The Baltimore Orioles look to make it back to the postseason after a disappointing end of the 2013 campaign that left the O’s just short of the playoffs. Baltimore had some key departures this offseason, but added a whole lot more. The Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays look to be the overall number one and two teams in the AL East this upcoming year due to starting pitching and a deep bullpen, however, if there ever was a year where the O’s could compete it would be this one. The Orioles have a very solid starting rotation, a strong bullpen (albeit with an unproven closer thus far), a gold-glove caliber outfield and one of- if not-the best offense in the league. Baltimore won 85 games last season and looks like they have improved upon that same squad, but how much better will be the key to their playoff hopes.
In order to compete with the likes of the Rays and Red Sox, the Orioles needed to get a top-tier starting pitcher this offseason to anchor a good, but not great, starting rotation. The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez brought just as many jeers as it did applauses and for good reason. Inconsistency has plagued Jimenez over his past few seasons, so the questions raised are valid ones. Will this be the Jimenez that made the All-Star team in 2010 and had a sub-two ERA to finish off the 2013 season? Or will this be the Jimenez that had a career high 5.20 ERA in 2012? The fact of the matter is that even without Jimenez, the Orioles still had a strong starting rotation in “ace” Chris Tillman, Gonzales, Norris and Chen, but if the O’s can get a great or even a good year out of Jimenez, the Orioles will compete for much more than just the AL East crown. Also, if any of the back of the rotation members begins to fold, Baltimore still has two young stars-in-the-making in starting minor league pitchers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. This good starting rotation followed by an even better bullpen is what will make the O’s pitching dangerous day-in and day-out.
The Orioles bullpen, anchored by starter-turned-reliever Brian Matusz, Ryan Webb, Darren O’Day and now closer Tommy Hunter, is one of the most talented bullpens in the league and if needed will compete against the likes of Tampa Bay’s and Boston’s bullpen every single day. This bullpen has the potential to be great, especially if Britton can get ahold of his sinker and Meek and Stinson can perform well, but like most bullpens in the majors, the O’s still have question marks moving forward… especially in the closer position. Tommy Hunter is filling the shoes of departed Jim Johnson and has the stuff to do a great job, but moving from a right-handed specialist position to having to close-out ball games in an inning that could be filled with more than just “righties” is no easy task. However, skipper Buck Showalter has always proven himself to be a good bullpen manager. If he feels that Hunter is not getting the job done, don’t be surprised to see either a quick hook or a new closer-by-committee position open up with lefty-specialist Matusz and righty-specialist Hunter to close games out.
The Baltimore Orioles 2014 season prediction could not be complete without a recap of the O’s offense and defense coming into this season. The Orioles offense last season was ranked fifth in the majors in runs scored and added another powerful bat this offseason in OF/DH Nelson Cruz. Cruz will fit in nicely behind Chris Davis and with batters one through six now all being able to hit 25-plus home runs each (yes, even Markakis), the number one power-hitting team just got more powerful. Also, when Manny Machado comes back in late April, make that number one through seven being able to knock-out 25-plus each. Lead-off hitter Nick Markakis is coming into this season 100% healthy, in a contract year, and if he and catcher Matt Wieters can improve upon their offensive number of last season- which they are fully expected to do so- then even if Davis falters in comparison to his numbers last season, the O’s offense will have the ability to carry them into wins any game the starting pitching and bullpen cannot.
The Orioles defense with Nelson Cruz surely did not improve much, but if ex-Royals outfielder can split time with Cruz, the speedy David Lough will help make each outfielder of the Orioles able to compete for a gold glove. With Lough in left, Jones in center and Markakis in right, the O’s have one of the fastest and most talented defensive outfields in the game. As for the infield, catcher Matt Wieters has holes in his offense as of now, but his defense is impeccable. The third base-spot defensively is Platinum Glove-loaded with Machado’s return and SS J.J. Hardy has always and will always be a solid defensive shortstop. Much has been said about Chris Davis’ power at the plate, but on defense Davis in his first full season at first base held a .996 fielding percentage and had only six errors in over 1,377 innings. The second base position has question marks as to who will win the position and whoever they choose between Lombardozzi, Flaherty and Schoop will probably come into this season as the weakest link defensively on the roster. However, even with the second base position in tumult, the rest of the roster is solid on defense and can help keep the starting rotation stay alive later in games.
The Orioles have a young (with exception to Cruz) and talented roster coming into this season and have a lot to prove paired with higher expectations, but these players have the talent and capacity to surprise the big dogs of the AL East. The Orioles have the potential in their starting pitching and bullpen to achieve something truly special this season and pair that potential with a powerful offense and strong defense, the Orioles will be better this year than in 2013 when they went 85-77 (tied-third in AL East). Look for the East this year to be decided by a few games down the stretch and if a veteran like Cruz can shoulder more responsibility as a leader down this critical stretch, look for the Baltimore Orioles to improve their win total by four or five games and compete for the number one and wildcard spots.
2014 Baltimore Orioles Final Prediction: 89-73
Commentary by Ryne Vyles,
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer for the Baltimore Orioles