At just after 8 PM on October 12, 2012, the 2012 Baltimore Orioles’ journey came to an end. It was a sad moment for the Birds and their followers for sure, however it was also the beginning of what all hope will be a period of stability for the franchise. The O’s came a long way year-over-year, which caused me at that moment to reference Senator Edward Kennedy’s The Dream Shall Never Die speech in my recap of that final game against New York. It’s an interesting comparison regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum for sure. However all of that is now behind the O’s and manager Buck Showalter, as the journey begins anew in 2013.
Tomorrow the O’s will begin that new journey against Tampa at Tropicana Field. So what can Orioles fans expect from this team as we move into the regular season? As is the case for most teams, the pitching will be key. Late last week the Orioles confirmed what many people were already thinking in that the rotation will be as follows: Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman. As of right now, those five names are the key to the Orioles’ season. If they can stay healthy and remain effective, the Birds will be a force in 2013. If they cannot, not all is lost; then it becomes contingent on the next man up. Can he fill the void? The Orioles have the depth in their organization to be able to think like that, which is a good thing. Ultimately you’d like that depth to stay right where it is and perhaps end up as trade bait, however that’s why you’ve built the depth up in the first place.
So much was made of the 2012 Orioles’ ability to win one-run games, and even more is being made of how that’s not possible to replicate in 2013. Keep in mind that winning one-run games isn’t always a good thing. For sure it’s says that your team is able to come through in the clutch and so forth, but one-run wins also indicates that you’re on the brink of losing. So fans should strive for those one-run wins to be significantly less in 2013; they should want to see the margins be larger than one run. In this vain the question that hangs in most fans’ minds is whether or not the O’s can produce the runs necessary to do that. While they won’t miss his strikeouts, the O’s will miss Mark Reynolds‘ home runs in 2013. However a presumed full season of Nolan Reimold and a full season of Manny Machado will potentially make up for that. Not to mention that the O’s will presumably have a full season of Nate McClouth and Brian Roberts getting on base and causing problems. The Orioles also have 33 and 34 home runs respectively coming back in 2013 in the form of Adam Jones and Chris Davis, along of course with Matt Wieters behind the dish.
The O’s will face tough competition within the division in 2013, with Toronto appearing to be the team to beat. I do feel that New York and Tampa will take a few steps backwards, and while Boston might take some steps forward I’m not sure those steps will be big enough to challenge in the division. In the Orioles’ case I feel that it really boils down to the pitching. If Jason Hammel can stay healthy and Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez come out of the gate like they did in the second half of last year, the O’s will be a force throughout the year. The bullpen of course will have a big say in a lot of games, and with “Dirty Jim” Johnson coming back (along with the lines of Darren O’Day, Pedro Strop, Troy Patton, et al) the Orioles’ bullpen looks to be in good shape.
So where will they finish? That’s what everyone wants to know! The AL East is really tough to predict this year. On paper Toronto has separated themselves from the pack, and NY has probably fallen back to that same pack. However keep in mind that many of the players that Toronto aquirred from Miami this off season were the same guys who presided over that franchise’s fall last season. And it’s hardly a given that buying a boat load of talent in any sport means that those players mesh well with the personnel already in place. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that NY doesn’t still manage to be in the mix even with their apparent lack of power at the outset of the season. These are still the NY Yankees we’re talking about; they always find a way. But the fact is that this Oriole team is better than it’s been in a long time. My prediction is that the 2013 Baltimore Orioles finish the regular season at 89-73. Sure that’s four fewer wins than in 2012, however to say the least it would put them in contention for a playoff spot.
To the group that’s firmly in the camp that the Birds will revert to mediocrity in 2013, I suppose there’s a good chance you might be right. However keep in mind that this is a franchise that’s sending potential big league pitchers to triple-A, returning two 30+ home run guys to the lineup, and appears to be healthy going into 2013. Maybe they at the very least deserve the benefit of the doubt. In the aforementioned recap of the playoff loss in New York, I again mentioned the closing of Ted Kennedy’s The Dream Shall Never Die speech:
“…the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
Why might you ask would I reference that same speech again, which in effect conceeds defeat albeit by rallying the troops? Because the fact is that for the 2013 Baltimore Orioles and their fans, THE HOPE STILL LIVES.