One source rates O's schedule as MLB's toughest, plus other notes

The Orioles have the toughest schedule in the major leagues this season.

That is according to this story from FanGraphs, which made this list looking at each team's opponents and going by team-by-team WAR projections. The O's MASN partners, the Washington Nationals, were rated to have the easiest schedule for 2014.

No doubt the AL East remains tough with the Orioles' schedule ranked No. 1 along with Toronto No. 3, New York No. 6, Tampa Bay No. 7 and Boston No. 8 in the American League. On the other hand, clubs that the O's could be competing with for a wild-card berth late in the year like Detroit, Texas and Oakland, have the easiest schedules using this calculation.

The article's author, Jeff Sullivan, says of these rankings, "The effect is relatively small, compared to just levels of talent, but at the extremes it can make a difference of a few wins."

Sullivan earlier used a similar method to rank the six divisions and they came out this way from best to worst: AL East, NL West, AL West, AL Central, NL Central and NL East.

Today is an important one for over 100 Orioles minor league players. It is the first day of exhibition games for those players.

The Orioles' four full-season teams each will play with players representing their two Single-A clubs along with Double-A and Triple-A. Two clubs play at home in Sarasota at Twin Lakes Park and two go on the road. Today, all four teams play against minor league players from Tampa Bay.

As more players get cut from major league camp, the opening day minor league rosters will take more shape and players on Triple-A Norfolk today, for instance, may not be playing at that level to start the season.

The games are played with regular season rules with a few exceptions. Sometimes a team may use two DHs and bat 10 guys to get more players in the game. Sometimes an inning can end early if the pitcher's pitch count gets too high. Or it might be extended beyond three outs if a pitcher rolls through three hitters in just a few pitches.

There are also exceptions made for major league players like Nolan Reimold, who is expected to play today at O's minor league camp to get extra at-bats. The O's will inform the opposing managers of the situation and Reimold may lead off every inning or even move from one game to another on an adjacent field to get as many at-bats as is necessary.

But these are important games and evaluation tools for the minor league staff as they begin to set the rosters for the full-season teams for Single-A Delmarva and Frederick, Double-A Bowie and Norfolk. Those clubs all open on Thursday, April 3 with Norfolk and Bowie at home and Frederick and Delmarva on the road.

The O's play against Tampa Bay the next two days with the Single-A teams at home today at 1 p.m. while the Double-A and Triple-A teams are on the road. On Thursday, the higher level clubs play at home at 1 p.m. Some days, the games start at noon or 12:30 p.m. and there is no charge to attend. It's a great way to get an up-close look at your favorite young players.

I'll be traveling to Florida this morning and if all goes on schedule, should be in Sarasota in time to check out the Orioles game this afternoon. So look forward to stories and blogs from me with a Florida dateline for the next eight days.

There were a couple of interesting tweets sent out by reporters about AL East pitchers on Tuesday. Over 140 characters, the information was interesting and may mean nothing at all come the regular season, but are worth nothing.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times sent this out:

* #Rays Balfour, who talked of dead-arm last outing, was moved back from Tues to Weds to get an extra day rest but Maddon says "He's fine."

Adam Kilgore, who covers the Nationals for the Washington Post sent out this tweet after watching the Yankees' CC Sabathia face the Nats:

* Kind of amazing: one scout said CC Sabathia did not hit 90 mph with his fastball today against the Nats. Sat 86-87, topped out at 89.

Balfour has made three spring appearances, pitching to an ERA of 19.29. Over 2 1/3 innings he has given up five hits and five runs.

Sabathia gave up three runs and four hits over three innings in that game against the Nationals. He has an ERA of 5.40 over two spring games. Last year he went 14-13 with an ERA of 4.78 and pitched to an ERA of 6.08 after the All-Star break.

Sabathia's velocity has dropped the last three seasons, going from 93.9 mph in 2011 to 92.4 in 2012 and 91.3 mph last year, according to FanGraphs' PITCHf/x.

Sabathia's salary is $23 million for this season and is guaranteed $76 million over the next three years from New York with a vesting option for 2017.

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