Orioles Opening Day outlook

Orioles Opening Day outlook

The Orioles have a fully clarified starting staff, but they still have some unresolved questions about their everyday lineup. Most of those involve left field, first base and the second slot in the batting order. Melvin Mora seems to have taken up residence in that last spot, but Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo would prefer to push him one spot lower, right in front of Miguel Tejada.

"I'm going to leave that open. I know what Melvin can do in the two-hole," Perlozzo said recently. "Someone can still sneak in there. We may have to experiment for a little bit, just to see what happens. We know we can always move Melvin into that spot and be productive. I don't want to lock anything in right now, because it can change."

The Orioles also have questions about their bullpen, which doesn't have any returning pitchers from last year's Opening Day roster. The rotation seems to be a strength, though, so Baltimore's season will likely come down to the team's offensive numbers. Only four American League teams scored less than the O's last season -- and three of the four lost more than 90 games.

Still, the Orioles were in first place in the American League East for more than two months last season, and they still boast three 2005 All-Stars in their starting infield. Mora, Tejada and Brian Roberts are the pulse of the team, and offseason acquisition Ramon Hernandez should help steady the young starting staff. There's a lot to look forward to for the Orioles, but there's also a lot to overcome.

1. Brian Roberts, 2B:
Roberts started slow this spring, but he has looked strong since returning from a severe left elbow injury. The switch-hitter sets the table for Baltimore's power hitters, but he also showed some power of his own last season.

2. Luis Matos, CF:
Matos fended off a spring challenge from Corey Patterson for his job and appears to be on equal footing as the season starts. The Orioles expect to stay with the hot bat, which means Matos and Corey Patterson will both see plenty of time.

3. Melvin Mora, 3B:
Mora has been an All-Star in two of the last three seasons -- and in the year he wasn't, he finished with a .340 batting average. It's been an impressive late-career renaissance, but Mora will likely play out the season and test free agency.

4. Miguel Tejada, SS:
Tejada is a perennial MVP candidate and the engine behind Baltimore's high-octane offensive hopes. He's coming off the least productive season of his career, but Tejada is healthy and primed for a big bounce-back campaign.

5. Jay Gibbons, RF:
Gibbons signed a four-year contract extension this winter and will be expected to provide some power to the middle of the lineup. The former Rule 5 Draft pick isn't the most patient hitter, but he makes up for it with consistently high slugging marks.

6. Kevin Millar, 1B:
Millar, a bookend to Conine, is expected to provide many of the same qualities. The Orioles would prefer to keep Millar as the full-time DH, but he may have to split time between the outfield and first base to keep Conine's legs fresh.

7. Jeff Conine, LF:
Conine was brought in for his versatility and leadership skills, traits that should blend well in Baltimore's clubhouse. The veteran will likely split time between first base, the outfield and designated hitter.

8. Javy Lopez, DH:
Lopez has struggled both offensively and defensively this spring and may not be able to handle first base over the long haul. The two-time All-Star is in the last year of a three-year contract, putting more pressure on him to perform.

9. Ramon Hernandez, C:
Hernandez has been banged up in each of the last two seasons, but he brings a power bat and a steady game-calling reputation to Baltimore's everyday catching job. If he can stay healthy, Hernandez is a threat to hit 20 homers.

1. Rodrigo Lopez, RHP:
Lopez has won at least 14 games in three of the last four seasons, providing a steady presence at the top of Baltimore's rotation. The right-hander has pitched on Opening Day three times in his brief career.

2. Erik Bedard, LHP:
Bedard was extremely erratic last season, notching a 5-1 record and a 2.08 ERA before the All-Star break and a 1-7 record with a 5.44 mark after it. The southpaw has a 12-18 career record in 50 big-league starts.

3. Kris Benson, RHP:
The Orioles acquired Benson in the hopes he could stabilize the starting staff and serve as a bridge between the front half and the back. At 31, Benson is the oldest pitcher in the rotation and should live up to his recent track record.

4. Daniel Cabrera, RHP:
Cabrera is a bundle of talent. The 6-foot-7 Dominican is one of the hardest throwers in the league, and Baltimore hopes that new pitching coach Leo Mazzone can harness his talent and turn him into a dominant starter.

5. Bruce Chen, LHP:
Chen had a career year last year, establishing himself as a big-league starter after a long and winding road. The southpaw has pitched for eight teams since the 2000 season, but he finally seems to have found a home.

The Orioles lost closer B.J. Ryan to free agency and will try Chris Ray in the role, entrusting the most important relief job to a pitcher with scant experience. Baltimore expects veterans LaTroy Hawkins and Jim Brower to help bridge the gap to Ray, and Todd Williams will also get some outs when he returns from a sore right calf muscle. Tim Byrdak is the team's situational southpaw, and hard-throwing rookie Sendy Rleal is expected to make the team and pitch in early relief situations.

Williams missed most of the spring with a shoulder ailment, and just when he seemed ready to return, his calf gave out on him. The Orioles will allow him to start the season on the disabled list and will gauge him in Minor League games before he returns. Gibbons has been bothered by a sore back toward the end of Spring Training and may not be at his best when the regular season starts.

Over the long haul, who will get the most starts in left field? If it's Conine or Millar, that probably means the Orioles are playing it safe with top prospect Nick Markakis, who appears ready to hit big-league pitching right now. If it's Markakis, that means the O's will have a logjam at first base and DH, with Lopez, Conine and Millar vying for regular at-bats. Then again, Markakis could wind up in center field, adding Patterson and Luis Matos to the volatile left-field equation. Baltimore has been guarded on the left-field race, perhaps because it's a domino that could fall and clarify several other positions.

"I've got some butterflies. I'm not going to deny that. But I've got butterflies every game, and I think I've said it to you all before. Every game you go out there, if you don't have a little bit [of anxiety], you probably need to get another job. That's the fun of the game -- the fun of competition. Once we get into that, I think things will settle down a little bit. I sure hope so." -- Perlozzo, talking about Opening Day jitters

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.