Sep 25, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles teammates Jonathan Schoop (left) and Nick Markakis (right) celebrate after a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Blue Jays 9-5. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles: A Projection of Hopes for 2014

At the beginning of each year of blogging and writing about the Baltimore Orioles (this new Baltimore Wire blog is my third association), I have written a list of my hopes and fears for the team for the coming season. I do this early in the calendar year, and then I return at the end in December to evaluate how many hopes and fears eventuated. Typically, it is about half and half in both categories.

Today I am going to begin with writing a list of my hopes and what drives those aspirations; and tomorrow I will pen my fears and concerns about what could go terribly wrong. Of course, included in what could go wrong is that these hopes are unfulfilled.

Nick Markakis to have a bounce-back year offensively – Nick was clearly not himself at the plate in 2013. There was a sense that he was just a fraction off, and why not? After a 2012 season (and offseason following) that went from one injury situation to another, he did not come into 2013 at peak fitness. Reports are that this winter has been a good one physically, and I believe we will see the Nick we remember from the past. I do not believe his recent difficulties are in the category of skills declension.

Matt Wieters to realize his offensive potential – Without doubt, Wieters is an elite defensive catcher – among the first handful in the game of baseball. This is a great value to the Orioles and the pitching staff. Offensively, he simply has not lived up to hopes and expectations. Some speculate that it is due to the number of games he catches and the physical wear and tear of such. I personally feel the lack is a sufficiently aggressive approach at the plate – too much swinging for contact, and not enough Adam Jones-ish attacking the ball. I am good with his stats being less than stellar, just don’t hit him fifth in the lineup with such.

Zach Britton to realize his pitching potential as a regular member of the rotation – This is another member of the pitching cavalry that never really arrived fully from over the horizon. The quality “stuff” is seen from time to time – so it is there. The trick is to make it regular. Hopefully his position on the team without options and fears of being sent down will help Zach to settle into a consistent performer at a high level. I think a number of factors are coming together for this to be a realistic hope for 2014.

David Lough to settle daily into left field effectively and become a fan favorite – I wrote an entire article on this theme previously. This guy is a fast, all-out, hustling, likeable player that I am believing will solidify left field in an exciting fashion. I think this will go down as a great moment and acquisition on the account of Dan Duquette.

Jemile Weeks to recover to rookie form in his new environment – Weeks was a 12th overall pick in the draft. This guy is a good athlete. His 2011 season for Oakland featured a .303 average in 97 games. I am hoping he will have a monster spring, win the job, and anchor second base for the Orioles for several years. I have a more below-average take on Ryan Flaherty than the average O’s fan or writer, though he has the skills to be at least a decent everyday player at that position – particularly on defense. But I think his greatest value to the Orioles is as the super utility man.

Nolan Reimold to recover to the productive guy seen in the past – Yes, I have written this sentence and paragraph in the past. Those still in Reimold’s boat with me are now so few that I actually know them all by name. If I could have just one wish come true for one Orioles player, it would be for Nolan. The skills to excel at the highest level of the sport were all “in there” at one point. Are they still? And can they be accessed again? My heart says 100% yes, and my head says it is still possible, but a list of things need to go well for him this spring.

Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy to be positioned at the end of 2014 as slotted rotation starters for 2015 – Gausman has some rounding-out to accomplish yet, most likely at AAA rather than in the AL East, and Bundy is coming back from Tommy John surgery. If their 2014 season were to go well enough that they will both be seen on October 15th as two parts of the 2015 rotation, that will be good enough for me for this year.

The bullpen to return to a team strength and asset – Nothing made 2012 a great season as much as the bullpen; and nothing made 2013 a crash-and-burn season ultimately as much as the bullpen. Relievers can make or break a team, and the Birds’ bullpen has done both in recent memory. Jim Johnson is gone, and I grieve that less than most. Ryan Webb is a very good signing. And as of the time of this writing, it is pretty certain an additional arm will be secured in some fashion. Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, and Brian Matusz are all pieces that can contribute well. Troy Patton may have burned some bridges – we’ll know by about June. I am NOT excited about Francisco Rodriguez rumors of a return.

The “new set of eyes” to get starters on average an inning deeper into games – Nothing illustrates the Orioles’ starters’ problems more than the dreadful 6th-inning results, where they were outscored 102-72.  That would equate to an ERA for that inning of over 6.00.  I remember feeling my blood pressure rise when every 6th inning came along last year – especially with Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton. It would be great if the new team of pitching coaches could indeed break through this obstacle and facilitate getting the starters to be more efficient with pitch counts. Even with as good as the 2013 season was for Chris Tillman, he could be much improved with more efficient pitch counts.

SUMMARY – So there are nine items. Certainly not all of them can come true. But if five or six did, the Orioles are set to have a great 2014 season. And I’ll dust this list off in December; and in March I will also state some actual predictions.

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