5 Bold Predictions for the Remainder of the Baltimore Orioles' Season

Mark Cover@MCooveContributor IIMay 15, 2014

5 Bold Predictions for the Remainder of the Baltimore Orioles' Season

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    It's been quite an unconventional start to the season for the Baltimore Orioles through about a month-and-a-half's worth of games played, but they can't complain while they continue to reside in first place in the AL East.

    Sure, the starting pitching is performing not so well, just as most of the fanbase believed would happen even after the addition of starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to the staff, but the team's offense is not doing so hot either, currently residing in the bottom third in the majors in runs scored.

    The decline in offensive production certainly can be tied to the Orioles having yet to have what they believe to be their best lineup. Manny Machado missing the first month of the season as he continued his rehab from offseason knee surgery, Chris Davis' DL stint from earlier this month due to a strained left oblique and Matt Wieters being put on the DL for right forearm soreness earlier this week have all deterred the offense from reaching its full potential.

    The Orioles defense has been the main reason for their success so far this season. Ranked second in the entire league, the O's have only committed 19 errors on the year.

    Despite struggles from some of the team's units, there have been some players that are off to great starts to their campaigns, some that are just starting to turn their fortunes around and some that have just now made their season debuts. Of course there are those that are off to not-so-great starts so far, and it's not so outlandish to suggest they might not turn things around this year.

    Here are five bold predictions on some of the club's personnel that includes a starting pitcher trending upward, a young, stud infielder and a relief pitcher that could soon be the new closer in town.

Matt Wieters Finishes with a .300-Plus BA and 25-Plus Homers

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Matt Wieters is off to a hot start this season, currently holding a batting average of .308.

    It's all coming together for Wieters, as the once highly touted prospect is seemingly reaching his potential with his hit tool.

    In case you haven't heard before, as a prospect coming out of Georgia Tech, Wieters was dubbed "Mauer with Power" in reference to Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer's astounding career batting average of .322.

    Now, after five previous seasons that added up to a .255 five-season average for the switch-hitting catcher, Wieters has well surpassed that mark while not sacrificing any power.

    Being put on the DL earlier this week will certainly hinder the counting stats, but Wieters has a great shot at setting new career highs in both batting average and home runs this season—bad news for the Orioles because of his impending free agency after the 2015 season, but great news for Wieters and agent Scott Boras.

J.J. Hardy Hits Less Than 15 Homers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    It's been quite a struggle for shortstop and infield leader J.J. Hardy, who suffered a strained right hamstring in mid-April that forced him to miss a handful of games.

    The power-hitting middle infielder has been a key cog for an Orioles ballclub that has boasted one of the top offenses and defenses over the past few years. In his first three years in Baltimore, Hardy hit for at least 22 homers and played in at least 129 games each season.

    It's quite a different story so far in 2014, where Hardy has yet to notch his first round-tripper and has appeared in only 30 out of the club's 38 games played on the season.

    It's extremely possible that Hardy's injury is directly tied to his lack of power, considering he puts all his weight on his right leg when taking swings, and he could possibly be playing through injury as we speak.

    Fifteen home runs in more than 120 games remaining on the season wouldn't normally be a challenging task for a player of Hardy's caliber, but right now the pop just isn't there.

Zach Britton Leads the Team in Saves

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Change is coming soon.

    Manager Buck Showalter seems to have a weakness for being too loyal to his players, keeping them in their roles far longer than they deserve to be and giving them chance after chance to redeem themselves.

    I'm looking at you, Jim Johnson and Ryan Flaherty.

    Orioles closer Tommy Hunter has now blown three games on the season, yet he is tied for the AL lead in saves. His .365 opponent batting average and 1.87 WHIP on the season are unacceptable for a closer and even more so for any back-of-the-bullpen reliever.

    Zach Britton, on the other hand, entered the season strong and has yet to take his foot off the gas. In 16 appearances and 21.1 innings pitched, Britton holds a .162 opponent batting average and has given up just two earned runs so far, good for a 0.84 ERA.

    Britton isn't an overpowering pitcher; he doesn't blow anyone away with a high-speed fastball and doesn't strike out a ton of batters either. What he does do well is keep the ball down, relying instead on his stellar infield to help him succeed.

    Per MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski, Britton's success so far has come from his improved sinker, helped along in its development by pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti:

    I think it's (the increased velocity) the sum of everything. A cleaner delivery with the help of Dave and Dom. Just been throwing out of the stretch. If I stay in the bullpen the whole year I'm sure we'll talk about getting back to the windup eventually.

    It was something they felt, just make it simple for me coming out of the pen. But I think, physically where I am at, adding the weighted balls, cleaning up my delivery, better arm slot. All that stuff equals better and more consistent velocity.

    Showalter will eventually come around to his senses and plug in his best relief pitcher in the closer spot. Britton will then take the job and run with it, leading the team in saves by year's end.

Ubaldo Jimenez Finishes with 16-Plus Wins and a Sub-3.20 ERA

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Even though I touched on Ubaldo Jimenez in my previous bold predictions piece prior to the start of the season, I felt it necessary to revisit one of Baltimore's most polarizing players.

    The funky-delivering righty had quite possibly the worst start to a season in his career, surrendering a whopping 20 earned runs through 27.1 innings pitched in April and accumulating a dreadful 6.59 ERA during that time span.

    Despite the rocky start and the pressure of signing an offseason deal that came with high expectations, Jimenez has been able to compose himself so far this May. Since the calendar turned, Jimenez has made three starts and has flashed signs of the greatness he offers the ballclub. In his three May starts, Jimenez has totaled 19.2 innings pitched, 20 strikeouts and just one earned run—well deserving of the two wins he picked up from those efforts.

    These starts were no gimme matchups either, as Jimenez went toe-to-toe against three offenses ranked in the top 11 in the majors in runs scored.

    If Jimenez continues to mow down opposing batters like he has shown us recently, there is no question that he can live up to the expectations and accomplish his second career sub-3.20 ERA season.

Manny Machado Wins Second Gold Glove Award

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    It was a long and enduring process for stud third baseman Manny Machado this offseason, and it continued to be that way for the start of the season. But, after a brief minor league rehab stint, Machado made his season debut in the doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates two weeks ago.

    Machado went 0-for-5 that night, but seeing him make runs and cuts on his fully healthy and repaired left knee certainly put his team and fans at ease.

    Per The Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina, Machado knew to play it smart and not come back too soon.

    I told myself, whenever that day is, whenever I feel that I'm 100 percent, and I'm running down the bases, and I feel good on the field, that was going to be the day, whether it was today or next week or two weeks from now. I really never had a date in the back of my mind, it was just a matter of how I felt.

    He has already made three errors in just thirteen games started so far, but he had 13 errors last year en route to winning the Platinum Glove Award.

    Errors will happen, and maybe Machado becomes a little bit more hesitant on the hard-hit grounder that lies just out of his reach, but he has the range and the cannon of an arm to make unbelievable plays that only a select few have the capability to do.