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2014 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Mar 28, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT

Chris Tillman AP AP

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Baltimore Orioles.

The Big Question: Is there enough pitching here to get the O’s back to the playoffs?

The Orioles make their bones with the bat. They ranked fourth in the AL in runs last season, and they did it with power. Lots of  homers — first in the league — lots of doubles and the AL’s third highest slugging percentage. Adding Nelson Cruz to that lineup well only help things. While we’re many years removed from people making Chuck Norris jokes about Matt Weiters, there is still the potential there for him to have a breakout offensive season that turns him into an MVP candidate. Chris Davis is unlikely to match his otherworldly 2013, but he is still a force in the middle.

So, as almost always seems to be the case, Orioles fans are asking if there is enough pitching here. My gut feeling: it’s better, but it’s not quite enough.

Adding Ubaldo Jimenez is a gamble, but not a dumb one. He has been decent at limiting homers and that’s key in the AL East. Chris Tillman is solid. Bud Norris doesn’t knock anyone’s socks off, but Kevin Gausman and/or Dylan Bundy could contribute in Baltimore this year if the back end of the rotation falters. It’s not the best rotation in the AL East — it’s in a dogfight to even make it to third best in the division — but there are enough moving parts here where things could turn out better than expected.

But when you are in the toughest division in baseball, moving parts with upside aren’t all that comforting. if the O’s make the playoffs this year it will be because multiple guys in the rotation exceed expectations. That could easily happen. I just don’t think people get rich betting on things like that, and I won’t bet on it here.

What else is going on?

  • The bullpen is worth watching too, of course. A huge strength for the team’s 2012 playoff run, it took a step back last year and this year is in real flux. The departure of Jim Johnson and the aborted signing of Grant Balfour means that Tommy Hunter is likely to get most closing opportunities. That could work — I fail to believe that closing is some genetically-determined ability possessed by True Closers only — but it’s possible we see a lot of guys getting save chances this year.
  • Outfield defense might be interesting. Delmon Young made this team and Buck Showalter has made it clear that he and Nelson Cruz will play outfield, not just DH. Indeed, the presence of both pretty much means one will have to a lot of the time if they don’t wish to waste a roster slot. Balls to the gap should be fun. Hope Adam Jones has put in his time on the treadmill this spring.
  • With Brian Roberts gone, second base is going to be a fun position to watch in Baltimore. Last week’s trade to obtain Steve Lombardozzi could mean that he gets a lot of time there. The Nats learned last year that making Lombardozzi an everyday player is not the key to happiness, however. Ryan Flaherty will probably cover third base until Manny Machado comes back from injury, but once he does, he could see a lot of time there which, yuck. I’d love to see Showalter hand the job over to prospect Jonathan Schoop. The club will likely say he needs more seasoning in the minors, however. Which you should read as “needs less service time in the majors.”
  • This is, overall, a young team. Cruz may be an old man, but many key players on which the Orioles rely are on the rise, not the decline. Machado is 21, Schoop is 22, Kevin Gausman is 23, Chris Tillman will turn 26 next month, Dylan Bundy  in April), Britton (26), Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Matt Weiters are still only 28. Upside is there for many, and it makes 2014 just one of many chances to break through.

Prediction: I like what the Orioles have going here. And I think that they could surprise and challenge for the wild card. I just think that their pitching is too uncertain and their division too tough to predict that with confidence. They may make me look like a fool — and I know other HBT writers think they’ll be way better than I have them — but I have them neck-and-neck with the Yankees for third place, and quite possibly Fourth Place, AL East.

  1. dowhatifeellike - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    Schoop has looked good and he should get a chance at second base. It’s not like Flaherty or Lombardozzi are going to set the world on fire in his place.

    • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:42 AM

      Flaherty showed drastic improvement last year after getting demoted to the minors. Unfortunately that’s when Brian Roberts came back and pushed him out of the lineup. He has potential to be an average hitter and already is an above average defensive player.

      Two things not mentioned in the article. The defense was top 2 last year, right with Kansas City. The corners are a little weak, but the rest of the field is A-OK.

      Also, a substantial number of players are out of options this season, and that could prove to be a major issue. Duke and Buck like to move a lot of guys up and down to manage injuries and lack of days off, and the O’s simply won’t have a lot of flexibility this year. I expect to see a lot of guys lost off the roster by the end of the year because they will be exposed to waiver claims.

