Baltimore Orioles: 5 Reasons They Have a Shot at the Playoffs in 2012
This is really not a fair topic to be talking about. I'd have to be insane to think that the Baltimore Orioles are going to make the playoffs. In fact, it's probably a stretch to think they will make it out of last place in the division.
That said, there is still some chance for the O's to make a miracle ascent to the playoffs. The Rays made a similar worst-to-first jump in 2008, right? Sure, they had a pipeline of the top young talent and a terrific player development system, but the Orioles have some guys too.
It's not a likely scenario, but the Orioles are part of Major League Baseball, which is a common feature of every playoff team in the history of the league.
All jokes aside, the Orioles won't make the playoffs, but if they somehow pull off a miracle season thanks to season-ending injuries to all 100 active players on the rest of the division's rosters, these are the reasons why it happened.
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The Orioles had huge season-ending injuries to key players in 2011. Jake Arrieta, Luke Scott and Brian Roberts were all on the 60-day DL for a significant portion of the season and that can't happen again if the Orioles want to win.
Roberts is the missing piece in the Orioles' lineup. His speed and leadoff ability spark the offense to score a lot of runs and can provide some wiggle room for the pitching. Roberts also is known for long, drawn-out at bats that can wear down starters and in the AL East, where there is a plethora of aces, that is the most important thing to do to win.
Jake Arrieta will also be a big boost. If he can improve his command, he could be a strikeout machine, which the Orioles have lacked for the last few seasons.
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The young core of pitching that looked so good a few years ago is now crumbling at the major league level. Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton have the potential to be a dominant rotation, but right now, it's nothing more than potential.
Best-case scenario for the Orioles would be Britton, Matusz and Arrieta stepping up to lock down three of the spots in the rotation. That leaves room for Jeremy Guthrie (assuming he is still around) and a veteran. This way, the Orioles leave Jim Johnson as the closer.
The young pitching core has flashed greatness and they could still be a dominant force, but conditioning is the first step. Staying in games to give the Orioles a chance will drastically change the team from a cellar-dweller to a contending force.
Quick trivia question: Which team was the first to have three separate players with 20 or more home runs in 2011?
Answer: the Baltimore Orioles (Mark Reynolds, Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy).
This clearly does not mean a team will win a ton of games, but the Orioles have a chance to be at the top of the league in home runs again in 2012 after finishing with the fourth most in 2011.
Mark Reynolds will be back in the middle of the lineup for at least another 30-home run season. J.J. Hardy hit 30 in 2011, but will likely drop to the 20 to 25 range. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters will likely both be in the mid-20s as well.
The big difference in the lineup may come from the projected third baseman and left fielder, Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold.
Davis has been touted for a while as a big-time power threat, but has had limited chances to show it off. He only hit two home runs in 123 at-bats for the Orioles in 2011, but that was with an injury and I could see him in the 20s in 2012. Nolan Reimold also showed promise in his power in his rookie season, but fell off after injuries. He began to look like his old self at the end of 2011 and could easily surpass 20 home runs as well.
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The Orioles probably won't get Prince Fielder, but it's too early to tell, so I'll bring his name up as potential.
What will happen is the Orioles will acquire someone to help anchor their terrible pitching staff. It won't be C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle, but maybe the Orioles will get a guy like Roy Oswalt or a veteran innings-eater. Another potential boost could come via trade, as it seems Dan Duquette has been active in discussions to help the rotation.
Other than the rotation, the Orioles will probably add some bullpen help as well. Chong Tae-Hyon may or may not be an Oriole as soon as next week, but they could also look for a closer to get the ball out of Kevin Gregg's unsure hands. Huston Street has been a name brought up recently and he is definitely a fit.
The Orioles will make some move, likely a few in the winter meetings, so I wouldn't be surprised if they are at least better than last year. They don't seem like they will be taking chances on aging veterans again, like they did with Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero.
Another Wild Card
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I chose to include this picture because I think it is a perfect metaphor for the Orioles and the playoffs. It's pretty far out of their reach.
The one thing that gives the Orioles more of a shot at the playoffs than last year is that they are now fighting for one of five spots instead of four.
There is really just one problem with the Orioles fighting for the two wild-card spots: They just aren't as good as the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays. They aren't as good as the Blue Jays either, so it is just that much more difficult for them to extend their season beyond October 3, 2012.