5 Reasons the Baltimore Orioles Will Remain a Top Contender for Years to Come
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No one thought the Black and Orange would finish 24 games over .500 let alone advance to the ALDS and force a game five with the Bronx Bombers. This certainly has been a special season for Baltimore, and has really generated hope for this amazing fanbase.
When the Birds win, fans will show their support and that was quite evident in the first two games of this heart-wrenching, AL East showdown. As long as Dan Duquette and Showalter put a strong team together, the fans will flock to the stadium.
Even though the dominant southpaw C.C. Sabathia helped the Yanks eliminate the underdogs last night, the Birds are in great position to make it even further in the playoffs next October.
Check out these five reasons why the Baltimore Orioles will be contenders in the AL East for years to come.
1. Young Talent
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We saw a glimpse of young, talented newcomers this season with Manny Machado becoming an everyday third baseman and gaining valuable experience here in the postseason.
Not to mention, we witnessed the much-anticipated debut of top prospect RHP Dylan Bundy this September.
The Birds have a wealth of young talent at almost every position, and through the trials and tribulations this season, they will only prove to continue to get stronger and learn at the major league level.
After just a week in the big leagues, Machado already earned an AL player of the week nod after he delivered three home runs and seven RBI over his first week with the Birds.
Although he struggled a bit with the bat down the stretch, the 20-year-old proved his worth at third base with superb defense and a cannon for an arm.
In 51 contests on the year, the rookie batted .262 with seven long balls and 26 RBI. He collected 50 hits, including eight doubles and three triples, along with 24 runs scored in 191 at-bats.
He really struggled in the postseason, as he picked up just two base hits in 16 at-bats. However, he did double to lead off the 13th inning in the fourth game, which ultimately was the winning run to force a fifth game.
He will continue to get better as he learns the league and matures. He is only 20 years old and he’s already played in the playoffs!
Although Bundy only pitched 1.2 innings at the major league level this season, next year he will have plenty of more opportunities and play a major factor in the Orioles' season.
The Orioles drafted the flame-throwing 19-year-old out of high school in the 2011 MLB draft. He dominated the minor leagues as he posted a 9-3 record with a staggering 2.08 ERA.
He pitched for three teams this summer, and did not allow his first run until he joined his second team, the Frederick Keys.
With single-A Delmarva, the righty tossed 30.0 innings and allowed just five base hits and no earned runs while going 1-0. Overall, he surrendered just 24 earned runs in 23 starts. Not to mention, he racked up 119 strikeouts over those 103.2 innings.
He is going to be special, and although he might not make the club out of spring training, there is no doubt that he will be a fixture in the Birds’ rotation come the middle of next season.
Another future star, southpaw Zach Britton, will be healthy and make his return to the starting rotation for a full season. This year, the left-hander was only able to make 11 starts, and although he struggled a bit in those outings, once he is healthy, he will flourish like he did last season.
In 28 starts last season, the 24-year-old started off hot and cooled down a bit, but still finished with a respectable 11-11 record and a 4.61 ERA in his first year in the majors. With the offseason, he will be able to rehab and prepare for next year.
Look for Britton to be a strong component in the Birds’ young rotation for years to come.
Of course, there are many more young, talented players that I do not have time to mention. RHP Chris Tillman, all-around star Adam Jones, LHP Brian Matusz, RHP Tommy Hunter, slugger Chris Davis, RHP Miguel Gonzalez, among others will all be important parts of the Orioles’ future.
2. Returning Players
Photo courtesy of Greg Fiume/Getty Images.
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Not only were the Orioles able to put together an impressive season, they were about to endure a tough, injury-riddled year without the help of Brian Roberts, Nolan Reimold, Tsuyoshi Wada and Nick Markakis (half of the season).
Roberts, who was one of the best leadoff hitters in all of baseball, has not been a regular in the lineup since 2010 after he suffered a concussion sliding into first base on May 16th of last year. The second baseman made a brief return this season, but suffered season-ending hip surgery.
Finally, his concussion-symptoms are gone and he should be back next year. But, who knows how he will perform after missing over two full seasons?
The 34-year-old showed great power over the last five years or so. In 2009, he delivered a club-record 56 doubles, smashed 16 home runs and drove in 79 RBI out of the first slot in the lineup.
He is a doubles machine as he’s accumulated 339 over his tenure with the Birds (11 years, however he’s played in just 115 games over the last three seasons).
Reimold has a bright future, and although he was unable to make it into many games this season, he showed he deserves to be in the majors. In 16 games this year, he batted .313 with five home runs and 10 RBI before he suffered a neck injury that resulted in season-ending surgery.
He will be back next year, however, like in Roberts’ case, who knows how he will perform after missing at least an entire season? He was one of the top hitting prospects in the Orioles' farm systems and has been up and down with the big league club since 2009.
The Orioles were unable to even see Wada pitch in a major league game. The RHP hurler out of Japan is supposed to be a strong find, like Wei-Yin Chen, who really carried the Orioles most of the season out of the rotation.
He will be back come the beginning of spring training and should be ready to battle it out for a spot in the starting five.
Showalter is going to have some very tough decisions on who will be in the rotation next year. Currently, he has many options: Jason Hammel, Chen, Britton, Tillman, Wada, Gonzalez, Steve Johnson, Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Hunter, among others. (LHP Joe Saunders is a free agent this offseason)
Markakis has been the Orioles' rock in right field since making his major league debut back in 2006. Before suffering a broken left thumb on September 8th, he was batting .298 with 13 long balls and 54 RBI and was thriving out of the first spot in the order.
