Baltimore Orioles: Sleepers again in the AL East?
By Jacob Adams
Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
As the start of spring training inches closer it’s almost time for baseball’s so-called experts to begin to hash out their predictions for the upcoming season. It’s a somewhat silly assignment that’s main purpose is to fill dead air space, but every major sports outlet seems to feel the need to do it. Any baseball fan watching or reading these opinions is fully aware that these educated-guesses are hardly written in stone. However, for Orioles’ fans especially, these have become rather irritating examples of how the Orioles still can’t garner the attention of the nation media, despite their recent success.
The few predictions that have been voiced so far have the Orioles somewhere near the middle of the pack in the AL East and around a .500 record. This is hardly surprising to Orioles’ fans given the similar predictions the past few seasons. However, what is surprising is why the experts continually predict the Orioles to be unsuccessful, and why after continually being surprised have they not adjusted their view of the team.
There is no doubt the Orioles have had one of the most prolific offenses over the past few seasons, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why that shouldn’t continue in 2015. Also, it’s obvious that exceptional defense and a solid bullpen have been pillars in the Showalter-Duquette era, and again that should continue this season. The weakness, and eventual downfall according to the national media, must then be starting pitching. However, for those who follow the Orioles closely this prognosis is confusing.
It’s easy to look at the Orioles and highlight their lack of a “true” number one starter like Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer, and that’s obviously true. However, how many teams in baseball have a starter of that quality? For that matter, how many teams in the AL East have a starter near that quality?
What the Orioles may lack in the “true ace” category they make up for in depth. All five projected Oriole starters had an ERA south of 4.00 in 2014. Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen have had three consecutive strong seasons in a row, and pitched their best down the playoff stretch last season. If each remains healthy, it stands to reason they would continue this trend.
Unlike a lot of teams, the Orioles’ rotation hardly drops off after three. In fact, it remains consistently strong throughout. Bud Norris has been a solid starter since he came into the league. However, last season he seemed to take a step forward as he posted a career-high 15 wins. Kevin Gausman, who will most likely be in the number 5 slot, probably has the best pure stuff on the team. If he can remain consistent enough to stay in the rotation early, he definitely has the potential to be the team’s ace by the end of the season.
It’s frustrating to see the Orioles’ strong rotation still being ignored by those outside Baltimore, and subsequently the Orioles projected to have a lackluster season. However, if, even after winning the AL East by 12 games last games last season, the Orioles enter this season as the underdog, I’m sure that’s a position where they are more comfortable.