      I’d rally love to see Schoop step up this year, but from everything I’m hearing, he’s truly not quite ready to face major league hitting. Hopefully by the break he’ll make an appearance. If he was Machado ready, I believe they would call him up, even though they’ve held back on other players in the past.

      Gaussman is a coin toss this year. Could have a break out season. Could be below average and in the bullpen.

      Don’t expect much from Bundy. He’s recovering from surgery and the team will protect him and bring him along slowly. The general consensus in the press is hope that he will be a major factor this year. I just don’t see it. He’ll come up the last two months maybe, pitch a handful of starts, and next year will be his big coming out party. Barring major injury to other starters of course.

      Starters Gonzalez and Chen were not mentioned. I expect Gonzalez to have a MUCH improved year. I really believe that the WBC hurt him big time last year and he wasn’t right for much of the year. Chen as always is overlooked. He’s a solid number 2 on just about any rotation in the league. He’ll look really good here at number 3-4.

      I have given up on Weiters hitting. (Why wasn’t his name in bold like the rest of the guys?) He’ll never be the guy people hoped he would be, and that’s ok. He’s a top 3 defensive catcher, fantastic at handling a staff, and he’s a decent number 6-7 batter with occasional pop. He won’t be the .300 hitter we had all dreamed of.

      Cruz will help protect Davis and Jones. If Jones gets back to being patient at the plate like he did the first half of last season, I expect the two to be a force this year. Davis simply had too much power, with too smooth and repeatable a swing, and WAAAY too much power to opposite field to have a major drop off this season. I expect 40+ HR with a .275+ average.

      • proudlycanadian - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:51 AM

        Very good summary.

      • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:36 PM

        I’d call it more of an addendum, but thanks!

  2. Eutaw's Finest - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    It’s surely a frustrating team to predict. I think that’s the biggest thing to take away from the current version of the 2014 O’s.

    At the very best, we could see the 2nd half Jimenez from 2013, Gausman work his way into the rotation as a back end starter, and Hunter flourish as a closer. From the bats, the upside is that Crush Davis FINALLY has some protection in that lineup by adding Cruz, and while I don’t expect the bombs to match 2013, I think having Cruz will help keep Davis’ numbers close to 2013. We can also hope for the best from Delmon Young who had a hot spring at the dish, and Schoop to become the 2B for this team after hitting .400 in spring training and playing solid 2B (although he’s more natural on the left side of the infield).

    On the flip side… we could see Ubaldo regress back to his old form, Weiter’s continue to struggle at the plate, Hunter to implode in the closer role (not that we are short of potential candidates), and this team to finish 4th. The one benefit of finishing low on the totem pole? It SHOULD give guys like Bundy, Gausman and Schoop a sure shot at playing for the big boys later in the season so that we can finally see what they are made of.

    I also think as deep as this SP rotation is with Tillman, Jimenez, Chen, Gonzalez, Norris & Gausman, (and having Rodriguez, Steve Johnson and Bundy waiting for their shot) that the O’s will have an opportunity to make some moves at the trade deadline this year. The big question is whether they will be buyers or sellers, which all comes back to the crap shoot that is this team.

    I’m calling 3rd in the ALE. I think Tampa without a doubt will finish above us, as will the BoSox. I’m just not sure how you can bet on the Yanks finishing higher with that questionable infield and a few question marks in their rotation as well.

    • spudchukar - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      Weiters has to be better, and I too like Cruz in the Camden Inches. Jimenez, who knows, my guess is he is a little better than OK. And I haven’t seen Schoop enough to judge, but second has been a whole for a while, and if the O’s were confident he could fill in adequately, seems like he would have been inserted there before.

      However, I expect the Hunter thing to implode, but O’Day should come to the rescue. But they need Machado, cause let’s face it their pitching isn’t going to dominate, and the line-up isn’t good enough to overcome a so-so rotation without production from him. I am always partial to Norris, cause he shut down St. Louis so effectively, but he did it so often it is hard to believe it was some fluke.

      Second is doable, but more because of beating up on the pitching of Boston and Toronto, and the mess in NY.

