After 14 consecutive losing seasons and seasons without making it to the playoffs, the Baltimore Orioles finally ceased that unruly streak last year after defeating the Texas Rangers in a one-game playoff for the wild-card spot in the American League.
Although they lost in the fifth game against their rival New York Yankees in the ALDS, no one expected them to finish in second place in the gritty AL East, let alone advance to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
However, with the recent acquisitions by the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox, and the fact that the Bronx Bombers and Tampa Bay Rays seem to always be in the thick of things, it seems like the East could prove to be the toughest division in all of baseball next season.
And, although the Birds succeeded in qualifying for the postseason last year, they still have holes they need to address this offseason. They are fully aware of these weaknesses, but time is flying by and they have not been as busy as fans hoped.
Check out the Orioles' top five weaknesses entering the new year and the areas they need to address in order to build on last season’s success.
As I have written in previous articles, the first priority for the Orioles is to find a strong, powerful first baseman. They need a first baseman who can drill 30 home runs and put up around 100 RBI, while playing exceptional defense.
So far this winter, they have not been able to land a home run hitter to replace Mark Reynolds, who left a couple of weeks ago for the Indians. One name that has been on the Orioles radar this offseason is Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche.
The 33-year-old left-handed home run slugger drilled a career-high 33 long balls and tied a career-best with 100 RBI. Oriole Park would be a great fit for his sweet swing with the short porch in right field.
However, LaRoche would like to return to the Nationals. But, they still have not come to terms and he is keeping his options open. Personally, I think he would be a great addition to the Orioles lineup. Not to mention, he is one of the best fielding first baseman in the majors.
Last season, the Birds’ first base production ranked 21st in the major leagues and ninth in the AL; Reynolds spent the majority of the season at first base. He produced some of the lowest power numbers in his career and struggled in his second season with the Birds.
As a team, the Birds’ first basemen hit a collective .246 with 29 home runs and only 80 RBI. Washington led the majors with 40 home runs and 118 RBI, while Detroit led the majors with a .312 batting clip.
The AL champion Tigers recorded 30 home runs and 108 RBI while on their way to their second World Series appearance in the last seven years.
There is no doubt that one of Dan Duquette’s major offseason focuses is to address the underachieving power production from the first base position, especially since Reynolds is no longer with the team.
Not only did the Birds rank toward the bottom in home run and RBI production, but they also finished eighth in slugging percentage (.446) and OPS (.774) in the AL (out of 14 teams).
Seven teams in the majors produced 30 or more long balls, while six teams finished with 100 or more RBI out of their first basemen.
Reynolds drilled only 23 home runs (low for him) and 69 RBI. If the Orioles are going to make a run for the top crown in the East next season, they are going to need a more powerful first baseman that can put up at least 30 home runs and around 100 RBI.
Although Chris Davis led the Birds with 33 home runs and 85 RBI, most of his production came out of the designated hitter position in the lineup. He struggled with his consistency last season, which is one of the major reasons why the Birds are looking for a proven home run threat who can anchor the Orioles offense.
The second weakness the Black and Orange are facing entering 2013 is very similar to their troubles at first base. The Birds failed to string together a consistent starting rotation for any length of time over the course of the 2012 season, and that needs to change in a big way.
Last year, the Birds used 12 different starting pitchers and ranked 21st in the majors in ERA from their rotation. In the AL, they ranked ninth out of the 14 teams.
Collectively, the Birds posted a 61-58 record with a 4.42 ERA. In 937.2 innings of work, they surrendered 460 earned runs on 946 base hits, including 136 home runs allowed and a .261 opponents' batting average.
Four of the Orioles hurlers that started games sported ERAs of five or higher, while eight of the 12 Birds finished with an ERA of at least 4.02 or higher.
For example, Jake Arrieta, who posted his worst season of his young career, started 18 contests for the Orioles and finished the year with a 6.20 ERA. After allowing six earned runs over just 3.2 innings of work on July 5, the Birds demoted him to Triple-A Norfolk. He returned in September, though not to the starting rotation.
As I have written in previous articles, besides searching for a proven, power-hitting first baseman, Baltimore must focus on their starting rotation.
No questions asked.
There is no way they can contend in the powerhouse AL East with a rotation ERA over 4.00 runs per game. Two of the four postseason AL teams (the Tigers and A’s) finished with starting ERAs of 3.76 and 3.80 respectively.
