Mar 26, 2014; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Steve Clevenger (left) is greeted by Baltimore Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson (right) after Clevenger hit a home run against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Baltimore Orioles Preview: A Balanced Projection


 

This is the third of a four-part Baltimore Orioles Preview package for the 2014 season. Two days ago I wrote HERE a negative perspective about all that could go terribly wrong this year, whereas yesterday I wrote HERE about how this could be the most incredible season. And now today I balance out what I believe is a most likely scenario of ups and downs – call them hopes and fears for the 2014 Orioles. And then I finish tomorrow with a short piece that projects the AL East.

Having done this for a few years, I’ve nicely hit a couple on the head – like pretty much predicting Davis’ great season in 2013, but missed a few also – like saying it was crazy to put Manny Machado batting second in the order.

In any event, it really is pretty foolish to put one’s views out there for the whole world to see, since predicting baseball is about as accurate as trying to forecast the next winter’s weather in September. But, here it goes … and yes, I’ll bring these back again after the season in October to review what was right and what was wrong.

The six core players for the Orioles will have a mixed bag of results, though in total they will be as strong as any top six players on any MLB team.

a. Chris Davis will have a season that, in total, will be nearly as strong as 2013. He will have fewer homers and RBIs, but also fewer strikeouts, with also an improved batting average.

b. Matt Wieters will continue his outstanding catching skills, having his best season ever with an improved Orioles pitching staff. His power numbers will be about the same, with his average a bit higher though not at the level hoped for a few years ago.

c. J.J. Hardy will provide a solid year in all respects, with a slight decrease in average and homers.

d. Adam Jones will have yet another season on par with recent years in all offensive categories, contributing as always as the soul and heartbeat of the team.

e. Nick Markakis is going to have a tremendous comeback year, re-establishing power and hitting for an average as he did before the rash of injuries. The Orioles will either exercise the option for him for another year, or he will leave vindicated by the great season he had.

f. Manny Machado will return from injury to begin play in late April. He will be a solid player, especially on defense, but the offseason of rehab will have him behind at the plate, and he will not recover offensively until 2015.

The new additions in left field, designated hitter, second base, and backup catcher and utility players will make a huge offensive difference for the Orioles.

a. The DH hole will produce among the top three in the AL between primarily Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young against lefties.

b. David Lough will be an effective left fielder, especially defensively, and will produce offensively beyond expectations. He will become a fan favorite early in the season because of his hustle and aggressive play.

c. Jonathan Schoop will have an effective first year and be more productive than anything else seen at second base in several years, though it will not be enough for something like Rookie of the Year. But he will establish himself as the second baseman for the upcoming number of years.

d. Ryan Flaherty and Steve Lombardozzi will prove to be good utility players and occasional starters, while the Nolan Reimold health issue comes to a sad conclusion as simply unable to be resolved sufficiently.

e. Steve Clevenger will be the best backup catcher the Orioles have had in years, and this will allow more time off for Wieters – helping Matt have a better year offensively.

The Orioles bullpen will have an extremely effective year in total, and they will prove to be more like the pen of 2012 than 2013. This will be a key team strength that is managed well by Buck Showalter.

a. Brian Matusz will be every bit as good against lefties as in the past, and he will provide some occasional long-relief innings that save the day in multiple games.

b. Tommy Hunter will do a decent job in the closer’s role, though Zach Britton will look so good in late innings set-up work that he will eventually flip positions with Hunter.

c. Ryan Webb, Evan Meek, and Josh Stinson will all have very, very good seasons and consistent effectiveness.

d. Darren O’Day will have his poorest season as an Oriole, while Troy Patton will never pitch again for the O’s.

The starting rotation will be improved over 2013, though still prove to be the weakness of the team.

a. Chris Tillman will not be as good as 2013, though still a worthy part of the rotation.

b. Whereas Ubaldo Jimenez will have some good games, he may well have difficulty particularly against AL East teams – struggling there with pitch counts that work against him and an inability to finish off hitters.

c. Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris will struggle with inconsistency, while Miguel Gonzalez will provide strong four and five-inning starts to games, with difficulties getting deeper into the 6th and 7th frames.

d. Kevin Gausman will be the most effective starter for the Orioles in the second half of the season.

e. Suk-min Yoon will not prove to be particularly effective either at Norfolk or Baltimore. Dylan Bundy will make progress, though not enough to help the Orioles this year.

f. The season will end with the certainty of a very different rotation expected for the 2015 season.

Overall the Baltimore Orioles are an improved team in every department beyond the 2012 and 2013 versions, and this translates into a significant win total.

I am slow to make statements such as “the Orioles will go as far as their starting pitching takes them” as that does not seem terribly insightful to me. There is not a team in baseball that would not make the same statement. It is the nature of the game. Most teams have rotation concerns.

Over recent years I have tracked seasonally with the Orioles in a simple chart I keep about what part of the team either most caused them to lose or win a game. And though one would expect it to be the starting pitching, in actuality, the Orioles drop more games because of ineffective situational hitting than they do the starters putting them into a deep hole. And in 2013, the bullpen was a huge problem, particularly that fellow wearing the yellow and green now, which is why I do not grieve his loss. Save statistics are among the most worthless of baseball numbers, in my view.

So, having said that, I believe the upgrades at 2B, LF, and DH particularly, are going to make enough of a difference that the bullpen will be in far fewer critical save situations than over the past two years. We certainly hope so.

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