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2014 Season Preview: Baltimore Orioles

oriolessmileThe Baltimore Orioles head into the 2014 season as a bit of an enigma in the American League East. With a top notch offense, with more power than any other team in the Major Leagues, and an absolutely fantastic defense club, one would imagine that the O’s would be near the top of the AL standings when it’s all said and done. However, if there’s one thing that’s going to undo Baltimore, it’s going to be lackluster pitching, just as it was last year. They made one significant addition to the staff, as well as a bit of depth in their bullpen. With a couple of young arms potentially ready to make the jump, their staff may demonstrate at least marginal improvement in the upcoming season. But will it be enough?

Depth Chart (As of 3/18 and with a healthy Machado)
C: Matt Wieters
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Ryan Flaherty
SS: J.J. Hardy
3B: Manny Machado
LF: Nolan Reimold
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
DH: Nelson Cruz
SP: Chris Tillman
SP: Ubaldo Jimenez
SP: Miguel Gonzalez
SP: Bud Norris
SP: Wei-Yin Chen
CL: Tommy Hunter

New Faces
The Orioles went down to the wire with their offseason additions. Prior to the spring getting underway, their only notable offseason moves were the ones they didn’t make. They famously backed out of a deal with Grant Balfour after concerns over his physical, as well as Tyler Colvin, though the latter was far less significant. Before opening up camp in Florida, the O’s had added the likes of only Ryan Webb and Delmon Young. The far more intriguing moves came late in the offseason.

The Orioles went out and grabbed a couple of very notable free agents that were still on the board as spring camps opened up. They first signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year deal, finally deciding to surrender that draft pick that they were so reluctant to, before adding Nelson Cruz on a one-year pact. Jimenez is the kind of starter this team needed badly, while Cruz adds another power bat to an already powerful lineup. Don’t forget about Suk-Min Yoo, either, though it remains to be seen when he might actually make an impact.

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Departures
It’s hard to label any of Baltimore’s losses as truly significant. The one that’ll be interesting to see how they fare without is Jim Johnson, who was traded to Oakland. Tommy Hunter will take over for him in the ninth inning. In addition to Johnson, the Orioles allowed Jason HammelScott Feldman, and Francisco Rodriguez to walk in free agency, as well as Nate McLouth and long time Oriole Brian Roberts. Again, nothing here indicates that any of these guys, perhaps with the exception of Johnson, are players that the Orioles absolutely need to compete.

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Impact Rookies
The most intriguing quantity here is obviously going to be Kevin Gausman, who’s trying to grab a spot in the rotation to start the year. While he looks to be a longshot for that role immediately out of the gate, his strong spring performance should indicate that he’ll have an opportunity in the very near future. He’s allowed just two earned on four hits across seven innings thus far this spring, while punching out five. He’s going to be on this team at some point this season, and in the rotation, it’s just a matter of when.

Rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop could also be looking at a job out of the gate, at least until Manny Machado returns.

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Position Battles
The only real position battle in the field for the O’s is quite inconsequential. That spot over at second base isn’t exactly going to be a source of impact offense for Baltimore. Jemile WeeksRyan Flaherty, and Jonathan Schoop could all hold down that spot, but with Flaherty occupying third base until Machado returns, it’s likely going to be down to Weeks and Schoop. As of right now, Schoop holds the edge and it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out there, especially when Flaherty is forced off of third base with the return of Machado.

In the rotation, a pair of young options are fighting for jobs. Kevin Gausman wants a spot in the rotation, as does Zach Britton. However, at this point neither appear likely for gigs with so many veteran options already set in the starting five. Of course, while there are options there for Baltimore, it remains to be seen of what quality they may actually be. Can Bud Norris hold down a job for the entire year? And you never know what will happen with injury. They’ll get their opportunities.

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Injury Concerns
You have to start with Manny Machado and his return from that gruesome injury he experienced at the end of last year. His rehab has been going well and while he’ll start the season on the 15-day disabled list, he should return within the first month or so of the season. Of course, there’s always the question of how he’ll perform when he does return to the lineup.

Nelson Cruz isn’t exactly a picture of health and could be something of an injury concern. He’s only played in at least 150 games just a single time in his career. His health will be a big factor for an Orioles team that is going to have to rely heavily on their offense to put up the wins.

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Best Case
The Orioles are one of the top offensive teams in baseball, even if Machado isn’t ready to start the season on time. They’re a top five team in scoring runs and you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that hits the ball out of the ballpark more than them. They also play defense as well as any team in the league, almost to a historical level. If their pitching can come through, perhaps Gausman comes up and makes an impact in the rotation, this is a team that has a chance to make some noise in the American League East. While they have major potential on paper, there’s stiff competition for that division crown. Best case scenario likely puts this team in a position for a wild card spot, with that offense and defense helping them to do some damage in the postseason.

Worst Case
The pitching doesn’t come through like the Orioles need it to. The Ubaldo Jimenez deal backfires in the worst way and the Orioles fight to stay out of the division cellar. Any worst case scenario involves this team basically always relates directly to the pitching failing to come up like the O’s need it to. The offense will be there either way.

Realistic Scenario
The Orioles face a pretty tall task if they’re going to contend for an AL East division title. They could certainly make a run at it, with even a middle-of-the-road pitching staff. However, with the Boston Red Sox coming off of a fantastic year, the New York Yankees spending crazy money, the Tampa Bay Rays having absurd pitching depth, and the Toronto Blue Jays being able to keep up with Baltimore’s offense, it won’t be easy. They’re at least a .500 team easy, but they may not advance much further than a wild card round.

About Randy Holt

Spending his days as an English teacher, Randy spends his afternoons, nights, and weekends as a writer on the Bloguin Network, as well as SB Nation. He is a staff writer for both Puck Drunk Love and The Outside corner, as well as Second City Hockey and Beyond the Box Score on SB Nation, showcasing his love for both hockey and baseball, as well as run-on sentences. A Chicago native (and Phoenix resident), he is an avid Game of Thrones viewer/reader and lover of red meat.

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