AL East Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Will the Orioles be flexing their muscle in 2014?
(Photo courtesy of Icon SMI)
Ben Whitehead
Contributing Writer

We continue our look at each of Boston’s AL East opponents with our second part of the four-part AL East Preview series. We will break down their 2014 roster (to this point), project where they will finish in the standings and also how the Sox stack up against them.

Yesterday, we took a look at the Toronto Blue Jays.

Today, we shift our focus to the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles missed out on the postseason despite a respectable 85-77 record, tied for third in the East with the Yankees. Baltimore was the lone East team to have a winning record against Boston, defeating the Red Sox 11 out of 19 times. Baltimore has been a thorn in the side of the Sox since manager Buck Showalter took over. For whatever reason when these two teams lineup, the Orioles seem to have the upperhand.

Last season, Baltimore had the home run and RBI leader in Chris Davis (53 HR; 138 RBI). Davis busted out and doesn’t show signs of slowing down. The O’s have several standout players throughout their lineup, with Manny Machado holding down the hot corner, Matt Wieters behind the dish and Adam Jones in center. There’s no reason to believe, offensively, that this team can’t compete in the East.

Here’s a look at the projected starters for the O’s heading into Spring Training:

C – Matt Wieters
1B – Chris Davis
2B – Jemile Weeks
3B – Manny Machado
SS – J.J. Hardy
LF – Delmon Young*
CF – Adam Jones
RF – Nick Markakis
DH – Nolan Reimold
*Signed to Minor League contract with invite to Major League Spring Training

And the projected starting pitchers (in no particular order):
Wei-Yin Chen
Miguel Gonzalez
Chris Tillman
Bud Norris
Kevin Gausman
Dylan Bundy

Baltimore has a unique mix of reliable veterans and fresh faces on the mound. Gausman and Bundy have electric stuff and give the O’s strong depth at the back end. But they are still learning and could hit bumps in the road. Baltimore traded its closer, Jim Johnson, to Oakland for Weeks. They then lost a deal with Grant Balfour after his physical brought some concern to the club. Balfour signed with the Rays and the Orioles are left to fill the closer’s role with Tommy Hunter.

One interesting tidbit that has just surfaced is that the O's and A.J. Burnett are deep in talks to bring the right-hander to Baltimore. Burnett has had some success in the AL East before, although his time with the Yankees wasn't beneficial to either party. We all saw him excel in Pittsburgh, so perhaps he's turned the corner and will pitch better with less stress on him like he had in New York.

Again, this team is set offensively and should produce big numbers, even against the great arms in the AL East. Baltimore is primed to make a run at the division title, but will need more consistency from its starting rotation and bullpen. That was its forte in 2012 when the O’s made the playoffs – they had an impeccable record in close/1-run games – a nod to the shutdown job its bullpen did.

Baltimore feels a lot like the 2013 version of the Blue Jays to me. Although there were some bright spots all over the field, the pitching staff couldn’t put it together and the Jays fell hard and fast. I don’t think Baltimore will “fall,” per se, but the Orioles will be heavily relying on young pitchers and inexperienced backend bullpen guys. That formula won’t get them to the playoffs.

Our take is that the Orioles finish with an 84-78 record. However, their success against Boston continues and befuddles Red Sox Nation once again. Baltimore takes the season series against the Sox, 11-7. The two clubs open the 2014 season March 31 in Baltimore with a three-game set. They also have six games against one another in mid-September, which will be crucial in determining the final standings.

Next week, we take a look at the Tampa Bay Rays and continue piecing together the AL East.

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