3. Buck Showalter
Photo courtesy of Al Bello/Getty Images.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Another key reason why the Orioles have a prosperous future in the AL East is because they have Buck Showalter at the helm of their ship. Although his contract runs out at the end of the year, I’m sure Duquette will offer him a contract extension with the work he has done over the last two and a half seasons.
Showalter has been one of the major reasons why the Orioles have flourished this season, as he presses all the right buttons. Of course, the team’s success largely depends on how the players perform and if they step up or not.
However, what many fans do not realize is that he plays a major part in how the team is prepared and ultimately takes the heat if the team does not play well.
Take for example, the situation in Boston right now. As we all know, the Red Sox finished with one of the worst records they have ever had in their history. They dropped over 90 games (93 to be exact) for the first time since 1966 and landed in the cellar in the AL East.
And, who is to blame for that, at least in the eyes of the front office? First-year Boston manager Bobby Valentine. Now, he is no stranger to tough must-win cities as he managed the Mets in 2000 and was highly-criticized for some decisions he made in the subway series that year.
The Red Sox fired Valentine shortly after the season officially came to a close a week and a half ago (in fact, just one day). Now, although he had trouble with some of the players and the media, this horrific season was not entirely his fault. The players have to be held accountable as well.
However, this situation points out to us that managers are held highly-accountable for the way the team performs, regardless of whether they should be or not.
Showalter is one of the major reasons why the Orioles finished where they did this season and without him at the helm, who knows where they would have landed, but I do not think they would have battled the Yankees down to the last day of the season.
Duquette and the Orioles need to come to a deal with Showalter, and I’m sure that’s not what they are worried about yet. It’s just a day removed from the final, heart-breaking game. I’m sure contract talks will start at the beginning of next week.
The Birds need Showalter to return as the skipper of the ball club for at least one more season.
4. More Experience
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Another reason why the Orioles will flourish in the near future is because they finally have experience in the playoffs. Entering this postseason, only a handful of players had been to the playoffs before and that was quite evident in the Yankees series.
Of course, one of the major reasons the Bombers had the upper hand, besides home field advantage, was that almost their entire lineup has been in that position before.
Everyone is aware of the Yankees’ success and their dominance over the last 20 years basically. Since Joe Girardi took over for Joe Torre in 2008, he has managed New York to four postseason appearances and one World Series title so far.
Most of the Orioles’ players had never even made it to the division series, let alone the World Series.
Jones, Mark Reynolds, Davis and Jim Johnson really struggled this postseason, which is one of the reasons why the Birds were unable to score runs and defeat the Yanks.
Jones put way too much pressure on himself this postseason as picked up just two base hits in 23 at-bats with a single RBI. It was evident with his swings and misses at balls three feet in front of the plate that he was putting too much thought into it.
Reynolds, who smashed 23 home runs during the regular season and seven against the Bombers, went 3-for-22 with just one RBI.
And, Davis, who led the Orioles with 33 home runs and 85 RBI during the year, really struggled over the final three games of the series. He finished the series 4-for-20 with two RBI and one run scored.
The Orioles' closer, Johnson, who led the majors with 51 saves this season and was the most consistent reliever in Showalter’s stunning bullpen, got hit the hardest he ever has. He appeared in five games, allowed five earned runs over 5.1 innings and pick up two saves this postseason.
In his first game against the Yankees, he lasted just 0.1 inning and allowed four earned runs in the 9th inning of a tie game. He picked up a save in the 3-2 win in Game 2, and blew the Game 3 lead by allowing that solo home run to Raul Ibanez in the 9th inning.
He put together one of the most memorable seasons by an Oriole closer (as he set a franchise record for saves), he just struggled during the postseason.
Jones, Davis and Johnson had never experienced the postseason and Reynolds had only played in seven games with the Diamondbacks in 2007. He collected just four hits in 26 at-bats that year. However, he was able to crush two home runs that year.
Regardless, now the Orioles have some experience in the postseason. At least, they got their feet wet and now realize the type of pressure that comes with a winning record. This experience will only help them in the future.
5. Offseason Acquisitions
Photo courtesy of Patrick McDermott/Getty Images.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
The last major reason why the Orioles will be successful for years to come is because of their offseason transactions this winter.
If last year was any indication of how active the Orioles will be this year, that’s a great sign for the Birds and their fans. Duquette did a great job going out and finding talent where other general managers did not think to look.
He found Chen and Wada from overseas (Taiwan and Japan respectively), Hammel resurrected his career, and he uncovered a major find in Darren O’Day.
Now, the Orioles are not really in need of too many pieces next year. Like I previously mentioned, Saunders’ contract is up at the end of the year, so we might lose him. However, there are many options to fill his spot in the rotation.
The one key component the Orioles are missing is a proven No. 1 starting pitcher. This season, Hammel and Chen assumed that role. However, if they are able to go out there and find a veteran who has led a team in the past, I think the Orioles will have a great shot at making the playoffs and going further next year.
Yes, I mentioned the Birds have an overload in the starting pitching department, but they really need a strong ace who can teach the younger pitchers how to deal with stress over an entire season.
Look at the type of arms Duquette has if he needs to trade a couple of them in order to make space for an ace. I think he can definitely go out there and find an impactful ace with the talent he has right now in the rotation.
I think the bullpen is in great shape, and when Markakis, Roberts and Reimold return, their offense will be unstoppable.
This offseason should be very interesting for the Orioles and it will be intriguing to see who they will pick up and who they will let go. The Birds are in great position for a strong future and this season was only the beginning.
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