5 Reasons to Think Baltimore Orioles Could Be AL East Favorites in 2013
And, it doesn’t look like they are going anywhere as they continue to battle and keep pace with the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East.
However, next season is a different story.
I think the Birds will be the team to beat in the East next year. Yes, that is a very bold statement, but they have already achieved more than they expected and if they continue to play well, they could find themselves in a one-game playoff to determine their fate.
For a number of reasons, the Orioles will definitely be one of the top teams in the East next season and most likely find themselves in October when it really counts. Check out my list and let me know what you think.
Starting Pitcher Trade Needed
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Any Orioles fan knows the sad truth that has plagued them for almost a decade: They desperately need a number one starting pitcher to anchor their rotation which is made up of mostly young and inexperienced pitchers.
This season, Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54 ERA) stole the show in the first half and dominated his first half-season in his return to the AL East (after a stint with the Rays). However, the veteran suffered a knee injury and has been on the DL since mid-July.
Other than Hammel, the rest of the rotation is all under 27 years of age; not to mention, Wei-Yin Chen (11-7, 3.70 ERA) had never pitched in the MLB until this season. So, collectively, they did not sport much experience under their belts as a staff.
Brian Matusz (5-10, 5.42 ERA) and Jake Arrieta (3-9, 6.13 ERA) are both currently working on their mechanics and other issues at Triple-A Norfolk after suffering through most of the first half. Tommy Hunter (4-7 5.54 ERA), who is currently with the team, has been up and down from the minors all year.
Chen has been arguably the second most surprising pitcher on the Birds’ staff this year, behind Hammel. Over his 24 starts, he’s tossed 146 innings and allowed only 60 earned runs on 136 base hits. Not to mention, he sports a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio at 118 to 46.
Without Chen, who knows where the Birds would be right now? He has showed he can be a number two, or possibly even a number one starter, next season. Preferably, the Orioles’ front office will lure an experienced and proven free agent to Baltimore this winter.
Miguel Gonzalez (5-2, 3.38 ERA), who was once a member of the bullpen and a spot starter on occasion, has turned into one of the most reliable and pertinent members of the rotation.
However, even with the success of Gonzalez, Chen and Hammel, the Birds need a starting pitcher, preferably a right-hander. They need someone who has been around the league and knows how to pitch, not just throw. He needs to be someone who can help the rest of the rotation grow, because there will still be young faces in the rotation next year.
Not to take anything away from the three aforementioned starters, but none of them are number one-caliber starting pitchers at this point in their respective careers.
We’ll see where the season goes from here and who becomes available in the offseason, but one thing is for sure: The Orioles desperately need a leader in the rotation. If the front office is not wiling to go out there and make something happen, how can they expect to win?
They failed to trade for Zack Greinke or any other big names at the trade deadline this season and maybe they didn’t have enough time to come to a deal. Over the offseason, there is no excuse.
Last year, in Dan Duquette’s first year as GM, he acquired a couple of starting pitchers in Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada. Let’s see if he can work his match and find an experienced leader.
Key Returning Players
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As far as I have heard, the Orioles are not going to be losing any key components in their starting lineup. Adam Jones, who leads the team in most of the offensive categories, will be returning as their center fielder and figurehead.
Jones is batting a very respectable .296 on the year with 24 long balls and 61 RBIs, and he is currently sitting on 99 career home runs. No question, this has been his breakout season at the dish.
Over the past three seasons, Jones has been growing and learning how to hit at the major league level. He delivered 19 home runs in ’09 and ’10 and set a career high with 25 last year. He needs just two more this season to break that mark. As for RBIs, he recorded a career high with 83 last year and needs just 23 to set a new mark this year.
Not only will he set new career highs in the major offensive categories this year, but he is well on his way to setting new marks in OBP, slugging and OPS. His previous highs were .345/.466/.795. This year, his line reads .343/.524/.867.
There is no doubt that this team is built around Jones and as he continues to get more comfortable, he will produce more and help this team win.
Another major component to the Orioles’ squad is catcher Matt Wieters, who although he is only batting .244 on the year, he has delivered 16 home runs and 60 RBIs to go along with 20 doubles.
Last season, he set a career high with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs and he finished with a .267 batting average. Wieters should be able to deliver seven more home runs the rest of the year, and more than eight RBIs.
But it’s not just the numbers he puts up at the dish. He is valuable because of the type of catcher he is. He has done such a great job working with the pitching staff. Not to mention, he isn’t scared of getting dirty and blocking the ball in the dirt.
Wieters is a great catcher, and even if he doesn't end up with more than 22 home runs, he has still put together a very strong season and is just 26 years old. He will continue to grow, mature and get better like Jones.
Last but certainly not least, Manny Machado. What is there to say about this young star-in-the-making? The 20-year-old is batting a cool .308 (8-for-26) with three home runs, two doubles, one triple and two singles to go along with seven RBIs over his first seven games at the major league level.
At the end of his first week in MLB (which was not even full week), Machado was awarded the Co-Player of the Week award after his first four games against the Royals. Over those games, he went 6-for-16 with three home runs, one double, one triple and five runs scored.
This is a very exciting time around the Inner Harbor. If Machado’s future is anything like his first week, he is in for a promising career. He will definitely finish the rest of the year with the club and most likely will make the team out of spring training, whether he plays shortstop or third base.
