players are feeding off it. This guy is the leader and sets the expectations high for this group and they are meeting those expectations. They want to go to another level in 2013."
The network played a comment from Dan Duquette on Showalter.
"The players believe in Buck and the reason they believe in him is that he gives them all an opportunity and he's honest with them. The personality that the team took last year, they really took on Buck's personality and the grittiness, the determination and the willingness to prepare," Duquette was quoted as saying.
Casey on Matt Wieters
"I didn't realize how important Matt Wieters is to this club. You talk to Buck and some of the pitchers and there is no doubt Matt is the leader of that staff. Whatever finger he puts down, those pitchers have confidence that he knows what he is doing. A lot of these guys look to Matt Wieters as the guy they follow."
Leiter on the O's offseason and wanting them to do more
"This was a fanbase, a couple years ago, they went down under two million, 1.7 million fans. Not too long ago, 3.5 million came out to Camden Yards. I don't know. I want to be all in. Something is saying I hope last year wasn't an aberration and (that) they fall back."
Ripken talked about the depth of the rotation
"They feel good about what they have. Yes, they have an ace on the staff, but not a legitimate No. 1. What they do have is this unbelievable depth that is probably deeper than most every team in that division. They have enough to choose from. I think Buck looks at this group of pitchers and says, 'They have guts.'
"I am not certain what the starting five is but they have nine or 10 guys that Buck feels pretty good about. I see (Jason) Hammel starting opening day. In my opinion, he is the ace of that staff."
Ripken on the bullpen
"(Jim) Johnson is probably not going to get 50 saves, but that bullpen is going to be as good as anyone's bullpen. They have matchup capabilities and different kinds of guys and Johnson is going to be nasty again."
Then it came prediction time and Ripken went first.
"Buckle up. They are first in the AL East," he said. "Everybody in that division has an awful lot of what ifs all the way through. I think what Baltimore did last year was not a fluke and I think they are at the top of that division at the end of this thing, looking down."
"They are going to compete, as they did last year, for a postseason berth," Leiter said. "I see the rotation as a question mark. Will Brian Roberts be healthy? They have some issues there but Buck has this team believing they can win and that means a lot. They'll have another winning season."
"I'm drinking the Kool-Aid after being down here with this club," Casey said from Sarasota. "The Orioles are for real, no doubt about it. I don't think there is a clear-cut favorite in the East. I see them up there in second place and getting back to the postseason. This club is legit and they believe it."