To lead you into the MLB season Stoop Sports’ MLB staff is embarking on a 30 day journey, where we will give you pre-season profiles of all thirty teams. Each writer was given the artistic liberty to format their previews to their liking. Enjoy, and happy spring training!
The Baltimore Orioles were the Cinderella story of the 2012 MLB season winning 93 games, and finishing just two games behind the division winning Yankees in the AL East which was good enough for a wild-card berth. After defeating the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card Game, the O’s were beaten in a closely-contested Divisional Series by the Bronx Bombers in 5 games. Their calling card however was their stunning 29-9 record in one-run games, due in great part to their lockdown bullpen, expertly managed by Buck Showalter who was the runner up for AL Manager of the Year.
The Baltimore Orioles as a team hit 214 home runs in 2012, the second most in the Major Leagues. They were, however, only middle-of-the-pack in total runs scored (714) and 20th in the Majors in team batting average (.247). The team’s offense was anchored by star center fielder Adam Jones who hit 32 home runs to the tune of a career high .839 OPS (.287/.344/.505). They also received production from former Ranger Chris Davis who chipped in 33 homers and 85 RBIs of his own. Additionally, under-the-radar star Nick Markakis, who only played in 104 games due to injury, batted .298 and contributed 54 RBIs.
The team’s rotation was constantly in flux, with pitchers cycling in and out from the minors, the waiver wire, and the disabled list. Rookie Wei-Yin Chen, who had several years of experience in the NPB before joining the Orioles, led the team in wins with 12 as well as innings pitched with 192.2. The remainder of the staff was comprised of youngsters such as Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton as well as other in-house arms like Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. The rotation was rounded out by veteran righty Jason Hammel, who, after being acquired from the Rockies in exchange for Jeremy Guthrie, was in the midst of a career year (3.43 ERA) before being sidelined with injury; he did however return in time for the postseason during which he started 2 games, going 0-1. The team also acquired veteran lefty Joe Saunders who left in the offseason for Seattle, and Randy Wolf who is also currently unsigned.
But the shining star of the Baltimore ball club was its bullpen. With closer Jim Johnson breaking out in a with 50 saves, fireballing setup man Pedro Strop, and sidewinding righty Darren O’Day were only a few of the multiple arms Showalter had at his disposal. Showalter’s mastery of matchups and expert mixing of arms such as repurposing struggling lefty starter Brian Matusz to the pen was just one of many moves that helped lead the club to 29 victories in one-run games, and a sparkling 16-2 record in extra innings.
The Baltimore Orioles haven’t made many moves this offseason, and aside from losing slugging first baseman Mark Reynolds to free agency, no main components of the Baltimore lineup have moved. They did pick up former Brave Jair Jurrjens on a low-risk minor league deal, hoping that he can recapture some of the form he showed during the first half of the 2011 season.
If the Baltimore Orioles hope to compete for the AL East crown they need their bullpen to bring back 2012’s magic, because as things stand, the team’s rotation is still a collection of question marks, with no starter other than Chen throwing more than 140 innings the previous year. The Orioles have demonstrated the ability to hit home runs but with their inordinate 29-9 record in one-run games, can they be expected to repeat such success? With Buck Showalter at the helm, and a supply of young arms in the Baltimore farm including highly touted prospect Dylan Bundy, the Orioles have as good a window as ever to take advantage of an AL East that is increasingly looking to be up for grabs. But with the division boasting some very strong pitching staffs and a slue power bats as well, the Birds will be in for some stiff competition.
Prediction: 71-91, 5th in AL East