BALTIMORE ORIOLES (2012 Finish, 93-69 .574, 2nd Place, Wild Card)
Preview compiled between February 25th and March 3rd. See below for updates.
The Baltimore Orioles may have won ninety three games in 2012, and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in fifteen years. But they haven’t accomplished anything yet. The debate rages as to whether the O’s overachieved in 2012, or not. Just don’t tell that to Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter, who’ve been known to build winners in other places. Most of all, don’t try selling that bag of goods to Baltimoreans. The locals are not listening to that defeatism anymore. Just in case you haven’t noticed, it became increasingly more difficult last year for Yankees and Red Sox fans to invade Inner Harbor like locusts whenever their respective teams played in Baltimore. That ticket is officially harder to buy. While that may spell bad news for the local hotels, tourist hangouts, the Babe RuthMuseum, and the Rusty Scupper, at least the baseball fans of greater Baltimore have their team back.
In loosely spoken terms, Buck Showalter has done it again. He has taken the reigns of yet another organization, and impressed upon them his sense and brand of accountability, maturity, and is in the process of maximizing their untapped ability. Some of that ability was unleashed last season in the form of a second place finish behind the Yankees. In last season’s ALDS, the Bombers prevailed again over the Orioles.
Moving forward, first consider the Yankees led all of MLB last season with 245 home runs. Second in the A.L. East, and second in all of baseball, were the Baltimore Orioles with 214 home runs. Now take into account all the players that won’t be hitting home runs for the Bronx Bombers this season. Then consider the Orioles lost the division to the Yanks in 2012 by a two game margin. Overall however, the O’s will need to do a better job scoring runs. They ranked below the American League average, in ninth place. Of their division rivals, New York, Toronto, and Boston, all scored more runs. But it also warrants noting, the Orioles, Yankees, and Rays, were the only division teams to score more runs than their overall pitching allowed.
Even with Mark Reynolds leaving to Cleveland, the O’s should still be able to muster power. They just need to cash in on the long ball with a better team on-base percentage. Within the division, only the Blue Jays ranked worse than Baltimore in team batting average and OBP last season. They batted terribly with RISP, and struck out the second most times in the division. Nick Markakis is returning from a broken wrist. In Orioles terms, he should improve the line-up immeasurably. A healthy season from Brian Roberts would also be nice for a change. Otherwise, Roberts’ potential replacement, Alexi Casilla, appears ready to take over. Adam Jones and Chris Davis are being expected to lead the team in home runs again. J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters both need to improve their batting and getting on base, yet still maintain their power levels. At third base, the Orioles have very high hopes for sophomore, Manny Machado. Baltimore could still use an offensive improvement in left field over Nate McClouth, who was acquired last season.
The Orioles biggest concern is starting pitching. In his first/rookie season pitching in the States, Wei-Yen Chen, 27, was the Orioles top winner last season. He posted a 12-11 record, and a 4.02 ERA. Chen had a combined 2.48 ERA in four prior seasons pitching in Japan. Jason Hammel posted the lowest ERA (3.43) of his seven year career. But due to right knee surgery, twenty starts were his lowest total in five seasons. If the O’s intend on making a second consecutive run towards the playoffs, Jason Hammel needs to become a thirty-game starter again, and perhaps finally become a 200-inning pitcher. In effect, he needs to become their ace. But the O’s will need yet even more starting pitching to win the pennant. After four seasons spent shuttling back and fourth between AAA and Eutaw Street, Chris Tillman, 24, seems poised to follow-up a 2012 breakthrough effort. In fifteen starts, Tillman posted a 9-3 record, a 2.93 ERA, and a 1.047 WHiP. Miguel Gonzalez, 28, put forth a very respectable rookie campaign. He made fifteen starts and pitched 105.1 innings, in which Miguel posted a 9-4 record, and a 3.25 ERA. Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and rookie Dylan Bundy, are possible back of the rotation candidates. What the Orioles lack in the starting rotation, they compensate with a quality bullpen. Baltimore’s relief corp rates right up there with any in the division. Buck Showalter named Jim Johnson, 29, his closer last season, and the right-hander responded with fifty one saves to lead the league.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2013:
Which is it? Did the rest of the division under-perform last season, allowing the Orioles to emerge in second place? Or, were the Orioles that much better than the Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays? The truth probably lies somewhere in between. However, you can’t help but like a Buck Showalter managed club to stay focused and strive for improvement. I would suggest Buck is showing the O’s how to play like a team and the results are bearing themselves out. The Orioles will hang around all season long. They will need appreciable improvement from their starting rotation in order to win 90+ games again, as the Blue Jays starting rotation is markedly better this season; the maelstrom in Boston has seemingly subsided; and Tampa remains a thorn in every team’s side. The O’s certainly have their work cut out for them. Buck Showalter will not let them fold.
I predict the Orioles will win ninety-one games this season and capture the A.L. East flag.
MAJOR OFF-SEASON ACQUISITIONS:
*Joel Pineiro, Alexi Casilla, Jair Jerrjens, *Nate McClouth
MAJOR OFF-SEASON LOSSES:
Pitching wise, Dylan Bundy, then eventually Kevin Gausman, plus third baseman Manny Machado, stand to weigh-in heavily towards any potential success in Baltimore. Dylan Bundy is the top rated prospect in the division according to Baseball America.
* rhp – Dylan Bundy
* 3b – Manny Muchado
* rhp – Kevin Gausman
Baltimore – MLB.com Top-20
* 3/1/13 Nick Markakis suffered a re-occurrence of pain in his neck. He missed games through Sunday. He will undergo an MRI on Monday.
* All players on the Orioles forty man roster are now signed.
* So far Matt Wieters is 7 for 15 this spring.