We all hear it or say it every year, if things go right we are in the playoffs and can make a run at the World Series. The faith in our teams and the love of a new Major League Baseball season allow all of us to dream. But does each team really have a chance to make the playoffs let alone win the World Series? Of course not but it is fun to imagine. Over the next couple of weeks I will run through a few teams in MLB that have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs and how it can happen. Of course every coin has two sides so I will be touching on that as well.
Last year only three teams in the American League scored more runs than Baltimore in 2013 (Red Sox, Tigers and Athletics) and they signed Nelson Cruz this offseason. Nobody hit more home runs than Baltimore in 2013, in fact they hit 24 home runs more than second place Seattle. Cruz is coming of a performance enhancing drug suspension but if his numbers are even remotely close to his career than he is good for 25 home runs on an already potent unit. They will continue to score runs no matter what pitchers are trotted out against them.
It comes down to health and prospect development for the Orioles. They will be trotting out a combination of Steve Lombardozzi and Ryan Flaherty at second and third base as the season starts. If Manny Machado can return sooner rather than later with a clean bill of health than the Orioles can relegate Flaherty back to a platoon role that will fit him. Machado is a great young talent who is as gifted defensively as he is offensively but will be rusty and might be a bit timid off such an ugly injury.
Jonathan Schoop is the heir apparent in my opinion and he made a good step by making the 25-man roster. If he can find his way and begin to develop than Steve Lombardozzi can join Flaherty on the bench and the Orioles will be better for it.
The addition of Ubaldo Jimenez should help an otherwise decent rotation. However the question remains as to what the Orioles are getting with Jimenez. Is he the guy with the 1.82 ERA during the second half of last season or is he the guys that, in the first part of 2013 alone, carried an ERA of 4.86 and sports a career 32-39 American League record? One thing for sure is he is durable , pitching 175 innings or more and making 30 starts in each of the past six seasons. Jimenez will be the number one guy with a minor chance for Chris Tillman to take the role.
Outside of Jimenez, the rest of the Orioles rotation is littered with what ifs and maybes. Chris Tillman was a bit of a surprise in 2013 by finishing 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA in his first year with 15+ starts but will he do it again? Miguel Gonzalez has 48 lifetime appearances and Wei-Yin Chen appears like a career 4.00 ERA pitcher. Did the Orioles catch lightening in a bottle with the signing of former Cy Young winner Johan Santana? One thing is for sure, they will get whatever he has left.
The Orioles lost Jim Johnson and walked away from Grant Balfour after his physical leaving them with no real closer in a division that will be full of tough games. It appears Tommy Hunter will have the role but it is hard to love his chances.
One thing is for sure heading into 2014, the Orioles will score runs. Like many teams in Major League Baseball, they will needs things to break just right for them to win the division or make the playoffs. With that being said, it can truly happen. Will the rotation live up to the grind that is the American League East? Can they find a closer that gets the job done? Will Machado come back from injury and pick up where he left off? All of these questions remain to be answered. The 2014 Orioles, as constructed, can finish anywhere from first to fourth in the AL East. Pressed for an answer I will say the Orioles will finish in a two-way tie for third in the AL East and just miss the playoffs. But a couple of good bounces could put them over the top and have the Orioles faithful cheering in October.