With less than two weeks remaining before Opening Day, it's time to start getting into Baseball mode. Some of you may already be in baseball mode with Spring Training in full gear but like the NFL Preaseason, it's nothing like the real thing. 

The Baltimore Orioles are coming into this season as the defending AL East Champs, their first pennant since 1996. Last season wasn't as magical as the 2012 season, when they ended the 14-year playoff drought because people expected them to make a big splash. It was fun to watch though, Nelson Cruz having an MVP caliber season, Adam Jones web gems, the 60th anniversary game, and the Pennant clinching game at the end of the season.

Now it's time to aim for a repeat. A couple big names will be missing from last year squad, Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. Money is the reason for both players departure, Nelson receiving 4-years $57 million from the Mariners, while the Braves gave Markakis 4-years $47 million. I actually thought one of the two should have stayed, especially since they didn't have crazy price tags. According to Markakis, the O's were scared of his neck problem reason why Nick is now playing in Atlanta. 

I was disappointed to see Nelson depart only because it will be hard to match that production. Cruz had a career high 40 home runs and kept the O's in good shape while the rest of the team was still trying to find their swing. While Chris Davis struggled batting a .196, Cruz stepped up into that role as the cleanup hitter the O's needed. Now Chris Davis will have to step back up into that cleanup and he nor the Orioles, can afford another bad season from him. 

Last season the O's made a late splash in the free agency with Nelson, but have yet to mimic that this season. Mostly all of the off-season moves were in house. Oriole's worked on trying to keep their own, agreeing to terms with Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman, and Tommy Hunter just to name a few. 

Matt Wieters is the biggest question mark of that list because he is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Wieters will not be apart of the Opening Day Roster for the first time in 5 years, which isn't detrimental to the team's success. It's no definite timetable when Wieters will be able to sit behind the plate but Buck Showalter said they are ahead of schedule. March 17th, Weiters was shut down due to tendinitis in his elbow, which eliminated the idea of returning on Opening Day. Here is Wieters comments about missing opening day,   

Adam is the heart and soul of this team and last year he had another MVP caliber season, batting .281 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs,. I expect Adam to truly become a bigger household name than what he already is. I don't think the world really know how great of a player he is. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Adam is the heart and soul of this team and last year he had another MVP caliber season, batting .281 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs,. I expect Adam to truly become a bigger household name than what he already is. I don't think the world really know how great of a player he is. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

I was disappointed to see Nelson depart only because it will be hard to match that production. Cruz had a career high 40 home runs and kept the O's in good shape while the rest of the team was still trying to find their swing. While Chris Davis struggled batting a .196, Cruz stepped up into that role as the cleanup hitter the O's needed. Now Chris Davis will have to step back up into that cleanup and he nor the Orioles, can afford another bad season from him. 

Last season the O's made a late splash in the free agency with Nelson, but have yet to mimic that this season. Mostly all of the off-season moves were in house. Oriole's worked on trying to keep their own, agreeing to terms with Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman, and Tommy Hunter just to name a few. 

Matt Wieters is the biggest question mark of that list because he is coming off of Tommy John surgery. Wieters will not be apart of the Opening Day Roster for the first time in 5 years, which isn't detrimental to the team's success. It's no definite timetable when Wieters will be able to sit behind the plate but Buck Showalter said they are ahead of schedule. March 17th, Weiters was shut down due to tendinitis in his elbow, which eliminated the idea of returning on Opening Day. Here is Wieters comments about missing opening day,   

It’s hard, and it’s what – the last five years, been able to be on the Opening Day [roster], It’s a special date, it’s always fun to experience it, but at the same time, I want to be there at the end of the year and I’d much rather be playing for the playoffs as opposed to playing on that Opening Day date.
— via Baltimore Sun

It would be nice to see Wieters on Opening Day but I agree with him, playoff is a lot more important. Caleb Joeseph will continue as Wieters replacement, which is a blessing since he has the experience from last year's playoff run. 

