Orioles 2014 Season Preview

| March 30, 2014 | 0 Comments

Back CameraIt was the great James Earl Jones in the movie Field of Dreams who said, “the one constant has been baseball.” Now here we are less than 24 hours away from the start of the Baltimore Orioles baseball season.  I know it’s hard to believe as it snowed this week, but not long from now we will be sitting in the nice spring weather enjoying our favorite beverage and watching our beloved Orioles hopefully have another magical season.

The offseason started bad as the O’s made no significant moves, traded Jim Johnson and didn’t resign a few other players. For a while it looked like the O’s would make no improvements heading into the 2014 season; however, last month that all changed as the O’s acquired Ubaldo Jimenez to help the starting rotation and Nelson Cruz to stabilize the lineup.

Despite the Jimenez and Cruz signings, many pundits are still picking the Orioles to finish in the cellar of the American League East. Sure there are still a few question marks, but I believe this team is talented enough to win the division.

Here are some thoughts about the upcoming season:

The 2B job needs to go to Jonathan Schoop.

This may be a moot point for the first couple of weeks of the season since Manny Machado is on the DL, meaning Ryan Flaherty will likely have to play 3rd base, but the starting 2nd baseman from the beginning of the season, until he proves he doesn’t deserve it, has to be Jonathan Schoop.

I am a firm believer in not “over seasoning” a player in the minor leagues and giving them their shot sooner rather than later. This spring Schoop hit .400 with an OBP of .436 and 2 home runs. He was the team’s most impressive hitter. By no means is Schoop flawless, but his time is now and he needs to be in the lineup every day. I like Ryan Flaherty and believe he can be a productive player for this team if he plays every day, but he does not have the talent that Schoop has. I will take Schoop and his potential over Flaherty any day.

Tommy Hunter as closer scares me.

Early this offseason the O’s traded closer Jim Johnson with his 101 saves in the last two seasons to Oakland for 2nd baseman Jemile Weeks, thus leaving a serious question mark at the closer position. While I was a Johnson fan, I believe he was not as great of a closer as the numbers indicated. He had by far the most opportunities in baseball in each of the last two seasons and his 12 blown saves (9 of which came in 2013) were way too many. He was a pitch-to-contact pitcher who always needed his sinker to be on to have success and he let far too many runners get on base. I don’t have a major issue with letting Johnson go, but Tommy Hunter will have to prove he can get the job done.

I am of the adage that you don’t need set roles in the bullpen and you can find someone to pitch the 9th each game, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same person. If you can get three outs before letting the other team tie or win the game that’s all that really matters. That being said, I believe you do need to have a closer who can get outs by striking hitters out and who has the mindset to pitch with the game on the line. Hunter certainly is a strikeout pitcher and he, for the most part, excelled in the 7th and 8th innings; however, his propensity to give up home runs is what makes him a question mark. Giving up homers is never OK, but it is far different giving up one in the 7th than it is giving up one in the 9th to lose the game. Hunter is a feast or famine pitcher, who will blow a hitter away with fastballs one minute then give up a home run the next… a very scary proposition.

Ultimately I have my concerns about Hunter but I believe he will do a good enough job for this team. I also believe if he does struggle his leash will be much shorter than Johnson’s was last season.

Whoever can get three outs in the 9th inning while still holding the lead is OK in my book.

Nick Markakis will have a bounce back season and the O’s will have the best lineup in baseball.

2013 was Nick Markakis’ worst offensive season of his career and was one of the reasons the Orioles failed to make the playoffs. Prior to last season, Markakis was one of the most consistent hitters in baseball and could almost certainly be counted on for more than 30 doubles/ 15 home runs and around a .300 avg. When the Orioles made their worst-to-first run in 2012 it was Markakis who was the catalyst of the offense, as he was showing good power numbers and getting on base at a high rate. Given his track record I am willing to give Markakis the benefit of the doubt and believe that last season’s struggles were due to being injured from getting offseason hand surgery. If he is healthy and back to his normal self, Markakis is the best option in the leadoff spot and he will take the Orioles offense to a new level.

Once Manny Machado comes back the Orioles will have the most potent offense in all of baseball. Find me one lineup that will have their #7 hitter (likely JJ Hardy in the O’s lineup) who will hit between 25-30 home runs? You can’t. Find me one that will likely have six of their nine hitters hit more than 20 home runs? You can’t. While they don’t manufacture runs and had problems with runners in scoring position (both of which I am not overlooking), I really believe this offense will finish as the best offense in all of baseball and one that will help this team win a lot of baseball games.

The Orioles will make the playoffs, possibly win the division.

You heard it here – barring any major injuries – the Orioles will definitely make the playoffs this season and could end up winning the division. In my opinion, the Rays and Orioles are the two best teams in the East and one will be the division champ while the other gets the wild card.

Let’s look at this roster, is there a team that has a better 1st basemen, center fielder, shortstop, 3rd baseman and catcher in the division? No. As far as starting pitching, both Tillman and Gonzalez pitched to a sub 4.00 ERA last season while Chen finished just over that number at 4.01. Bud Norris’ numbers will benefit with a full season of pitching with this defense behind him and with this offense supporting him. And, Ubaldo Jimenez has the stuff to be an ace. The Orioles starting pitching “woes” were far to overblown this offseason. Is their pitching as good as the Rays? No. Is it good enough to get them in the playoffs? Absolutely.

As far as the rest of the division is concerned, who really got that much better? The Yankees made a “splash” by bringing in Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran and Tanaka, but do those moves make them better than the Orioles? I don’t think so. Ellsbury is injury plagued and will almost certainly miss time this season, and at this stage in his career he is not a better player than Adam Jones. McCann is an all-star catcher but his offensive numbers are basically the same as Matt Wieters, and he is not equal defensively. He also has missed some games due to injury. Beltran is on the wrong side of his 30s and his numbers were good, but not great, last year. Tanaka put up great numbers in Japan but has yet to throw a pitch in a regular season Major League Baseball game. In addition to that, the Yankees have Brian Roberts starting at 2nd and Kelly Johnson at 3rd. Breaking down all nine positions and the starting pitching the Orioles are better almost across the board than the Yankees.

The Orioles opening day opponent, the Red Sox, are the defending World Series champs and I will admit they are good. However, they had a losing record against the Orioles last year and are relying on the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. to step in and produce for their lineup. They are all major question marks. I also believe their pitching will take a step back from last season.

The Blue Jays have yet to show they are capable of contending, so I am not sure why people continuously are picking them to finish ahead of the Orioles. Sure they have talent, but we hear the same hype about the Blue Jays every year and every year they fail to contend for the playoffs.

When you break down all the position players and pitching, the Orioles and Rays are the two best teams in the division and they will be the two teams that finish first and second in the division and make the playoffs.

Goodbye cold weather and snow, here comes warm weather and baseball. Ice down the Natty Boh’s and put on your Orange – I will see you at Pickles on March 31st!

GO O’S!!!

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About the Author:

I have spent my entire 30 years living in Maryland and I love everything about this city. Despite the bad reputation the city has, Baltimore will always be a special place to me and I love living here. There is nothing better then Sunday afternoons at M&T Bank Stadium and summer nights at Camden Yards when the Yard is packed. You can find me all over the city so don't hesitate to share your opinion of me good or bad. Who knows, if you see me out maybe I will buy you a Natty Boh. Lets go Ravens and Lets go O's!!! Follow me on Twitter at @MRomanell.
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