  3. spudchukar - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:25 AM

    Always remember blogger-in-chief, Craig predicted the Cubs were going to reign supreme in the NL Central in 2012.

    The O’s are a lot like the Jays. Plenty of run scoring potential, but with starting pitching questions. But they have better, younger options than the Jays. They need Machado though, cause two holes on the infield would keep them from the WC spot.

    A distant second to the Rays, at 83-79 looks about right, but nudged out of the WC by the Royals and Mariners.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      That is not true at all. I picked the Cardinals in 2012:

      http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/09/28/looking-back-at-the-hbt-writer-predictions/

      • spudchukar - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:59 AM

        OK, my bad, I apologize, did it off the top of my head, but I’m not that senile, that I imagined a recent Cub prediction, that was similar.

        Was it 2nd in 2012? 2011?

      • spudchukar - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:11 PM

        OK, did my own research, and it was indeed 2011 when Karnac the blogger chose the Cubbies to sit atop the NL Central. Damn, been wasting more time here for longer than I remember.

    • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:17 PM

      I’ll always remember what TMQ said. “All predictions guaranteed or your money back. And since this site is free…”

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 28, 2014 at 1:00 PM

        Please tell me you don’t mean TMQB, Greg Easterbrook?

      • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Mar 28, 2014 at 2:04 PM

        I do indeed. While I don’t agree with a lot of things he writes, and I hate how he allows his writing to intertwine with his political and religious beliefs, I always did appreciate that one line. (I also stopped reading a few years ago when his column became a very obvious template that repeated itself year in and year out.)

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:22 PM

        Yeah it’s definitely a great line, but considering how much of the stuff he spouts out is wrong (see deadspin/kissing suzy kolber’s constant FJM’ing of his articles as proof), I’d rather pay him no mind. And that’s not even getting into his anti-semitism which cost him his first gig with ESPN.

  4. proudlycanadian - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    I love that Baltimore pitching staff. It might be a case of bombs away!

  5. djandujar - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    When is Bundy due back?

    • Eutaw's Finest - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:37 AM

      He’s still pitching off the flat now. They are speculating late June last I heard, but I’d expect no sooner than post- All Star Break.

  6. Eutaw's Finest - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    Another way to look at it:

    Improvements from 2013:
    -Jimenez replaces Feldman in rotation
    -Cruz/Young replace the mess of a DH situation from last year
    -Full season of HEALTHY Markakis (coming off wrist AND ab surgery in 2013)

    Other changes:
    Tommy Hunter to replace Jim Johnson as closer
    Lough/Cruz/Young to replace McLouth in LF

    I don’t see any actual area where the O’s got worse. Maybe you could say they lose some speed in the outfield when Young or Cruz play. I’ll give you that. And you could say that Tommy Hunter is a downgrade from JJ, but that’s questionable: JJ’s save totals are a result of opportunities and nothing more. Very high blown save %, and he was a pitch to contact guy (which I 100% disagree with for a closer). Tommy will blow you away hitting 100+ on the gun. Prone to the long ball but JJ was as well. I call it a wash.

    I see more power in the lineup, and a slightly improved pitching staff with a solid 7-8-9 in the pen. I like 6 or 7 games better than 2013. At the very least.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 28, 2014 at 1:16 PM

      It’s easy to see a team do better when all you assume is bad players get better, and not that the good players regress. Not saying you are wrong, but you didnt mention Weiter’s three year decline, or Davis declining…

      • Eutaw's Finest - Mar 28, 2014 at 2:20 PM

        In my other comment I mentioned Davis should see a slight bump given protection in the lineup with Cruz (because pitchers weren’t exactly shaking in their boots when looking at Weiters or the DH debacle behind Davis) and speaking of Weiters, I just assumed a comparable 2014 to match his 2013. The drop off from ’12 to ’13 wasn’t drastic. But overall, based on the new acquisitions versus the potential for drop off, I still think the production on the field should increase.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:34 PM

        In my other comment I mentioned Davis should see a slight bump given protection in the lineup with Cruz (because pitchers weren’t exactly shaking in their boots when looking at Weiters or the DH debacle behind Davis)

        What protection are you referring to? The idea that he’ll see more fastballs, for instance, now that he’s got a better hitter behind him has been debunked multiple times. He was only intentionally walked 12 times last year so it’s not like they were pitching around him. Also, he went from league average player last year (above average hitter) to one of the best hitters in the game. You think he’ll improve upon that?

