Monday, April 01, 2013
The talking heads have predicted the O's to finish everywhere in the AL East this season. I agree. With all of them. This could be the most competitive race the AL East has seen since the division's dominant years in the late 70's and early 80's.
The Yankees have been weakened by free agency and injury and do not open the season as a solid favorite. The Bombers still have solid pitching (best in the division last season) and, if they get healthy, will be in the hunt.
The Rays bring what they've brought each of the last 5 seasons. Solid pitching and a suspect offense. That's been enough for a winning record in each of the last 5 seasons, 90+ wins in 4 of those seasons, 3 post-season appearances and 2 division titles. The Rays are in the hunt.
The Blue Jays re-tooled their roster in impressive fashion during the off-season and look formidable. However, Cito Gaston is not the manager. John Gibbons may be able to direct the Jays to the top, but he's no Cito Gaston.
The Red Sox may or may not rebound from a dismal 2012 campaign. John Farrell takes over the reins in Boston with significant challenges. His last two seasons as manager of the Jays demonstrated that he's no Cito Gaston either.
The Orioles will put a better team on the field this season than they did last season. In 2012, the O's fashioned 93 wins primarily with home run hitting (2nd in the AL) and a tireless bullpen that refused to allow runs (3rd in AL in IP, 3rd in ERA) in close games (29-9 in 1 run games). This team will not win 90+ games the same way they did it last season. However, a 90+ win campaign is not out of the question either.
The O's bullpen led all of MLB in IP through July of 2012. The starting rotation picked up its' share of the load in August and September to finish with an average of 5.8 Innings pitched per start. If Hamel, Chen, Arrietta, Gonzalez and Tillman can carry their share of the load, the bullpen can be as good as it was last season.
However, improved starting pitching and a staunch bullpen will not be enough to produce a +20 in 1 run games. I agree with those who claim the 29-9 record in 1 run games was good fortune sustained. That particular +20 will have to be made up by scoring more runs (and thus having fewer 1 run games).
The O's open with CF Adam Jones (32 HR), C Matt Wieters (23 HR) and 1B Chris Davis (33 HR) in the middle of the lineup. While there is no good reason to expect 88 HR from this trio again, there is also no good reason to declare they cannot deliver it. There is every reason to expect SS J.J. Hardy and RF Nick Markakis to have the kinds of seasons they've had their whole careers and good reason to expect 3B Manny Machado, LF Nate McClouth and 2B Brian Roberts to produce more than last seasons every day players of Mark Reynolds, Endy Chavez and Robert Andino.
Sustained health is the key to the fortunes of every team in the AL East. Health, improved starting pitching and a more diverse offense are the keys to the O's fortunes.