The Baltimore Orioles followed up a trip to the ALDS in 2012 with a solid first half of baseball last season that had them 10 games above .500 at midway point of the schedule. From that point on the wheels started to slowly come off until a late-season slump ended any shot at returning to the postseason. They finished with a record of 85-77 and six games out of the final wild card spot in the American League.
The big question heading into the start of the 2014 MLB season is can Baltimore return to the form that carried it through that successful first half last season, or is it headed for a return to the mediocrity that has plagued this team all the way back into the late 90s. When you take a look at what most of the baseball experts are writing about this team, you get the distinct impression that it will continue to head in the wrong direction with another step backwards in 2014.
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Sportsbook.ag 2014 Betting Odds
Odds to win the AL East: +1500
Odds to win the AL Pennant: +1800
Odds to win the World Series: +4000
Projected Win Total: 78.5
The Orioles stayed busy this offseason, revamping the roster with the addition of outfielders Nelson Cruz and David Lough as well as second baseman Jemile Weeks. They also added a few new arms to the pitching staff by signing Ubaldo Jimenez, Ryan Webb and Brad Brach. Jimenez was brought in in hopes he can anchor the starting rotation, and Webb and Brach should add some depth to the bullpen.
To make room for these new additions, Baltimore parted ways with outfielders’ Danny Valencia and Nate McLouth and second baseman Brian Roberts. Also gone are pitchers Jim Johnson, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Nick Markakis (RF)
Ryan Flaherty (3B)
Chris Davis (1B)
Adam Jones (CF)
Nelson Cruz (DH)
Matt Wieters (C)
JJ Hardy (SS)
David Lough (LF)
Jemile Weeks (2B)
Look for Manny Machado to replace Ryan Flaherty at third base sometime in late April or early May as long as there are no setbacks with the rehab on his knee. The rest of the lineup should remain relatively intact once opening day rolls around.
Baltimore finished the 2013 season ranked fifth in the Majors in scoring with 745 runs, and that production could actually improve if Cruz can return to form after serving a league-imposed 50 game suspension for his involvement with banned substances. The Orioles were ranked 10th in the majors in hitting with a team batting average of .260, and they had the fourth-most RBI in the AL with 719.
Projected Starting Rotation
A couple of potential starters waiting in the wings are Suk-min Yoon and Kevin Gausman. Baltimore also just agreed to terms on a minor league deal with veteran starter Johan Santana, who is trying to come back from major shoulder surgery for the second time in his career.
The expectation level that Jimenez can add a huge boost to this rotation is running high after the Orioles finished last season with a 4.20 team ERA that proved to be the root of the problem over the second half of the year. Last season he started 32 games for Cleveland and finished with a record of 13-9 and an ERA of 3.30.
Baltimore’s bullpen should be improved with the addition of Webb and Brach, and Tommy Hunter should land the role as the team’s full-time closer after posting four saves in 2013 as a setup man to the departed Jim Johnson.
2014 Baltimore Orioles Picks and Predictions
In a few other divisions around the MLB, the Orioles would probably have much better odds to win the title, but right now they are stuck in the most talented division there is. It is doubtful they will have the wherewithal to keep pace with the top three teams in the AL East (New York, Tampa Bay and Boston) as the dog days of summer wear on, so it looks like Baltimore will have to battle it out with Toronto to stay out of the basement of this division.
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Read more articles by Dave Schwab