        Wieters was a below average hitter last year (by OPS+, wRC+ and wOBA). What happens if he gets worse?

  7. inserthandle - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    Duquette supposedly hinted last night that Schoop will be on the opening day roster. He built this team to win now. One hopes he has enough sense to realize that hiding his best second baseman in the minors while Flaherty and Lombo waste precious at bats (.279 and .297 career OBP respectively) does not further that goal.

    • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:26 PM

      I’m with this guy:http://baltimoresportsreport.com/steve-lombardozzi-orioles-jonathan-schoop-50881.html

      Wait it out. No need to rush. I’m a fan of Flaherty and I think Lombardozzi will be serviceable until Machado returns. Schoop will have his time, but no need to push the clock when I don’t believe it’s really that necessary.

      • inserthandle - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:16 PM

        The O’s have don’t have any margin for error in this division. They can’t afford to give at bats to fringe utility infielders, even for a week. You’re high on Flaherty and Lombardozzi when all evidence suggests they simply can’t handle major league pitching. I want to win now, and worry about what happens six years from now in six years.

      • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:31 PM

        And that’s a valid opinion. I’d really love to be wrong here. I just wonder how ready Schoop really is, and how much better Schoop is than Flaherty. And is it enough to make it worth while to lose a year of control over Schoop?

  8. southpaw2k - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    I can only assume that most baseball talking heads on TV leave the O’s hovering around 3rd or 4th in the division because, while they didn’t get worse on paper, the gap between them and the rest of the AL East didn’t get any closer.

    I disagree.

    The Yankees have a decent pitching staff, but their offense and defense look below average at best.

    The Red Sox lost a major piece to their divisional rivals. They also at relying heavily on Grady Sizemore being an everyday player again, and some very young players at SS and 3B.

    The Rays’ pitching is truly elite. If a team is going to make a run at a title, they’ve got to be elite at something. I’m not crazy about their offense being able to put up enough runs to support their staff, but they’ll win a heck of a lot 3-2 and 2-0 ballgames.

    Still, the Orioles complemented their team with a few pieces that they needed. They didn’t need to make any huge splashes in free agency the way the Yankees do every off-season. They just needed an extra oomph, which ironically, was what many folks said they had needed going into 2013. They got that push this year.

    The Baltimore Orioles, your 2014 AL East champs.

  9. edouble86 - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    Craig talks about LF with Cruz and Young manning that position, but he fails to mention anything about David Lough, who may be the primary LF against righties. Lough is superb defensively.

  10. Old Gator - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    “I just don’t think people get rich betting on things like that, and I won’t bet on it here.”

    Lay off the horses, Craig. You shouldn’t go deeper in the hole. Say, have you got Lazar’s money?

    • nolanwiffle - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:08 PM

      What’s the rumpus?

  11. scoobies05 - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    I like the rays to win a close race with baltimore and Boston battling for 2nd and the wild card. yanks will be lucky to finish above 500 and will battle Toronto for 4th

  12. phillysports1 - Mar 28, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    I have Baltimore winning the WILDCARD , along with Toronto this year .

  13. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    Yet another year where I could easily see one team from the East taking the division and TWO teams in the wild card. Not likely as they’ll likely beat up on each other while the rest of the league will have an easier time of it, but it’s certainly possible.

  14. fomeols - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    I don’t disagree with the choice of Tampa, but I’m annoyed by how writers genuflect towards the Yankees and Bosox.
    People, the Yankees are awful.
    They MAY end up over .500, but relying on a bunch of infield guys who were great when Clinton was president is not going to work.
    The Bosox won everything because everything worked for them. Anointing them this year is to ignore the reality of “regressing to the mean”
    Baltimore may not finish in second place, but it won’t be decided until the final day.
    Think final day 2011…

  15. jpalughi823 - Mar 29, 2014 at 12:06 AM

    I know people aren’t sold on bud norris, but i think he might have a halfway decent year. if he’s healthy & can stop the high walk rate, he’ll shock some ppl

  16. timsizzle83 - Mar 30, 2014 at 6:39 AM

    Johan will be on the staff along with gausman after the break. I think we out duel the rays for the ship.

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