The team will also get back Manny Machado who suffered a second knee injury in 3 years. Before his injury Manny was batting .278 while playing in 82 games, returning from his first knee injury in early may. Even though his bat will be needed this year, many O's fans will feel a lot more comfortable with him playing the corner at 3rd base. I don't think you can find a better defensive 3rd basemen in the MLB than Manny Machado. He rarely lets anything gets pass him and you can't forget about the cannon for an arm he has. With Machado and Wieters back in the lineup, the loss of production from Cruz and Markakis departure won't be as severe as the rest of the country predicts it will be. 

Certain spots on the field still remain unclear, especially in the outfield. Adam Jones of course is solidified in Center Field, while Alejandro De Aza will more than likely be the Opening Day starter in Left Field but Right Field is still open.

David Lough has started 8 games in the outfield and played a total of 62 innings in Spring Training so he look to be the likely starter. I don't have much faith in Lowe as an everyday starter but he has success as a utility players for the O's. Steve Pearce and Travis Snider will be waiting in the wings to replace Lough but if I had to choose one it will be Pearce. Pearce had a breakout season playing in the outfield and 1st base, batting .293 with 21 home runs. 

I hope Schoop comes out of Spring Training as the starting 2nd baseman. I was really impressed with the 22 year old Schoop last season, hitting 16 Home Runs. Buck think that Schoop can be a Gold-Glover only if he continues to work hard in spring training. I'm sure he will take heed to Buck's positive words.  (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

I hope Schoop comes out of Spring Training as the starting 2nd baseman. I was really impressed with the 22 year old Schoop last season, hitting 16 Home Runs. Buck think that Schoop can be a Gold-Glover only if he continues to work hard in spring training. I'm sure he will take heed to Buck's positive words.  (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

Lowe is also fighting for a roster spot with a few other players like Johnathan Schoop, Jimmy Paredes, Ryan Flaherty, and Evan Cabera who recently signed with the O's this season.  The one thing that matters most to Buck is defense, so whoever plays the best defense will be on the field. Even if you are a very good hitter, you're level of defense will determine how much time you will get. 

The pitching staff doesn't have many questions because the same names still remain. Chris Tillman will once again be at the top of the rotation, followed by Wei Yin Chen, and Bud Norris. Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzales, and Kevin Gausman are fighting for the two remaining spots in the rotation and if I had to choose right now it would be Gausman and Jimenez. 

Only reason why I am throwing Jimenz in the mix is because he is owed $50 million, and you can not have that kind of investment waiting in the bullpen. The question on whether or not he is earning it is another topic. Last season, Jimenez didn't live up to that contract going 6-9 in 22 starts with a 4.81 ERA. I believe in giving people second chances and I think Jimenez deserves one. He knows that the fans were disappointed with his performance last season so expectations will be high for him.  

Kevin Gausman really impressed me in the postseason with his performance out of the bullpen, the then 23-year old (turned 24 in January) showed great poise in clutch situations only allowing 1 run with 7 strikeouts in 8 innings of work, utilizing his high heat fastball. I think the O's have found a gem with Gausman and the future looks bright with him, Tillman, and Norris still young and flourishing. I expect our young staff to perform a step up better from last year, especially Tillman and Gausman. This is the first year that I am comfortable with the team not having a BIG NAME ACE apart of the staff, instead we're grooming our own.

Overall I expect another good season from the O's. Losing Cruz and Markakis does worry me but getting Wieters and Machado back evens it out. Buck Showalters also gives me some added comfort because he can have an average team and turn them into an American League contender. No big off-season acquisition like the Cruz deal last year but I'll admit we got lucky being able to sign him for such a low price tag. I see them making a move during the season but for now, I think this is a team built for success. Very excited for opening day, See You At The Yard!

Comment

All rights reserved to Fan-i Sports Group LLC 2015