Reporting Mike Popovec
You know you are excited about the upcoming baseball season when you print out the Spring Training schedule and make it a point to watch and or listen to as many Grapefruit Games as possible as was the case with yours truly. How many people did you see on Facebook after the Orioles lost to the New York Yankees in the ALDS post, “How many days until Spring Training?” or “How many days until Opening Day?” “Can’t wait until Spring Training!” …well you get the point.
There have been a lot of articles written on the Orioles and why statistically they will come down after a magical 93-win season and in some articles drastically. The amount of one-run ball game wins is the most used statistic as to why the Orioles will drop off this season. Let me give you some reasons why I believe the Orioles still have an excellent chance at a 90 win season. (My prediction by the way is 88-74). Well I am one win closer to 88 now.
- Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are just starting to hit their prime. There is no reason to believe that Adam Jones will not continue to put up the kind of power numbers he put up this past season and keep his average between .285-.300, maybe higher. Matt Wieters had a very good spring training at the bat. I think you may see those power numbers go up and or the average as well. (I would settle with Wieters as a .260 hitter if he delivered a solid 25-28 homers and 80 RBI each season) He got off to a good start on Tuesday.
- Manny Machado had an outstanding rookie season in the time he was up with the Orioles. This will still be a learning year and one in which teams will adjust to him but this player has a bright future.
- JJ Hardy had 22 homers last year but hit about 25-30 points below what he usually does; he is due for a bounce back.
- You get back Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis this year. Reimhold started the season on a tear last year before a season-ending neck injury and Markakis was money in the lead off spot after he came off the DL after the All Star Break before he went down again thanks to a CC Sabathia fastball off his wrist.
- Even if we get 70% of the old Brian Roberts, if he stays healthy, it’s leaps and bounds over what we had at second base last year. Even if he does not stay healthy you have an excellent defender in Alexi Casillia and a young up and comer in Ryan Flaherty who can hit and has improved his defense a lot.
- He still has to prove it but this very well may be the year that Jake Arrieta puts it all together. He certainly has stuff better than what a 4th or 5th starter usually has. Jake says he is ready this year to get over the hump, which according to him has to do with keeping mental focus which has often cost him one bad inning in games in which he started out dominating.
- There is a lot of depth with the starting pitching but Jason Hamel has shown the talent that Dan Duquette saw in him, Wei Yen Chen is a very solid number two and a good international find for Duquette. Miguel Gonzalez has new life in Baltimore, just throws strikes and is also just very steady. Chris Tillman and Arrietta have to put it together (which I believe at least one of them will) for an entire year but if they cannot there is Steve Johnson, Zach Britton, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman among others waiting in the wings.
- The O’s return a fierce bullpen and that is more than half the battle during the course of a season. Buck does a good job in not overusing his bullpen as evidenced by the amount of call-ups from Norfolk last season to avoid that very thing (the starting pitching has to do their job of course but there is depth there if those guys are not getting the job done.) There is no reason to believe that the pen can’t hold those one-run leads again.
I believe there will not necessarily be as many one run games this year as there were last year but even if there are this team has the defense, bullpen and experience in winning close games to get the job done more times than not. I am excited about the future and the culture of winning that has finally re-infiltrated this organization.
Enough talk for now, let’s continue to PLAY BALL!