As the off-season continues to be somewhat of a barren affair for the Orioles – where more high profile players have departed than arrived – one thing which is seemingly lost amongst many fans is the level of improvement expected to be made from a number of players who experienced some significant struggles in 2014. Of course, while the production of some players will improve and that of others will drop off, the Orioles can expect this increased level of production from four of the organization’s highest profile players, who combined, have the ability to improve the Orioles’ record substantially next season.
Matt Wieters started the season on a tear, however after injuring his right elbow, only appeared in 26 games, hitting .308/.339/.839 with five home runs. A career .257/.320/.743 hitter who was showing no signs of slowing down early in 2014, the Orioles can expect a significant level of improvement from the Catcher’s position, despite both Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley both filling Wieters’ void admirably. Wieters lives for baseball and he hates sitting out. Expect the hunger levels to be bigger than ever before as he seeks to push his team back into the playoffs. PS: Don’t. Run. Ever.
Manny Machado had a nightmare 2014, which was delayed due to injury, included a suspension, and finished with another injury – just as he was starting to regain some momentum. In total, Machado played just 82 games and his powerful bat, combined with his defensive brilliance, was sorely missed by the O’s. In those 82 games, he hit .278/.324/.755 with 12 home runs. Despite his high standing in the game, it’s easy to forget that Machado is still just 22-years-old. For someone so young, he has bounced back from a lot of adversity in his short career and 2015 is sure to be another example of his resilience. His ability to produce clutch extra-base hits and twirl game-changing defensive gems will significantly boost the O’s as they push for another post-season berth.
Chris Davis was probably the most frustrated Oriole all season and his struggles, also frustrated the fans. His season started slowly, then there were injury concerns and then he became a father – which was understandably the highlight of his year. Upon returning from a short break, he just couldn’t heat up and despite the occasional moments of brilliance, the power of 2013 just wasn’t there on a consistent basis. Eventually, his tough season ended with a 25-game suspension and the big fella was stripped of the opportunity to return to the playoffs. Overall, he hit .196/.300/.704 with 26 home runs, which was well down on his career mark of .253/.322/.815. While many ‘experts’ believe pitchers have worked Davis out, he will have the entire Spring Training campaign to work on beating the shift. If he can manage to combat this approach, look out. Still possessing more power than any other hitter in the game, if Davis can return somewhere close to his late 2012 and 2013 form, then the O’s certainly won’t feel as bad about losing Nelson Cruz.
Ubaldo Jimenez had a shocker in 2014 – there’s simply no other way to put it. Last year’s big off-season signing worked to a 6.59 ERA in April and while it improved somewhat during May and June, it went off the rails again not long after and he was stripped of his spot in the starting rotation. A lengthy break was followed by a stint in the bullpen – which also produced mixed results – and eventually he finished the regular season with a 6-9 record, working to a 4.81 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. The lack of trust Buck Showalter showed in Jimenez was clear for all to see when he played no part in the O’s post-season campaign – something nobody could have predicted upon signing his 4-year deal almost 12 months ago. Jimenez’s issue appears to be self-confidence, as he seemed unwilling to attack the strike zone and deal the ‘good stuff’ which we all know he still possesses. Perhaps it was the nerves of being in a new city, coupled with a new fan base holding high expectations? Whatever the reason was, Jimenez will be working harder than anyone this coming Spring to regain the trust of Showalter, his teammates and the Baltimore fans. If he can clear his thoughts and show a positive approach on the mound, I fully expect him to bounce back and turn in some far more impressive performances in 2015.
While I would still like to see the Orioles add another quality outfielder to the roster, as well as perhaps another designated hitter to compliment Delmon Young (who I believe will remain an Oriole), I still think the organization has the players available to win the AL East again and push even deeper into October. Ultimately, a team which has the likes of Wieters, Machado, Davis, Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy in its line up, complimented well by Young, Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza and Jonathan Schoop, is a team which will win more games than it loses and cannot be written off. Throw in a solid bullpen and a far more consistent starting rotation, and the Orioles are sure to see October baseball for a third time in four years.
On a separate matter, last night I asked Orioles fans how many games they thought their team would win in 2015… Here’s the results:
2% – 69 or less
6% – Between 70 and 74
10% – Between 75 and 79
10% – Between 80 and 84
36% – Between 85 and 89
21% – Between 90 and 94
15% – 95 or more
Pleasingly, despite the fears amongst the fan base since the loss of Cruz, Markakis and Miller, 72% of fans still believe the O’s will win 85 or more games. It seems the dark days of 1998-2011 really are a distant memory, which is great.