2014 Orioles preview: Can rotation step up behind stacked offense?
Offense: The Orioles offense is built on power. Baltimore, led by Chris Davis’ 53 bombs, jacked a major league-best 212 home runs in 2013. Cruz, who hit 27 homers last season, will add to that dimension of the Orioles offense, but do little to improve Baltimore’s lackluster on-base percentage (.313, tied for 17th in MLB) and walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.37, 21st in MLB)
Rotation: Pitching was Baltimore’s downfall in 2013, as the Orioles tied for the fourth-worst rotation ERA in the majors (4.57). The Orioles have made a late push to address the issue by signing Jimenez, although the up-and-down right-hander represents a $50 million gamble. Chris Tillman (16-7, 3.71 ERA) remains underrated, and Bud Norris is entering his first full season in Baltimore. Add a wild card Yoon to a mix that also includes Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez, and it’s hard to project the Orioles rotation’s success -- or lack thereof. The rotation’s effectiveness ultimately might be determined by the emergence of either Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy later in the year.
Bullpen: The Orioles bullpen was a middle-of-the-pack unit in 2013, and Baltimore now has to figure out who is going to close games after the team traded away closer Johnson. Tommy Hunter appears to be the front-runner in the club’s closer battle, although Darren O’Day, Ryan Webb and Yoon are options if Hunter fails. A lot has to be sorted out in the ‘pen, and it could be a matter of trial by fire.
Player to watch: It’ll be interesting to see how Manny Machado comes back from last season’s knee-injury, but 23-year-old Gausman remains the most intriguing player. If Gausman emerges in 2014, the Orioles rotation could improve significantly.
Why they will win: The Orioles are stacked offensively, and the addition of Cruz could further lengthen the lineup. Baltimore also played tremendous defense last season, so continued steadiness could help the pitching improve in 2014, especially if Jimenez pitches up to his potential.
Why they will lose: Pitching once again could be the Orioles’ bugaboo within the daunting American League East. The Red Sox are deep, the Yankees reloaded, the Blue Jays have plenty of offensive firepower and the Rays have the pitching to neutralize the Orioles’ offense. The O’s might face an uphill battle given the state of the division.
Ken Rosenthal's outlook: Only four teams in the majors scored more runs than the Orioles last season, and the Baltimore lineup has gotten even better with the addition of Cruz. Only three teams, however, had a worse rotation ERA, and the signing of right-hander Jimenez will not necessarily be the answer, given his past inconsistency. The Orioles could get a boost if righty Gausman emerges or righty Bundy returns from Tommy John surgery by midseason. The team also has a question at closer, with Hunter replacing Johnson. Still, if everything clicks, the Orioles will be legitimate contenders.