Written By: Daniel Clark of PenAndPaperSports.com

Baltimore Orioles home playoff victory

By nature, I’m an optimist… A ‘glass half full’ kind of guy and someone who tries to look for the best in people rather than the worst.

So before you call me blindly deluded by the love of my baseball team or simply a fan that chooses to see more potential in players than is probably deserved, just hold off on the abuse until you’ve read what’s below.

Like most of the people reading this, I too am a passionate Orioles fan and one which has also been frustrated at times this off-season by the lack of star signings, key trades or the loss of important players from recent seasons such as Jim Johnson and Nate McLouth. The traditionally peaceful #Birdland has been on edge of late and events such as the one involving my fellow Australian Grant Balfour have not helped the situation.

Quite simply, there are new expectations in Baltimore and the fan base is demanding results.

After 14 consecutive losing seasons, 2012 and 2013 were seasons to cherish — especially 2012 which saw a return to the playoffs for a city starved of baseball success for more than a decade. 178 wins from 324 games was a fantastic improvement from the dark years and with a winning team comes raised hopes and raised expectations from fans, players and also the media.

These raised expectations have been the catalyst for the frustration this off-season, as the Baltimore community, now proud of and more focused on their winning team, expect them to take that next step and soon enough, push for a World Series title.

Some might laugh at the prospect of the Orioles featuring in the World Series in the near future, however the reality is they’re not that far away — 2012 proved that when they came oh so close to beating the New York Yankees in the ALCS.

Offensively, the lineup is full of stars — Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado are in the upper echelon of hitters in the American League and they are well supported by the likes of J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis. Any team which has these six featuring on a daily basis is capable of scoring enough runs to win more games than not.

In addition to this, Ryan Flaherty proved towards the end of last season that he is capable of succeeding in the Majors, whilst the additions of David Lough and Delmon Young round out an offense that is capable of causing major damage. There’s been a lot of talk amongst fans that Nate McLouth is a big loss and as much as I understand the speedy base-stealer was a favourite of the Orioles fan base, his performances in 2013 were inconsistent and probably not as impressive as many people believe. McLouth’s slashline of .258/.329/.729 was respectable, however it can certainly be matched or even bettered by David Lough who went .286/.311/.724 with the Kansas City Royals in 2013. As for the loss of Danny Valencia, as good as he was late in the 2013 season, Delmon Young has a very respectable career triple line of .282/.316/.739. Yes, he’s had his fair share of ups and downs during his eight year career in the Majors, however a change of environment and the guidance of Buck Showalter may be just what he needs to fulfil his obvious potential. I truly believe that Lough and Young can match or exceed the performances of McLouth and Valencia.

The list of backups from an offensive viewpoint is also solid, if not spectacular, and features the likes of Henry Urrutia, Nolan Reimold, Alexi Casilla and Steve Clevenger. These back-ups will still have to earn their spot on the roster during Spring Training though as there’ll be a lot of pressure coming from the likes of Steve Pearce, Jonathan Schoop, Jemile Weeks, Tyler Colvin, Francisco Peguero, Cord Phelps, Quintin Berry, Julio Borbon, Johnny Monell and Michael Almanzar. Make no mistake, the organisational depth is there and Showalter won’t hesitate in ringing the changes throughout the season.

Defensively, there’s no doubt the Orioles are as good as it gets. In both 2012 (Jones, Hardy and Wieters) and 2013 (Jones, Hardy and Machado) the O’s had three Gold Glove winners whilst statistically, the Orioles’ 2013 season was the best on record.

Of course, then comes the area which does need improvement – The pitching. The later innings seem to be relatively well covered as there are a number of options to choose from, including Alfredo Aceves, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day and Ryan Webb. However the Orioles still lack some arms in the ‘pen who can serve as long relievers. In recent years, T.J. McFarland and Josh Stinson have shown they have potential to cover this role, as has Steve Johnson. Young gun Kevin Gausman has also shown he can compete at the highest level however his future is set for a starters role and it’s likely that he’ll be working on this development with the Norfolk Tides at the beginning of the season.

The starting rotation of Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and one other (yet to be determined) is not full of names which baseball fans would relate to playoff success however there is potential there and plenty of room for improvement. Tillman has performed well through 2012 and 2013, working to ERA’s of 2.93 and 3.71 respectively and in doing so, he has proven himself to be the leader of the rotation. Gonzalez is incredibly underrated and after just two seasons at the highest level, he has achieved a record of 20-12 with an ERA of 3.58. Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris are probably more concerning and both need to improve their levels of consistency if the Orioles are going to return to the playoffs in 2014. Don’t get me wrong, Chen can be brilliant at times, however it’s all too often that he falls away after an impressive start. For example, Chen’s ERA in the fourth inning of games is 5.27 and 11 of the 46 home runs he’s allowed have come at this stage. If he can maintain his composure during this period, he will join Tillman and Gonzalez as leaders of the rotation. Norris is likely to get an opportunity to start in the rotation however he will have pressure to keep his spot from the likes of Liam Hendriks, Zach Britton and the previously mentioned Kevin Gausman.

The person who fills the vacant position in the rotation needs to be of high quality and there’s a few available — in particular Bronson Arroyo who I believe would be a great fit for the Orioles… If Dan Duquette and Peter Angelos feel that way inclined. I hope they do because a rotation consisting of Tillman, Arroyo, Gonzalez, Chen and Norris is likely to be consistent enough and receive enough run support to help ensure the O’s win at least 90 games.

So to summarize, the Orioles’ off-season hasn’t been quite as bad as many people are suggesting and the roster really isn’t in that bad a shape. There’s definitely a need for another starting pitcher and I believe that’s likely to come in the coming weeks. Furthermore, another reliable arm in the bullpen would help ease some nerves however apart from that, the Orioles look set to challenge again in baseball’s toughest division.

As always, thanks for reading and please feel free to leave a comment below.

Image Credit: kowarski