2014 Season Preview: Baltimore Orioles
2013 Record and Finish: 85-77, tied for third place in AL East (14th overall)
2014 Projected Record: 78-84, fourth place in AL East
The Case For
There is talent on this team. Nelson Cruz improves the lineup. Nick Markakis is due for a rebound and has looked good this spring. Matt Wieters could bounce back as well, and if Manny Machado can make a successful and early return from his knee injury, there’s potential there for a breakout. The Orioles added depth to their rotation by signing Ubaldo Jimenez, and Kevin Gausman could force his way into the starting five during the season and have a major impact. In lefties Zach Britton and Brian Matusz, the bullpen boasts two former starting prospects who have been throwing the ball very well and could fill any additional holes in the rotation. Meanwhile, infield prospect Jonathan Schoop has had a hot spring and could break camp as the starter at second base, a job he could run with if given the opportunity.
The Case Against
If Schoop isn’t the solution, second base could be a disaster. Machado’s ability to come back from a knee injury that he has admitted thinking was career-ending at the moment that it happened remains to be seen. Chris Davis is bound to regress from his monster 2013 season. The team’s left-field options, led by 28-year-old sophomore David Lough, are subpar. Jimenez could be a bust, as he was in Cleveland until last year. The team traded closer Jim Johnson in a salary dump over the winter and their first pick to replace him internally, homer-prone Tommy Hunter, doesn’t inspire much confidence. Without trying to see the sunny or gloomy side of things, the Orioles look like a very average baseball club.
If the Orioles leap back into contention this year, it will be because of the continued development of young players such as Machado (21), Schoop (22), Gausman (23), staff ace Chris Tillman (26 in April), Britton (26), and possibly even Dylan Bundy, their 21-year-old pitching prospect who had Tommy John surgery last June and could return to the majors in the second half of the coming season.
Number To Know: 34
That’s how old Cruz will be on July 1. He is more than two years older than the next-oldest member of the Orioles’ projected Opening Day roster. By way of comparison, the Yankees project to have eight players older than Cruz on their 25-man roster, and Sabathia is only 20 days younger.
Most overrated: Ubaldo Jimenez
"Ubaldo Jimenez is bad money spent, in my opinion. There’s a ton of working parts there. There’s a ton of rhythm that goes to that delivery. He’s got a jab, and a wrap, and a hook back toward first base. It’s tough for him to stay consistent. I’ve seen him twice down here. First outing: Two innings, he was clean, down the hill, strikes, fastball, slider, change. Today: Three or four walks, three-and-two on every hitter, hanging sliders, got knocked around pretty good. I think that’s kind of what you get with him. He’s had two good halves so far in his career. He had his great half with the Rockies in 2010, and he had his great half last year in the second half, but there’s a lot of scary working parts to that delivery that really give me concern about his ability to be a dominant number-one starter.”
Most underrated: Chris Tillman
"Chris Tillman has really come on for me as a pitcher. He finally mastered his delivery to become an up-and-down-the-ladder power pitcher with a plus curveball. He gets guys out [by] moving their eyes up and down off of his curveball, his high fastball, his low fastball, and his changeup. That’s kind of like the classic Jim Palmer or Rick Sutcliff-type guy, and he’s finally mastered that. He throws enough quality strikes down, then he throws that big curveball that makes your eyes go up and then down, and then he’ll throw 96 at the top of the zone, and you can’t hit it, and you can’t lay off of it. So when he’s doing good, he works up and down the ladder very, very well."
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