2014 MLB Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles
A year after an unexpected 2012 campaign in which the Baltimore Orioles won 93 games and advanced to the ALDS, they could not quite retain that same magic and finished with a record of 85-77, finishing six games back of a wild-card berth. Their main issue was starting pitching, but general manager Dan Duquette attempted to fix this problem by signing free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, who compiled a 13-9 record and an impressive 3.30 ERA last year for Cleveland. Duquette also signed outfielder Nelson Cruz to a one year/ $8 million dollar deal that will add some pop to an already imposing lineup featuring Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis. The question is: will it be enough to compete in the brutally difficult AL East?
Whether or not the Orioles can compete for a division title will largely depend on the performance of their starting pitching, which struggled mightily in 2013 with a 4.57 ERA (tied for 4th worst in MLB). The rotation was plagued by injuries throughout the year, and their only consistent starter was Chris Tillman, who had a breakout year with a 16-7 record. Tillman and Jimenez will likely be the #1 and #2 starters with Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez following them. Newly acquired Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon and youngster Kevin Gausman could also potentially earn their way into the rotation.
While not nearly as effective as it was in 2012, the bullpen was still respectable with a 3.52 ERA. It took a big hit in losing closer Jim Johnson, who led the MLB with 50 saves in 2013. Tommy Hunter, who proved to be one of Baltimore’s most reliable relievers last season, will most likely take Johnson’s place. The bullpen will likely be middle-of-the-road again or maybe a little better due to the additions of Yoon and former Marlin Ryan Webb.
The Orioles’ hitting last year certainly was not a problem, as they led the MLB in homers and were ranked 5th in runs scored. Although they lost outfielder Nate McLouth and long-time second baseman Brian Roberts to free agency, Baltimore will still be in good hands offensively with sluggers Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and the newly acquired Nelson Cruz, as well as other solid offensive assets Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, and Markakis returning for the O’s.
Defensively, Baltimore could not be much better. Last season’s Orioles were the best defensive team in the history of baseball, setting all-time records for fewest errors committed and highest fielding percentage. Jones, Hardy, and Machado all won Gold Glove Awards, and one could argue that Wieters should have won one as well. Despite Machado possibly having to miss time due to a lingering knee injury, the defense will remain solid.
Overall, it looks like manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette have the O’s on the right track. If the pitching staff can come together, the offense has enough firepower to make Baltimore a legitimate playoff contender and a force in the American League.