In 2013, with every swing, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis baffled fans as he sprayed homers to all sides of the ballpark. His 53 homers were the most in the Majors since Jose Bautista hit 54 in 2010. For most of the year, Davis was on pace to break the single-season home run record by Barry Bonds but tailed off once the Orioles fell out of playoff contention. It remains to be seen what he does for an encore as offseason moves have made Camden Yards a place to be in October.
Ubaldo Jimenez waited through the brink of spring training before inking a deal in Baltimore. In 2012, when the Orioles won 96 games to reach the playoffs, they had one pitcher Wei-Yin Chen with double-digit wins (12) while the rest was achieved through a strong bullpen and hot offense. Last year, the O’s faltered to a third place finish at 85-77 largely in part to a faulty rotation. Do not expect Jimenez to win 19 games in the tough AL East but 14 is a more reasonable number. He anchors the staff with Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. In his first full season, Tillman proved his value going 16-7 and throwing over 200 innings. He was amongst the leaders in WHIP at 1.221 and nearly averaged a strikeout per inning. Jimenez’s presence should alleviate the pressure from Tillman while also keeping him motivated. If he wants to become the staff ace, he will get that opportunity as Jimenez has a pattern of fading down the stretch. If the Orioles look to challenge the defending champs Red Sox and reloaded Yankees, Tillman’s emergence is needed. Last year, A’s manager Bob Melvin selected rookie Sonny Gray over 18-game winner Bartolo Colon to pitch the deciding game 5 of the ALDS. Similarly, Tillman will be summoned over Jimenez in decisive games.
The last player to have back-to-back 50 home run seasons was Sammy Sosa nearly a decade ago. It is hard to imagine a .266 hitter who had 77 career homers would breakout with 53 last year. Davis had the baseball world in awe with his historic season, finishing third to Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout in the MVP voting. The Orioles lineup is filled with a talented crop including J.J. Hardy, superstar Manny Machado, all-star Adam Jones and Davis. However behind Davis is a significant drop. If he gets off to torrid start, pitchers will move away from challenging the slugger. Machado led the league with 51 doubles and looks to be the second calling of Orioles great Brooks Robinson. His defense is stellar as he won his first in what is expected to be a garage-full of Gold Gloves. Machado’s 6.5 WAR was amongst the best for third baseman. With a skilled core, Machado represents the face of an Orioles organization that had been looking for its next superstar since the retirement of Iron Man Cal Ripken. Jones in centerfield looks more like a contemporary Ken Griffey Jr. His highlight reel catches are constant Top-10s on SportsCenter as he just had his first 100+ RBI season. Both Machado and Jones’ numbers should improve. The most surprising of hitters is former Brewers-castoff J.J. Hardy. Since arriving to Camden Yards, Hardy leads all shortstops with 77 homers and 224 RBIs in the past three years. He also is coming off consecutive Gold Glove wins.
The addition of Nelson Cruz in the outfield adds a potent hitter protecting Davis but in nine seasons he has played more than 128 games only once. Angels gave Trout a record $1 million in arbitration. While Machado is not there yet, it is undeniable he is the team’s best player. His $515,000 deal for 2014 was a $26,000 increase which Machado himself described as “disappointing.” Player’s health includes mental state and if Machado’s contract situation lingers in the season, his numbers could slip which would severely deplete the Orioles postseason chances.
A hitter-friendly stadium only delights the fans and enhances player’s stats as the Orioles boast some of the game’s most exciting young hitters. Overall, look for the AL East to be the most exciting race in baseball as getting into the playoffs will be the Orioles biggest challenge. Fans in Baltimore should prepare for a delightful October.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference. com/.