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I will not spend too much time on the bullpen because they have been the most consistent aspect of the 2012 Baltimore Orioles. Without the bullpen, they would definitely not be in the race and most likely at the bottom of the AL East.
They are second in the AL with 21 wins out of the pen, behind the Oakland Athletics with 22. Not to mention wins, the Birds’ pen sports a very respectable 2.98 ERA. In 396 innings worked, they’ve allowed 131 earned runs on 368 base hits.
The closer, Jim Johnson (1-1, 3.26 ERA), who has converted 35 of 38 save opportunities, is the leader of the pen, and he had been pitching very well until he hit a couple of rough patches. Regardless, he has been the Orioles’ rock out there and has been very reliable closing out games.
Quite possibly the Orioles’ most surprising relief pitcher has been sophomore Pedro Strop (4-2, 1.20 ERA). He made his debut last season for the Birds after being picked up from the Rangers at the deadline.
The 27-year-old from the Dominican Republic has earned the role of setup man in the back of the pen. He’s tossed 52.2 innings and allowed just seven earned runs on 32 base hits the entire year.
Another RHP Darren O’Day (6-0, 2.45 ERA) has turned many heads as he continues to impress and pitch with the best of them in the AL. Over his 47.2 innings pitched, he has surrendered 13 earned runs on just 39 base hits.
O’Day has definitely been another surprise, and as long as he can return next year in the same form, the Birds will be very happy.
Finally, until recently, Troy Patton (1-0, 2.58 ERA) was the Orioles’ lone LHP out of the pen (they just acquired J.C. Romero from the Indians). However, Patton has shined in the left-handed specialist role. In his 52.1 innings of work, he has allowed 15 earned runs on 43 base hits.
Players Returning from DL Who Will Make an Impact
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Orioles fans have been waiting for the return of Brian Roberts for over a year now. Yes, he made a brief return in July. However, he quickly landed right back on the DL due to a herniated disk and will be out the remainder of the season.
This will be the second consecutive year in which Roberts has missed the end of the year. This was the first year since 2003 that Roberts had not been in the opening day lineup at second base.
Roberts is a career .280 hitter who has shown pop at some points and has always been a threat on the bases. In 2005, he smacked a career-high 18 home runs and drove in 73 RBIs while batting .314. Not to mention, he has 275 stolen bases in his career, and swiped 50 one year.
Besides hitting home runs and stealing bases, Roberts is one of the best doubles-hitters in the game. Three times in his career he has delivered 50 or more doubles in a single season. In 2009, he lined 51 (setting a new Orioles record). A year later, he finished with 56, which set another record—this time an all-time switch-hitter’s record for doubles in a season.
However, since the start of the 2010 season, he has only played in 115 games, including just 17 this year.
The Orioles definitely need Roberts back in the lineup, but the question will be, how will he fare after missing almost three seasons?
Another face that has been missed around the clubhouse is Nolan Reimold, who was batting .313 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in limited at-bats before suffering a season-ending neck injury. However, he should be ready for spring training.
In 16 games this season, Reimold went 21-for-67 with six doubles and 10 runs scored. In his career, he’s delivered 36 home runs and 114 RBIs while batting .261 over his 246 career games.
He might not have the best stats in his time at the major league level, but it seemed as if he was a different player this year. I thought he was going to have the left field job nailed by the end of the first half.
I think he can definitely be an impact player. The only question will be, how well will he recover from his neck surgery?
The last major impact player is someone we have not even seen in a major league game yet. The Birds acquired Tsuyoshi Wada from Japan in the offseason last year and he quickly injured himself in spring training, needing Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow.
In his career with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese league, he sported a 57-36 record with an impressive 2.88 ERA. In 117 games (89 starts), he tossed 785 innings, allowed just 256 earned runs on 703 base hits.
He made one appearance for the Orioles’ affiliate, the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, but only lasted 2.2 innings. He allowed six earned runs on six base hits, including one home run.
There is no timetable for his return to the Orioles. He underwent surgery in early May and typically, it takes between 12 and 18 months to completely heal. So, he could be back as early as May of next season.
The Orioles can definitely benefit from each of these players making their return to the Orioles every day roster.
Great Under Pressure
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The last reason why the Orioles will be contenders come next season is they will already be familiar with the type of atmosphere and pressure associated with a Wild Card race.
The Birds are in a race right now, and continue to battle day in and day out. This is the first time I can remember when games in late July and August mattered for the Orioles. Last year, they played well throughout September and played spoiler for the Red Sox, but they were not in a race for the playoffs.
This season they will gain the experience, whether they make it into the playoffs or not. They will know how to better control themselves and what they can do to keep their play at a consistent level.
Plus, manager Buck Showalter has been around the block a couple of times and understands how to manage under pressure. He managed the Yankees from 1992 to 1995 and they finished either second or first in three of the four years.
In 1999, he led the Arizona Diamondbacks to their first divisional title, and they later won the World Series in 2001 (after he had left the team).
Plus, everyone remembers his first couple of months with the Orioles. He took over for the Birds on August 2, 2010 and managed them to a 34-23 record over the last two months of the year.
There is no doubt that the Birds will have some experience playing in important and meaningful games come the end of the year. At least they will not be thrust into the spotlight without ever playing in tense, nail-biting games.
Speaking of late pressure, the Orioles are a major league-best 22-6 in one-run games this year. They know how to deal with pressure and Showalter knows how to manage under it.
I think the Birds have a recipe for success next year with all this talent and a great leader at the helm of the ship.
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