In my opinion, Opening Day is the best day in all of sports. This kick starts us for six months straight of baseball, nothing better than that. The Orioles started last season on fire, jumping out to a 53-43 record before the All-Star break, then slumping down the stretch to a 32-34 record and finished 85-77, good for third in the A.L. East. After two winning years in a row after 14 straight losing seasons, The Birds look to make it three in a row this season.
Heading into the season, the Orioles have a top 3 offense in the league. Last season the Orioles were tied for fifth in the league in runs with 745, good for 4.6 runs a game, and they’ve added Nelson Cruz. Their Achilles Heel from last year was hitting with runners in scoring position. It must improve this season. I don’t know how many games I saw where it was bases loaded and no outs and no runs scored. You have to hit when you have ducks on the pond.
The Birds had 24 more home runs than any other team in the league, and could easily do the same thing this season. They are a power hitting club- Davis (53 last season), Jones (33), and Cruz (27). Machado (14), J.J. Hardy (25), and Wieters (22) should all hit over 20 dingers. They could possibly get a combined 15-20 homers, and around 80 RBI from the platoon at second, which will include Ryan Flaherty, Jonathon Schoop, and Steve Lombardozzi. Schoop will be a beast this year, love the kid. Came into camp with a lot more weight than last year. Look for a big year from Schoop.
Chris Davis isn’t going to replicate his numbers last year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit around .280, 44 bombs, and 110 RBI, should be another MVP caliber season for Crush. Jones will continue to see his stats increase, pencil him in for .285, 34, and 95 RBI.
Coming off the best defense in MLB history, the Orioles shouldn’t miss a beat again this year. They are returning all of their Gold Glove winners (Machado, Jones, Hardy) and added David Lough who will take over for Nate McLouth in left. Lough is younger, faster, has a better arm, and an overall better defender than McLouth, who bounced down the road to the Nats.
Jones still has a rifle of an arm in center and will make great catches. Markakis has gotten older but is an above average defender. Very quietly, Chris Davis finished second in Gold Glove voting for first baseman, his defense should continue to improve this year. Manny Machado was flat out amazing last year, so much fun to watch him in the field, and when he comes back from his knee injury he shouldn’t miss a beat. Matt Wieters has developed the best defensive catcher and should continue to be one of the best catchers in the league. The only time the defense may struggle is when Nelson Cruz switches from DH and is playing in the outfield. He is a below average defender but he hits bombs, so you have to have his bat in the lineup. They may not set any records like they did last season, but they are for sure one of, if not the best, fielding team in the league.
The Orioles will look for Chris Tillman to continue pitching like he did last year. Tillman was great all season and would have had over 20 wins if it wasn’t for the bullpen blowing a million games. New addition Ubaldo Jimenez brings leadership and a proven winner to the rotation. After stinking it up the past two and a half seasons, Jimenez rebounded last year and ended up having the second lowest ERA in the league after the All-Star break. He’s averaged 28 starts a year over the last eight seasons and should continue that trend this year. The rest of the rotation should be filled out by Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris. The bullpen is full of starters turned relievers, including Zach Britton, who has had a great spring with a .84 E.R.A. in 9 appearances, and David Ortiz killer, Brian Matusz. Darren O’Day, Josh Stinson, Ryan Webb, Evan Meek, and Tommy Hunter will be rounding out the bullpen.
Kevin Gausman will contribute to the team this year, book it. It’s just a matter of time. Gausman will be up soon and possibly work out of the bullpen, where he was nearly unhittable last year. Dylan Bundy is continuing his rehab from Tommy John surgery and should be back pitching in the minors by June. If Johan Santana can get healthy and has anything left in the tank, look for him to make an appearance out of the bullpen for the O’s too.
Jim Johnson was a very unpopular man last year, blowing nine saves and probably cost the Orioles a spot in the playoffs. He’s gone and now it looks like it’s Tommy Hunter’s job to lose, although he hasn’t been told he is the closer. I’d bet on seeing Big Game Hunter out there to end the ninth. He has the physical tools to be a closer, throws hard and fast, and hits his spots. It seems mental at this point for him.
It is clear this team is trying to win now. The Orioles have made the right moves to compete with the big boys. Their top 3 offense combined with their incredible defense and improved pitching should be enough to bring Oriole Magic back to the playoffs for the second time in three years.
RDT’s prediction: 91-71
A.L. Wild Card team
If this song doesn’t get you pumped up, get checked by a doctor. Orioles magic baby.
Follow me at @BarstoolRDT for my Orioles takes this season.