2013 Baltimore Orioles Preview
After coming out of nowhere to be the Cinderella story of 2012, can the O’s repeat their success this season?
There is no doubt that the 2012 Baltimore Orioles were the talk of baseball last season. The team was the true Cinderella story of the year, coming out of nowhere with a wealth of young talent to keep pace with the mighty Yankees in the American League Eastern Division, just missing the opportunity to take the division crown but still making the playoffs as a Wild Card team for the first time in 15 years. They then shocked everyone again by defeating Texas in the Wild Card game, and went toe-to-toe with the Yankees in the ALDS before finally exiting fall play with a Game 5 loss. The club proved that they had what it took to hang with the big boys, but it remains to be seen if last season was a fluke, or if this young ball club has finally gelled and are in this thing for the long haul.
Baltimore spent last season finding their rotation and they somehow managed to win 93 games in the process. This season thing look to be a bit more settled as Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43 ERA) is expected to get the ball for the club on Opening Day after having a terrific season in 2012. He will be followed by Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02) and Chris Tillman (9-3, 2.93) who also enjoyed a great break-out season in 2012. The three should provide Baltimore with a solid top end of the rotation as they continue to search out the best candidates this spring to round things out in the starting five. Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25) seems a lock for the fourth spot after proving that he has the stuff to hang with the big boys last season, but the fifth spot is completely up for grabs this spring with free agent acquisition Jair Jurrjens, Steve Johnson, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter all in the mix to win the final spot this spring. Expect at least one or two of them to make the bullpen if they don’t make the starting rotation.
The bullpen was one of the biggest strengths of Baltimore’s 2012 campaign and it will return mostly intact for 2013. Jim Johnson returns to close things out for the club after a phenomenal 2012 campaign, recording 51 saves in 54 tries and finishing the season with a 2.49 ERA. His set-up men, Darren O’Day and Pedro Strop, are amongst the best in baseball and middle-relievers Luis Ayala and lefty Troy Patton kept opposing offenses guessing last year and are expected to do the same in 2013. Hunter and Matusz are good favorites to win the last two spots in the pen as they will probably not make the starting rotation, but both have the ability to throw heat and gobble up innings as long-relievers if needed.
Offensively, Baltimore lost three pieces this offseason with infielders Mark Reynolds and Robert Andino and outfielder Endy Chavez all leaving via free agency. They supplemented the losses by picking up outfielder Trayvon Robinson and infielder Alexi Casilla as well as utility man Conor Jackson to compete for spots on the club this spring. The ball club will need Chris Davis (.270, 33HR) to step up in the absence of Reynolds and have a similar season for them offensively to keep pace with the Yankees in 2013. They will also need big years out of DH Wilson Betemit, who will likely share duties with Nolan Reimold, and their outfield corps of Nate McLouth (.241, 7), Adam Jones (.287, 32) and Nick Markakis (.298, 13). The rest of the line-up will consist of catcher Matt Wieters (.249, 23), shortstop J.J. Hardy (.238, 22) third baseman Manny Machado (.262, 7) and three players who will compete for the second baseman spot this spring, Ryan Flaherty, Casilla and Brian Roberts. Roberts is the veteran of the bunch, but after only making 15 appearances last season health will be a major factor in deciding whether or not he is still capable of playing second base on a daily basis. If the answer is no, Casilla will likely get the nod given that his batting average (.241) shows that he was a little more consistent than Flaherty (.216) at the plate last season.
While it seems very unlikely that Baltimore will come out of the gates swinging quite like they did last season, there is no reason to believe that the team will regress and not contend in 2013. Their division is one of the toughest in all of baseball with New York and Toronto both looking very strong this season, and you can never count out the Red Sox or the Rays given their history over the past decade as well. This season Toronto looks to be the team to beat, and it’s not likely that Baltimore will be able to catch them as the Blue Jays could win as many as 98 games, but expect the Orioles to finish in second place again with 93 to 94 wins and earn another playoff berth via the Wild Card. With so many teams drastically improved throughout the American League, it remains to be seen whether Baltimore will have the stuff to knock off a Cleveland or a Texas in the Wild Card game, but if they do it is likely that they will make some noise in the ALDS again this year, and don’t be surprised if they play spoiler and make it to the ALCS if all of the pieces fall into place for this young ball club again in 2013.
By Robert Gonzalez