MLB PREVIEW: THE 2014 BALTIMORE ORIOLES
February 11, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
2012 was a magical season for the Orioles. Baltimore had 93 wins and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons. 2013 wasn’t as successful for the O’s, winning 85 and finishing third in the always tough AL East. If all the pieces call into place, 2014 could be the year the Orioles finally break through, but it will take a great effort from the players on the field and the front office better be willing to spend some money.
If Baltimore is going to win the division this year and make noise in the playoffs, they might want to do it now. Two of their key players (1B Chris Davis and C Matt Wieters) will be free agents after the 2015 season and the O’s may not be so willing to keep them around.
What may be disappointing about Baltimore is they are just starting to be a respectable organization again and it would be a shame to see them fall behind again in the AL East. They have good talent but aren’t keeping pace with the rest of the division. Baltimore is still in need of one, possibly two starting pitchers but it appears the front office is unwilling to spend some cash to make it happen.
Prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy will be counted on heavily to carry to load for the O’s pitching staff. Bundy is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Chris Tillman took huge strides in 2013 by going 16-7 in 33 starts. Baltimore will also count on Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Tommy Hunter and Bud Norris. The Orioles bullpen was strong in 2012 when posting a 29-9 record in one run games. 2013 wasn’t even close going 20-31 in the same category. One reason the bullpen won’t be as strong was the trading of closer Jim Johnson to Oakland. Johnson was due to make $10 million in salary this season and the front office showed its true colors by dumping his salary.
1B Chris Davis is a full-fledged star. Davis pounded 53 homeruns and drove in 138. His on-base percentage (.634) was second only to Miguel Cabrera. He may have a bigger 2014 if he can learn to be more patient at the plate and keep his hands back and drive the ball to the opposite field.
3B Manny Machado is becoming a star as well. Machado is a defensive specialist who underwent knee surgery in October and may not return to the Baltimore line-up until mid-April. Machado hit 14 homeruns and drove in 71 in 2013.
SS JJ Hardy has become one of the more consistent shortstops in the majors after hitting 25 homeruns in 2013. One aspect that hurts Hardy is his on- base percentage (.312). 2B Brian Roberts has departed for greener pastures (Yankees) so the O’s will look to Ryan Flaherty will be the leading candidate to fill the position.
OF Adam Jones is a free swinger who doesn’t like to take a free pass (Jones only walked 25 times last season in 689 plate appearances). Jones is one of the most dynamic players in baseball today with excellent speed, power hitting (33 HR) and he is durable. Jones has missed only two games over the past two seasons.
OF Nick Markakis was once considered the top player in the organization but has since regressed. If Markakis doesn’t produce in 2014, the O’s will not pick up his $17.5 million option for 2015. Nate McLouth started in leftfield for the Orioles in 2013 but was signed by Washington in the off-season. Baltimore will look to Nolan Reimold, David Lough and Steve Pearce to fill the gap.
Baltimore’s starting line-up is above average with Machado, Jones, Davis and Hardy. The pitching is below average in most accounts, including the bullpen. If the O’s plan on staying competitive in the AL East, they better spend some money on pitching talent and they better retain the key elements that has brought them success over the past two seasons.
PROJECTED FINISH: Third AL East