Besides the Orioles, the Yankees were the other team to qualify for the postseason, and their starter’s ERA touched just higher than 4.00 (4.04).
So, it’s imperative for the Birds starting rotation to lower their collective ERA. One of the ways they can accomplish that feat is through a set rotation: Choose who deserves to be in the rotation and stick with them!
Personally, I think they need to go out and sign a proven, experienced veteran to lead the staff. But, I do not see that happening. They have so many potential starters; I feel like they are going to go with who they have and hope for the best.
As of the end of December, both the Orioles and Mariners are in the hunt for the Tigers’ Rick Porcello. In three seasons, the 24-year-old sports a 48-42 record with a 4.55 ERA. Last season, he posted a 10-12 record with a 4.59 ERA and struggled to stay in the starting rotation due to injury.
He should be healthy come next year, and I think he would be a great addition toward the top of the rotation. Although the Birds have an abundance of possible starters, the Birds need an established, consistent starting pitcher.
Porcello has proven he can pitch on a winning team, and I think he would help teach the younger starters because he is young and can relate. He also has experience on a strong team (not to mention, he has worked with Verlander and has learned a great deal from him, I’m sure).
Consistency is the key next season. Without it, they will be buried in the East.
The third weakness that the Birds need to improve upon next season is their inconsistency from month to month. Good teams find a way to limit their struggles.
Over the first month of the season, the Birds jumped out to a strong start. They finished April with a 14-9 record and continued their success throughout the second month of the year as well. In May, they posted a 15-13 record, and although they did not blow the competition out of the water, they found a way to come away with a winning month.
After the first two months of the year, the Birds became sluggish, and it showed out there on the diamond. In June, the Black and Orange played to an even .500 record as they posted 13 wins and 13 losses.
However, in July, they really struggled and played their worst baseball of the entire season. They posted their only sub-.500 month of the year, as they went 12-14.
They rebounded in August and turned their jets on, as they posted their strongest month of the season to date. They doubled up on their wins, as they recorded 18 wins and dropped just nine games.
In the last month and early portion of October, they followed up with another very strong month. They won three more games than they did in August by going 21-11 to round out the season.
Now, if the Birds could have limited the months they struggled in (June and July) and spread out their success (August and September/October), I think they might have been able to advance further into the playoffs.
If the Orioles are able to post 15 wins a month, they will finish with at least 90 wins (and including October, most likely 92 or 93), which would be very similar to their 2012 record.
It seems like the Birds always struggle in the month of July. Over the last five seasons (including ’12), the Orioles have compiled a 46-86 record in July. In 2011, they went just 7-20, and the year before, they posted an 8-19 mark.
If they could limit their struggles in the middle of the season and play more consistently throughout the entire year, I think that would help their overall success.
The final weakness the Orioles are facing enter the new year is their defense. Last year, they finished with a collective team fielding percentage of .983, good for 10th in the AL. If they are going to compete in the East, they need to focus on playing better in the field.
In 6,235 total chances, the Birds committed 106 miscues. The White Sox led the AL with just 70 errors, followed by the Mariners, who committed only two more in just 27 more chances.
In 2011, the Birds finished the year in 11th place in the AL with 110 miscues, and we all know how they placed in the division that year. It’s amazing they were able to battle the Yankees down the stretch with as many errors as they committed.
The last time the Orioles finished with less than 100 errors in a single season was back in 2009 when they ended the year with 90. In 2007, they led the AL with just 79 miscues.
It seems strange that, even though there were three Orioles who won Gold Glove awards (Hardy, Wieters and Jones), they still struggled as a team, which points to the fact that the rest of the team struggled at their respective positions.
Wilson Betemit led the team with 15 errors, and he played in just 103 games. Granted, he moved all over the diamond, but 15 errors in so few games needs to be addressed. He finished with a .951 fielding percentage, which might be a reason why he is the leading candidate for the designated hitting role.
Both the second- and third-most error-prone Orioles last season are no longer with the team: Robert Andino, who is now a Mariner, committed 13 miscues in 127 games, and Reynolds finished the year with 11 errors in 135 games.
Without these three players, the Birds would have finished with much fewer errors. Although defense is not a major factor in winning, a team needs to be strong in the field and support their hurlers.
Last season, the Orioles allowed 63 unearned runs. If the Birds are able to cut that by a third, that would help immensely. One thing they can improve upon more easily than anything else is their defense, and that’s something they need to do in order to compete in one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
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