BIRD’S HOUSE: O’s face tough start—Are they up for it?

Written by on March 26, 2014 in Orioles, Sports - No comments

With the regular season less than a week away, things are about to start getting fun around Baltimore. Currently the Orioles boast a 12-7 spring training record—while it is good to see them above .500, we all know their preseason record doesn’t hold much water.

The O’s start off this year with a pretty tough schedule, opening at home against the reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox for three games before heading to Detroit to play the Tigers for three games and then New York for three more against the Yankees.

While April will prove to be a tough opening month for the O’s, May will bring them the Houston Astros for six games (thank goodness) and the Minnesota Twins for three. Obviously no teams are pushovers, but, well, yeah, those teams are pretty terrible.

So far this spring, Chris Davis has been continuing as he did in 2013. Crush is batting .433 with 4 home runs in 30 at-bats with 12 runs batted in. If he can keep those strikeouts down a bit, he will be in for another monster year. While I don’t think he will hit over 50 home runs this year, 40-45 is very reachable.

J.J. Hardy has been having a nice spring as well, batting .313 with a home run and eight runs batted in. As always, Hardy brings Gold Glove level defense to shortstop along with his powerful bat.

Even Nelson Cruz has learned to find a way to get his on-base percentage up. So far, Cruz is batting .294 with a .385 OBP. Not bad.

Nick Markakis has played well this spring, batting .361 with a home run and six runs batted in.  Markakis needs to have a big year, as he has about $17.5 million reasons to play well in 2014.  He has an option for 2015, but if the Orioles are thinking differently, they won’t bring him back.

There have been a few pitchers for Baltimore that have stepped things up this spring. Zach Britton has been excellent so far, allowing only one earned run in 9.2 innings pitched. Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman, Tommy Hunter, and Brian Matusz all have ERAs of 3.00 or less. Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wei-Yin Chen have been struggling a bit this preseason, but I’m not too concerned just yet.

The Orioles will have a tough road ahead of them this year, but they do have the pieces in place.  I would have liked to have seen them pick up a top-notch starter this off-season, but I guess we will have to do with Ubaldo Jimenez for now. As for their outlook, here are my thoughts. Their offense is one of the best in baseball and they have added Nelson Cruz, which makes it even scarier if he can hit like he did in Texas.

Starting pitching remains a concern and there are a lot of “ifs” in that rotation. If Gausman can grow quickly…If Ubaldo Jimenez can pitch like he did after the All Star break last year and not like he did before the break…If Tillman can copy his 2013 season and not anything before…If Bud Norris can be the guy the O’s thought they traded for—then they should be good.

As for their bullpen, I just hope Tommy Hunter got his “yips” out this spring. If he falters, I wouldn’t mind seeing Darren O’Day in that role, but in an ideal world, Hunter nails down the closer role leaving O’Day and Matusz as the setup men, making that bullpen top notch in my opinion. I think the O’s have a real shot at the playoffs this year. Toronto, while they play the Orioles hard, doesn’t scare me much, and the Yankees have an average age of 53, it seems. Boston does come into the year as the reigning champs, but I’m not sure they’re as potent as they were last year. Tampa Bay is the only team that concerns me. Playing in the American League East is always tough, but the Orioles have just enough to make the playoffs this year.

by Andy Mindzak
birds@baltimoreguide.com

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