March 26, 2013 in Orioles Season Preview
By Staff Writer John Manuel:
The Orioles are coming off a remarkable 2012 where they surprised all of baseball by winning the wildcard game and going to the divisional series. Now the question is what will they do in 2013?
Many expected the O's to make moves in the offseason that could help move them into being American League Championship contenders, but they stayed very quiet. Baltimore brings back mostly the same team that everyone was in love with in September, so what do we expect at Camden Yards?
Most of the O's lineup was set months ago based on their younger talent locking down key spots. But it is most likely a veteran who hopes to lead at the top of the lineup once again. Brian Roberts feels he is back to being the same guy who was a double machine and a top lead off guy. Even if Roberts isn't that guy this season, if he is 85% that guy it could be a huge lift at the top. Nick Markakis and Nate McLouth filled in well in the leadoff spot but the O's hope Roberts can once again be the guy. If Roberts fails or can't stay healthy, the team has a solid option in Ryan Flaherty as well.
Markakis should go back to his regular second spot behind Roberts. Markakis has had some injury issues this spring so hopefully he is ready to go after also missing the playoff run last season. I figure Markakis has to be motivated after watching his teammates’ run after his freak injury.
Adam Jones should follow and once again play like the MVP candidate he was last season. I don't see any issues with Jones. Matt Wieters should be in the cleanup spot and this is where I think the O's can make huge strides. Everyone has been waiting for Wieters to take off and this could be the season for him to put up monster numbers. The Orioles should have locked him up already because I think he is about to go off in 2013.
The rest of the lineup could change around however Buck decides. But it looks like Chris Davis will be at first after a season of moving around multiple spots including pitching. I didn't see Mark Reynolds leaving as a loss. I bet he hits .200 this season in Cleveland. But thanks for those couple weeks against the Yanks.
Manny Machado comes into his first full season at third and should increase his power numbers from last year. I don't think it’s too early to expect big things from the Machado Man. JJ Hardy returns at short after rumors of possibly being moved in the offseason. Hardy hit for a low average last season and it would be huge if he could get that back to what he did in 2011.
Left field looks to be a situation with Nolan Reimold and Nate McLouth and to see who gets hot and wins the majority of playing time. Both could DH along with Wilson Betemit who is back. The Orioles have had huge springs from both Connor Jackson and Steve Pierce as both try to make the 25 man roster back to Bmore.
I do like the lineup even though it's very much the same as last season. But don't forget, the O's won last season and a lot of these guys we know can improve. I think the lack of movement towards a big hitter in the middle was Duquette and Showalter feeling the right guy just wasn't there. I could see them adding the right guy during the season or waiting for next winter.
The team is young and can be patient and also flexible. The O's can add a corner infielder or outfielder anytime the way they are currently composed. Machado could make the move to short as expected and Davis to DH or the outfield. More and more I like the way the lineup shapes up.
A week away and for once the Orioles look to have a 5 man staff close to taking shape. Four spots look to be almost locked up and the fifth could be quickly. Baltimore came into camp with their best depth in years by having young guys returning like Steve Johnson and bringing in a vet like Jair Jurrgens. But it looks like both of those guys won't crack the O's rotation. Jason Hammel to no one’s surprise will lead the staff. Hammel was a steal in 2012 and now if he can stay healthy should be put up another solid year.
Hammel is followed by Wei-Yin Chen who was the O's most complete starter last season. The O's hope that Chen can add to his innings, as he went longer than any season in Japan.
The Orioles biggest surprise last season was Miguel Gonzalez and he should be in the third spot, Gonzalez came through big for the O's and looks to become a legit top of the rotation guy now.
We’re a week away and the odds on guy to go fourth is Chris Tillman. Tillman shined once he got his chance last season. He was a prized prospect who seemed to be going nowhere until last season. Two other guys who found themselves in the same situation were Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz, both fell out of favor as starters and were bounced. Now both look to be the final battle for the 5th spot. If Matusz loses he could go back to the spot where he shined down the stretch, in the pen. So I figure Arrieta wins this one.
All in all it’s not the Blue Jays or Nationals via names or stats but the Orioles have some depth to work with. It is a must that they get more innings from their starters and not have to move guys around all season like in 2012.
Injuries and consistency will determine where this staff goes. Just like with the lineup there still could be a move in the future to get that true number one type pitcher. I wouldn't count against it if the Orioles are in contention once again.
Going into this season most would feel this is the area of the ball club that they are most confident in if it isn't the manager. The pen looks to be loaded for the Orioles. Jim Johnson once again handles the closer role like last season, where he had a huge season. Johnson has the numbers but Darren O'Day may have been the O's best guy in the bullpen.
As the season went on, Everyday O'Day got more confidence as well as the confidence of his manager. Pedro Strop was great early and exciting to watch, then struggled and was rarely used. But then the WBC happened and he became a star for the Dominican. Being on a stage like pitching for the Dominican in the WBC has to be a game changer for Strop. If Johnson struggles, Strop could be an insurance plan for Showalter.
Tommy Hunter finds his way on this team in the pen and not as a starter. He can be used in different situations and should be valuable. Luis Ayala gave the Orioles a strong 2012 but now finds himself being shopped due to the crowded talented bullpen. As for the lefties, even though he wants to start Brian Matusz could end up a dominant left handed reliever and keep his promising career. Troy Patton spent most of 2012 as the only lefty down in the pen, now he has some help.
The bullpen looks to be as good as there is in the game. Add to that a manager who knows what to do with a strong pen and this should once again be a strength. Overflow from the starter competition also adds to depth in case of any injury losses. The O's pen is in a good place.
What makes the Orioles a good team? Easy. It is Buck. I say this all the time but Buck Showalter is a winner and thank god that he took the job when this organization was down. He is why I have confidence in this team versus the rest of the tough AL East.
Way Too Early Prediction:
I don't think last season was a fluke after watching the whole 168 or so games they played. Worst case scenario is that the starters are a disaster due to injuries or guys not taking the next step up. I am confident this team will be able to hit and I am sure the bullpen will be solid again even if they are a bit overworked. And I think Duquette and Showalter will add talent if the right move is out there, they are not in this for it to be a 10-year plan.
Last season they went a remarkable 93-69. Boston should be better after last season’s train wreck. The Yankees are having all kinds of problems. Tampa once again should be right there in the mix with what they will bring. And Toronto is a true wild card, huge talent upgrade but a new yet old manager and the uncertainty if it all comes together.
My call is they tie at 95-67 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Both teams make the playoffs.