Last season most of the baseball experts predicted the Baltimore Orioles would finish in the A.L. East cellar for the fifth straight year. Instead, Buck Showalter’s young team shocked the baseball world by winning 93 games and making the playoffs for the first time since 1997. In fact, it was the first time the Orioles had managed a winning record in 15 years. Can they do it again in 2013?
With the Astros taking up residence in the American League this season, we will be previewing every team in the league, with a little help from our friends. To get the scoop on the Orioles we’ve enlisted the help of Domenic Vadala. Domenic is the Senior Editor at birdswatcher.com, FanSided’s Orioles site.
Let’s get right to the Q & A.
CTH: Last year Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez burst onto the scene to bolster the O’s pitching staff down the stretch. Will these two youngsters be able to repeat their success over the course of a full season or do you expect some growing pains?
Domenic: It’s tough to say. These pitchers were helped greatly by an off season workout regimen by minor league instructor Rick Peterson. If they continued that regimen in the off season, they’ll have a great shot at staying consistent. Many of Tillman’s issues were (and may still be) mental, and that’s something that only he can really work through if it persists.
Dylan Bundy and Buck Showalter (Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)
CTH: Dylan Bundy is one of the top prospects in all of baseball and even had a cup of coffee in the bigs last year at the tender age of 19. When do you expect to see him crack the starting rotation?
Domenic: From what I’ve heard from the Orioles, I wouldn’t expect Bundy to be in the bigs until June or July (barring injuries to other pitchers and/or Bundy totally blowing them away in spring training).
CTH: Is Brian Roberts healthy and can he come close to performing the way he did prior to the concussion?
Domenic: According the Orioles, Roberts is ready to go. He’ll get a plethora of at-bats in spring training, and even make a few road trips. His performance is contingent on whether or not he can stay healthy. If so, he’s as good a second baseman as anyone.
CTH: Can reclamation project Nate McLouth provide the type of offense the Orioles need at the top of their lineup day in and day out?
Domenic: That depends on whether or not Brian Roberts is healthy. If so, he’ll presumably be hitting at the top of the lineup. If not, then one could expect McLouth or Markakis to hit lead off. All you want from your leadoff guy is for him to get on base for all intents and purposes. McLouth has a career OBP of .335, so given that he can get on base I would think the Orioles would feel very content with him batting first.
CTH: Assuming Chris Davis plays first base, who will emerge as the primary DH?
Domenic: The Orioles are hoping to platoon the DH role with the likes of McLouth, Nolan Reimold, Wilson Betemit, and potentially even Alexi Casilla. Buck Showalter has never liked having just one guy that’s the primary DH, he’s always seen it as a spot that should be rotated around among a few guys.
Manny Machado (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
Domenic: Anything’s possible, but in my opinion I don’t think so. Next year would in theory be the final year of his contract so that might be a possible trading period for Hardy, but I think they’re probably looking to keep him at the very least through then. Obviously if they’re in contention at that time next year odds are they’d probably keep him. But as I said, anything’s possible.
CTH: Everything seemed to fall into place for the O’s last season. They won 93 games despite a run differential of only +7. I think they won just about every extra-inning game they played. What will have to go right for them to have another magical season?
Domenic: They’ll want to avoid even having to go to extra innings! Much of that is contingent on the Orioles bullpen, which was one of the best in baseball last year. However it also boils down to hitting with RISP, and clutch hitting. If the Orioles can continue that trend, they’ll be successful.
Thanks for the insight, Domenic. It looks like Orioles fans have a lot to look forward to this season. Here’s my take on the team.
As Domenic pointed out, the O’s bullpen was definitely one of their strengths in 2012. Baltimore racked up 55 saves to lead the league. Jim Johnson, who accounted for 51 by himself, anchors a group that remains intact entering the 2013 season. The Orioles ‘pen logged 1483 innings in 2012 (most in the A.L.) and staying healthy in 2013 has to be a concern.
Non-roster starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens is a wildcard that could prove to be a big addition to the club. Jurrjens had an injury plagued 2012 and was non-tendered by the Braves. If he can return to his 2011 form (13-6, 2.96 ERA & .249 average against) the Orioles chances to contend will be greatly enhanced.
Veterans Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Weiters will be expected to lead by example on this young team. Last year’s squad averaged slightly less than 28 years of age and some growing pains are to be expected. A repeat of last year’s success seems unlikely and I would be surprised if the Orioles are able to stay in contention all summer long.