Baltimore Orioles 2015 season preview


I recall writing the following words in my 2014 Baltimore Orioles season recap:

"…what the players on the 2014 Orioles accomplished was remarkable. And time will not dim the glory of their deeds."

That last part of course is a reference to the soldiers memorial which was part of the facade at Memorial Stadium and is now featured outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards. However while time hasn’t dimmed the glory of their deeds, the 2014 Orioles are now the 2015 Orioles. And the 2015 Orioles have a daunting task.

Of course the big losses in the off season were Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and Andrew Miller. The Orioles’ offense is now tasked with replacing 40 homers from Cruz, and one of the hearts of the team in the longtime fan-favorite Markakis. However the season preview isn’t going to be about them, just as the 2015 season cannot be about their absence.

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The Orioles are hoping that the combined offensive production from the likes of Delmon Young (who will see more time on the field this year), Travis Snider, et al will help to offset their absence. Of course the Orioles will also get Matt Wieters back some point early this year, and Manny Machado has been in mid-season form since the beginning of camp. These additions and re-additions will help to carry the offense to what fans and the likes of Buck Showalter hope will be 2014 levels. While this might be done more by OBP than the longball, it should still help the Birds win games.

My personal opinion is that Orioles’ pitching is more important than the offense. If the pitching can keep you in games and you can put a few runs on the board, you’ll be in good shape. The pitching staff will be anchored of course by Chris Tillman, who will be the Orioles’ opening day starter tomorrow in Tampa. However this is a staff that became very accomplished and very close last year – Miguel Gonazlez, Bud Norris, Wei-Yin Chen, et al are no slouches.

One big question about the starting rotation will be when and if Kevin Gausman breaks in as a starter. I’m on record as saying that Gausman can’t accomplish anything more in triple-A, and I think sending him to the bullpen long term would do him more harm than good. However after a few poor outings early on, Ubaldo Jimenez had a very good spring. And the Orioles are on the hook for a lot of money given his contract. Time will tell, however if Jimenez can remain as consistent as he was in camp the back-end of the rotation will continue to look good.

I would submit that the real strength in terms of pitching this year will once again be the Orioles’ bullpen. Many people didn’t pay too much attention to it through the course of the spring because I suspect a lot of analysts felt it would fall apart with the absence of Andrew Miller. However keep in mind that Miller was only aquired in the end of July last year, so in truth he only pitched two months plus for the Birds. The bullpen was strong to begin with – he only made it stronger.

The O’s will probably use some combination of Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, and/or Darren O’Day to bridge to closer Zach Britton in the ninth innings, who as we know was superb last year. And for the record, my own predictions need to be taken with a grain of salt given that I specifically said that Britton would probably never be a great closer because he was a southpaw. Shows what I know!

At the end of the day, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette are perhaps the best

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competitive advantages that the Orioles have. Showalter’s in-game moves are the stuff of legends at this point in his career in Baltimore. You’ll recall last year in game three of the ALDS when he intentionally put the winning run on base for Detroit in the ninth inning. He told closer Zach Britton that he’d proceed to induce a game and series-ending double play – and that’s exactly what happened.

And Dan Duquette has built a team that’s based on depth. Some of that depth will be on display right off the bat this coming week in Tampa, as J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters will have to begin the season on the DL (along with Jimmy Paredes). While that in and of itself could be an early season storyline if the O’s struggle out of the gate, the team is maintaining publicly that both players will be eligible to come off the DL on April 11th – that’s next weekend. Furthermore Duquette is a wiz at manipulating the roster in terms of the rules – just ask the Toronto Blue Jays about how they tried to sign Steve Pearce last season.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to know how the 2015 Orioles will finish. And who among us can truly say for sure? Needless to say, they aren’t quite the team they were in 2014, and a couple of their rivals have bettered themselves a bit. However the O’s ran away with the division by 12 games last year – so the question is whether or not someone has closed that gap to the point of knocking them off?

The Orioles’ attitude this year has to be regardless of how strong or weak we are now, we’re the defending AL East champions. If you think you can win the division this year, you have to come and get that pennant from us. But again, the question is whether or not anyone will? Boston and Toronto are both in better shape, however Tampa’s probably in much worse shape (with NY being about the same). So here’s my prediction: the Orioles will win 90 games in 2015. And while the standings will be closer, they’ll repeat as AL East champions.

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