This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on January 23, 2013 and ending on February 22, 2013 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, off season changes since, and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We start in the A.L. East and go in ABC order; first up, the Baltimore Orioles.
2012 finish: 93-69 (2nd place, AL East - lost 3-2 in ALDS to New York Yankees)
RHP Daniel McCutchen, OF Trayvon Robinson, OF Lew Ford, OF Adam Greenberg, 1B Travis Ishikawa, 2B Alexi Casilla, 3B Danny Valencia
LHP Randy Wolf, LHP Joe Saunders, OF Endy Chavez, 1B Nick Johnson, 2B Robert Andino, 3B Mark Reynolds, DH Jim Thome
Why they will improve this year
The O's surprised the baseball world last season, proving to not just be riding a first half hot streak when they captured a Wild Card spot and handily took care of the Texas Rangers in the play-in game.Coming off a 93-win season, how can they possibly improve?
Well, Baltimore had no trouble scoring runs or hitting the ball out of the ballpark. They lose a bit of pop with Thome and Reynolds departing, but will have a full season of Manny Machado at third base. And the Orioles ranked dead last in stolen bases in 2012, which should get a nice boost from Casilla, who stole 21 in 22 tries for Minnesota last year.
And the young, free-swinging O's were strikeout victims third-most in the American League last season. They also grounded into the second-most double plays. Both of those problems have been partially remedied with the simple subtraction of Reynolds, who averages 213 strikeouts per season over his career, and grounded into 19 double plays last season alone.
Why they will regress this year
It's no secret that the Baltimore bullpen had the rough job of bailing out its starting rotation way too many times last season. While the Orioles maintained respectable numbers in the ERA and WHIP departments last year as a whole, they did nothing to improve a shaky starting rotation this winter.
And even though we give the benefit of the doubt to lights-out closer Jim Johnson, the bullpen wasn't as fantastic as advertised, blowing 25 percent of its save chances. There is hope in B-More this season if Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel both have full, healthy seasons. But even so, the front office has failed to make a play for Kyle Lohse, and never had a chance at Zack Greinke.
The stubbornness of Peter Angelos and Dan Duquette to acquire another arm or two for the pitching staff could come back to haunt the O's in 2013. What it leaves the rotation with is two starters coming off injuries, followed by a bunch of has-been prospects who didn't pan out (in fairness, said prospects do still have upside).
It's also unrealistic to expect another ridiculous record in extra-inning and one-run games this year. The clutch gene might still exist there, but chances are, those numbers average out in 2013 and the Orioles' win total decreases as a result.
The outlook for 2013
Despite all the young talent on the offensive side of the ball, I'm worried about the Orioles' capabilities to repeat their success this coming season. Buck Showalter's managerial wizardry can only take an average-at-best pitching staff so far.
I expect Johnson to continue closing games out, but definitely don't foresee another 50-save, 1.02 WHIP campaign coming. And while the loss of Reynolds doesn't look so bad on the stat sheet, keep in mind that 20-year-old Machado will need some time to adjust in his first full big league season. We've seen uber prospects tear it up in their first stint, only to flop in year two (i.e. Eric Hosmer, Jason Heyward).
Even with the return of Brian Roberts manning second base, and impending call-ups of prospects Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, I don't think the O's have enough to make a repeat playoff run.
Fear not, Orioles fans. I don't think this team is set for a year of misery like the pre-2012 duldrums. However, getting back to 93 wins will be extremely ambitious. It's the opinion of this writer that the Orioles top out around 85 wins, more likely dropping to right around .500 and missing the cut for the Wild Card.
Potential changes before Opening Day
UPDATE: On Jan. 24, the O's signed RHP Jair Jurrjens to a deal. The formerly dominant Jurrjens is a low-risk, high-reward type. The Orioles will either get a big comeback year and score a low-3.00 ERA's starter, or a waste of a couple million bucks on the same broken down, very hittable pitcher the Braves were working with last season.
The O's are reportedly in the mix to bring back lefty Saunders, which would add a slight boost to their rotation. You can never have enough pitching, so this would certainly raise spirits in Baltimore a bit. More importantly, they could be targeting Tigers starter Rick Porcello, according to Ken Rosenthal.
Even though the price might be steep, landing Porcello would be a coup for the Orioles, and would legitimize the top of their rotation a little more. Also according to Rosenthal, the Orioles are also potentially after Jason Kubel or Alfonso Soriano for the outfield.
Either one of those bats would be an instant upgrade over Nate McLouth, and could have me confidently singing an 85-win tune.
Biggest surprise: Alexi Casilla
Biggest disappointment: Jason Hammel
Bold prediction: Adam Jones touches 40 homers, 100 RBI
1. Nate McLouth, LF
2. J.J. Hardy, SS
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Adam Jones, CF
5. Matt Wieters, C
6. Chris Davis, 1B
7. Manny Machado, 3B
8. Wilson Betemit, DH
9. Brian Roberts, 2B
1. Jason Hammel, RHP
2. Wei-Yin Chen, LHP
3. Miguel Gonzalez, RHP
4. Chris Tillman, RHP
5. Steve Johnson, RHP
Projected finish: 80-82, 4th place
For more preseason evaluations:
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.
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