The off season that the Baltimore Orioles just completed was all set to be fairly underwhelming given the players that they added…that is until the team actually reported to camp and they signed the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. Those signings turned the Orioles from off season losers to big time winners. Whereas previously the story of the off season was the Grant Balfour situation, afterwards it turned into how much beefier the rotation looked, and how much more opponents might now fear the Orioles’ already potent lineup with the likes of Nelson Cruz. But will this translate to wins and losses on the field?
If you’re going for overall wins and losses, Nelson Cruz had a WAR of 2.2 in 2013 and Ubaldo
Jimenez stood at 2.7. So doing some rough math, that’s five wins that the Orioles picked up based on those signings – which would put the O’s at 90 wins based on last season. Is that enough to make the post season? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, as we only now sit on the eve of Opening Day. However as has been the case in the past, the Orioles will sink or swim this season based on their pitching. Granted it begins with starting pitching, however it also dips into the bullpen as well.
The O’s of course traded closer Jim Johnson to Oakland, and Tommy Hunter is going to be the primary closer. Questions about the bullpen will linger throughout the first few weeks of the season, or until the ‘pen proves that it can mow down opposing batters. With that said, the success and/or failure of the 2014 season might well lie in one-run games. In 2012 (a playoff year) the Birds were an amazing 29-9 in one run games. Last season (where they just missed qualifying for the post season) they were 10-21 – do the math. In a division like the AL East, those one run games will be a huge deciding factor. That in and of itself is why the performance of the aforementioned Hunter, Darren O’Day, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, et al, is of great importance.
However wins and losses often begin and end with starting pitching. The Orioles’ rotation looks
much different than even five years ago, when it was anchored on Opening Day by Kevin Millwood. However with the addition of the aforementioned Jimenez, the Birds now have two bona fide ace-type pitchers at the front of the rotation. And when you throw in Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris, the O’s appear to be in decent shape top-to-bottom in terms of their starters. This of course presumes that the likes of Tillman and company produce what they have in the past, and there’s no reason to think that they won’t. (Incidentally that’s true of every team in the league; if Derek Jeter doesn’t produce as he has in the past he’s not going to have a good season.) However the key for the starters is once again going to be going deeper into games; if the bullpen has to pick up the slack for half of games down the stretch, it’s going to be a long season and someone’s arm might fall off.
The least of most people’s concerns is offense and the defense behind the starting pitchers. The Orioles have a potent offensive lineup with the likes of Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and of course Chris Davis. Defensively the Orioles had a historically good year in 2013, and again there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue. However the wild card of course is the fact that Manny Machado will start the season on the DL. When he returns, will he be up to what we’ve come to expect? That of course remains to be seen, however I suspect that Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette won’t rush Machado back, especially knowing that second and third base are in good hands with Ryan Flaherty and Steve Lombardozzi.
The Orioles’ 25-man roster has been finalized, and I suppose the big news is that Jonathan
Schoop not only made the team, but there’s a chance he might be in the Opening Day lineup. Speaking for myself, this was almost a formality, as based on his performance I felt that they had no choice but to bring him north. T.J. McFarland was also optioned to Norfolk yesterday, along with Jermile Weeks and Kevin Gausman. All of them are still on the 40-man roster, so they could be in Baltimore at a moment’s notice. Even Meeks will probably get the slot McFarland filled in terms of being the long man in the ‘pen moving forward.
The O’s are once again poised to contend for a playoff spot in 2014. So where do they finish, and with how many wins? It really matters who you ask; Vegas says forth place and 78 wins. However CBS’ Jon Heyman predicted the Orioles to finish first in the AL East for the first time since 1997. Ultimately, it’s safe to say that neither the Orioles or anyone else is going to finish 162-0 – or 0-162 for that matter. I know what you’re thinking…REALLY Vadala, you’re predicting them to finish somewhere between 162-0 and 0-162?! Something like that, I suppose. However let’s be a bit more specific. I think that Chris Tillman will continue his progression, and become the Orioles’ first twenty-game winner in years. Will Chris Davis hit another 53 homers? Probably not, however the O’s will now also have another 25-30 homers built into their lineup with the likes of Nelson Cruz. So what’s my prediction in terms of wins and losses? I can’t believe I’m going to do this because I’m not big on taking risks – but count me as being in the Jon Heyman camp…I’ll go with somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 wins.