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Baltimore Orioles' Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments

Mark CoverContributor IIApril 16, 2014

Baltimore Orioles' Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    We are 13 games deep into the Baltimore Orioles' 2014 season, and the club is sitting at a mediocre 6-7. The O's are smack dab in the middle of the AL (seventh) in runs scored and 10th in team ERA, kept afloat by Chris Tillman's astounding 0.84 ERA.

    Although the team's high expectations have yet to come to fruition due to some of its struggling players, there have been some pleasant surprises.

    It's still too early to overreact to a small sample size of statistics, but it's not far-fetched to suggest that the club's disappointing players can turn it around, while the surprises can sustain—or at least approximate—their hot starts.

     

    All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and BaseballReference.com

     

Surprise: Delmon Young

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    Kathy Willens

    Delmon Young is currently leading the ballclub with a superb .400 batting average and is producing most effectively from the 2-hole in the order, where he has hit .474.

    Thought of prior to the season as a bench player who would only start in the designated hitter role against left-handed starters, Young has proved to manager Buck Showalter that he cannot afford to keep him out of the daily lineup, at least not until his bat cools off. In 15 plate appearances against right-handed starters, Young is slugging an eye-popping .733.

    For a team that is struggling to find any consistency offensively, the O's are going to need to rely on Young while the other hitters work to find their groove.

Disappointment: Ubaldo Jimenez

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Ubaldo Jimenez, the Baltimore Orioles' $50 million man, was brought in during the offseason to bolster the rotation as a front-end starting pitcher. But, the wild-throwing righty has been dreadful, losing all three of his starts.

    Jimenez isn't hitting his spots, as he has issued 10 walks through 16 innings and has served up four homers, contributing to an ERA that has ballooned to 7.31.

    Although Jimenez holds the second most strikeouts on the team so far with 13, the majority of hitters he has faced aren't getting fooled. Jimenez is sporting a .348 opponent batting average and has given up 23 hits, the fourth most for an AL pitcher.

    A poor April showing isn't uncommon for Jimenez, though, as he has a career ERA of 5.21 during the months of March and April. These stats certainly back up the notion of patience when it comes to evaluating Jimenez. Optimists, myself included, point to Jimenez's second half of 2013 (1.82 ERA) as the potential that he brings.

Surprise: Matt Wieters

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    Gene J. Puskar

    After finishing the 2013 season with a career-low batting average of .235, many Orioles fans came around to the belief that two-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters would never live up to the lofty expectations that were placed upon him as a hitter coming out of Georgia Tech. Instead, Wieters has earned the label as an elite defender who has a .994 career fielding percentage and has thrown out opposing base-stealers 33 percent of the time.

    So far in 2014, Wieters has shown what he is capable of with lumber in hand.

    The switch-hitter, who has a .245 career average batting left-handed, is finally shoring up that area of his game. Wieters has been seeing the ball extremely well from the left side, as he holds a .400/.455/.633 slash line in that particular split.

    With perennial-winner Joe Mauer sliding over to first base, Wieters has a clear shot at his first Silver Slugger title if he proves that his hot start is no fluke.

Disappointment: Miguel Gonzalez

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Miguel Gonzalez, often viewed as an extremely underrated starting pitcher, is off to a rocky start. In two games, he has an ERA of 9.64.

    In Gonzalez's debut start this season, against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, the righty allowed seven earned runs on nine hits through just 3.1 innings, continuing an Orioles' streak of bad starting-pitching performances.

    In his second start, against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Gonzalez bounced back, if you can call it that. After giving up three runs through his first four innings, including two home runs, Gonzalez settled in to throw two scoreless frames.

    While his opponent batting average needs some major improvement (.400), Gonzalez's walk total of just two through 9.1 innings is certainly a bright spot.

Surprise: Chris Tillman

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Picking up right where he left off at the end of the 2013 season, Orioles' ace Chris Tillman is showing why he is the no-doubt leader of the starting rotation.

    When asking scouts and baseball executives whether Tillman is an ace, Dan Connolly of BaltimoreSun.com has been told in general terms that Tillman is a "No. 2 starter, maybe a No. 3 on a great team."

    It definitely seems as if Tillman has elevated his game to the next level as the club's unquestioned ace and worthy of being in the conversation when the subject of the AL's best hurlers is raised.

    Through the three games Tillman has started, he has been lights out in all facets. He has averaged just over seven innings pitched per game, while hitting the eight-inning milestone in his two most recent starts. Tillman has also struck out a team-high 15 batters, walked just three and has given up only two earned runs.

    While it is foolish to think Tillman will be able to maintain his near-perfect 0.84 ERA, it is however very likely that we see him finish the year with a sub-3.00 ERA.

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