Cockcroft: Baltimore Orioles preview

Updated: January 24, 2007, 3:52 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com
Apparently, the arrival of noted pitching guru Leo Mazzone wasn't the solution to snapping the Orioles' string of consecutive sub-.500 finishes. After leading the Braves to six team ERA titles and eight sub-4.00 team ERAs in his final 10 seasons in Atlanta, Mazzone must have been humbled by seeing his new squad register a 5.35 mark in 2006, the second-worst mark in the majors. It would result in the Orioles' ninth straight losing season, and the eighth time during those nine years the team finished in fourth place.

Still, while Mazzone's arrival didn't pay the immediate dividends so many fantasy owners anticipated, there's room for optimism. "The guru" coaxed career-high numbers out of ace Erik Bedard in wins (15), ERA (3.76), strikeouts (171) and quality starts (20), as well as a promising 2.58 ERA, 1.148 WHIP and 121 strikeouts in 122 innings in his final 19 starts; steered rookie Adam Loewen to a 4.34 ERA, 1.322 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 47.2 innings in his final eight starts; and helped Daniel Cabrera turn around what was at one point looking like a lost season, as he managed a 4.04 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 62.1 innings in 10 starts after being recalled from a minor-league stint in early August.

That's a strong, young core to build around, and with former Mazzone pupil Jaret Wright joining Kris Benson as innings eaters, one has to believe the Orioles should at least boast a better staff than they did in 2006. Closer Chris Ray is one of the more underappreciated players in the game, and with better starting pitching ahead of him, he shouldn't suffer another finish like last year, when he had only seven saves from Aug. 1 onward.

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