Jul 30, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Bud Norris (25) pitches to Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler (3) during the fifth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
This is going to be one of the more difficult Baltimore Orioles articles to write. I thought the O’s would have a much better season than their eventual 81-81, as did more than a few others. Just when we had turned the corner a bit with the national baseball writers finally starting to believe in Baltimore baseball again after the good 2012-2014 season, the Birds laid an egg this last year.
Before I reveal just how stupid I was in April, let me draw some more prominent names into the category of baseball writing idiocy. Let’s look at just one site from the beginning of the season — the ESPN baseball page, with 15 experts making their projections. This includes people like Buster Olney and Jayson Stark, both who make a couple of bucks more than I do to write this stuff.
Of the 15 experts, 10 did indeed select the Orioles to win the AL East. However, they ALL selected the Nationals in the NL East, and not a person picked the Rangers.
OK, let me put it out there and get the pain over with. I wrote …
Benefitting from a career year by Nelson Cruz, a breakout season by Steve Pearce and solid play from a handful of others including veterans Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy, it was the pitching staff that really made the difference. The bullpen was among the better relief staffs in all of baseball, but it was the solid pitching of the starting rotation over the final four months that accounted for the largest difference.
Since that entire starting staff is back, and only a two-month rental in the bullpen is missing, this foundation is more than adequate in my view to place the Baltimore Orioles as a definitive favorite in the AL East. Without doubt, the division has strengthened – especially the Blue Jays and Red Sox. Even so, the Orioles’ position players look prepared for a sufficient support of the pitching staff to carry the team to a title, albeit a bit closer than last year.
The problem from one year to the next is obvious. Noting that the rotation made the difference in 2014, they sadly also made the difference in the other direction in 2015. This can’t be denied as the largest single reason for the recent mediocrity, even as I think I am more critical of offensive woes than are most Orioles writers and fans. Too often, when the starters were throwing a decent game, the offense was totally absent. And the Orioles failed so many times to come back and win late in games.
It probably was too much to hope that the five starters in the rotation at the end of 2014 (not counting Ubaldo Jimenez in this group) would have an equal season in 2015. Wei-Yin Chen was as good or better, Kevin Gausman was only slightly worse, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez both took big steps backward, and Bud Norris was totally god-awful. Imagine if Jimenez did not improve over his first O’s season!
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At the beginning of the season, everyone was believing the AL East was improved, particularly with acquisitions by the Blue Jays and Red Sox. It turned out to work well for the former, though not the latter. And beyond that, it was additions at the trade deadline that more significantly helped the Jays over the hump and to the top of the division.
We’ll soon see if we have an all-Texas AL Championship Series. I guarantee that there is not a single baseball writer in the entire world that would have predicted that!
It takes a lot of guts to write these things, sign your name on it, and put it out there for the whole world to see! But, I love it; I love the sport, and always will.
Check the links below for the first two articles in this three-part series …