For years, the Orioles’ biggest draws have been the Red Sox and Yankees. Now, with the emergence of the Toronto Blue Jays as the winter book American League East favorites, here are the most intriguing Orioles opponents of 2013.
1) Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have been borderline irrelevant for nearly two decades. Never in the category of the Orioles, who had 14 straight losing seasons or the Pirates, who’ll shoot for their 20th straight sub .500 season in 2013, but kind of blah.
In their early 90s prime, Toronto had a most appealing team. They have a new one this team with the additions of three starting pitchers: Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and this week’s catch, R.A. Dickey. Jose Reyes came along with Buehrle and Johnson from Miami, and the additions along with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie, make the Blue Jays an up-and-comer.
According to a poll by Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi, Toronto is the favorite to win the AL East. Morosi polled 20 scouts and executives, none with ties to the division, and 13 picked the Blue Jays. Ten picked the Orioles for last place.
Toronto makes three visits to Baltimore: Apr. 22-24, July 12-14 and Sept. 24-26.
2) New York Yankees
While lots of Baltimore is impatient with the Orioles, the same holds true in New York. Used to wild free agent pursuits, the Yankees have stuck to re-signing their own players, mostly to one-year deals. Kevin Youkilis was the exception.
With Alex Rodriguez supposedly out for three months, Oriole Park fans may not have a chance to boo him until the Yankees’ final visit of the year: Sept. 9-12.
New York’s first two visits come on May 20-22 and June 28-30.
3) Los Angeles Angels
Last season, the Angels played only two games in Baltimore. This year, they’ll play three. Those two games were memorable because the Orioles lost by a combined score of 20-4 and featured the catch you’ve now seen dozens of times: Mike Trout’s robbing J.J. Hardy of a home run.
Albert Pujols played his first game in Baltimore last year and hit a home run. With Josh Hamilton, Pujols and Trout together in the same lineup, Los Angeles is going to be a can’t miss attraction everywhere.
Their visit to Baltimore is June 10-12
4) Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers make their first Charm City appearance in 11 years in April. It will be the Orioles’ first experience with early-season interleague play.
Los Angeles will feature lots of players Orioles fans have seen before: Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Zack Greinke, and a few they’ve never seen: Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly played under Buck Showalter with the Yankees.
Los Angeles arrives for a three-game series from Apr. 19-21.
5) Washington Nationals
For the first time since the Nationals arrived in Washington, both teams were good and fun to watch. Both made it to the fifth game of the Division Series and were eliminated hours apart.
With two 15 team leagues, the schedule has been altered and the teams will play four games—two at each park—May 27-30.
The Nationals play in Baltimore on May 29 and 30, and perhaps Stephen Strasburg will pitch. In two previous series, Strasburg’s turn didn’t come up.
It’s still not a rivalry, but it’s a much more fascinating series now that both teams are competitive.
Sorry Red Sox fans, I’m no longer putting you on the list of most intriguing opponents. It’s going to take more than signing Ryan Dempster and Shane Victorino to make Orioles-Red Sox games must watch.
The Orioles handled the Red Sox easily, and while getting John Farrell to manage instead of Bobby Valentine may be good for morale, I can’t see Boston being a compelling watch in 2013.
Detroit nearly made my list. They’ll be on hand from May 31-June 2. With Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers will be fun to watch, too.
NOTE: The Orioles will sponsor Baltimore’s New Year’s Eve celebration in the Inner Harbor. It will take place on Dec. 31 from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Fireworks celebrating the New Year will take place at midnight.