Finally, after 17 long years, the Baltimore Orioles are AL East champions again.
Now, it’s time to look ahead, step by step, at the remainder of the season, the postseason and even to the years to come.
The final days of the 2014 regular season promise to be interesting. The Orioles are three games back for the top spot in the American League. What does manager Buck Showalter do? Does he settle for the two seed and give everyday players like Nick Markakis and Adam Jones some rest or does he push for that top spot?
If I were calling the shots, I would encourage the Orioles skipper to push for the top seed as that would create more home games for the Birds, who are 30-8 at OPACY since June 30. This would also set up a favorable matchups, potentially against the A’s, Tigers or Royals, who wouldn’t have their number one starter available at for game one of ALDS and are either limping into the playoffs or using all they have to to reach the postseason.
I’d prefer the Tigers as the Orioles offense can push a few runs across against their top line starters, and with a shaky bullpen, can tack on added runs. The pitching staff will also be able to handle the struggling Detroit lineup. How will Buck set up his playoff rotation? With only four starters needed in the postseason, who gets sent to the bullpen? I would go with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yen Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez. Kevin Gausman has pitched well enough to earn a spot, but his inexperience knocks him to the pen’. His plus-plus fastball and ability to pitch in high leverage situations, he is a perfect match for this role.
Now into to the postseason.
This team may not look like it, but they are built for a deep run in October. The O’s have great depth, shown by the team’s success after the losses of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Chris Davis. The pitching staff is excellent, with the starters going out every night and giving the team the chance to win and the bullpen shutting the door. They have a team ERA of 3.46, and Zach Britton and Darren O’Day coming out of the bullpen with career years. And of course, the offense can score the runs to allow the pitchers to throw the game they want.
In the years to come, the Orioles could go two different ways. If they resign players like Markakis, J.J. Hardy, and Cruz this offseason, they will have continued success. If not, they could potentially flounder as there is no real organizational depth at shortstop and unproven and lowly ranked outfielders who may not be able to fill the shoes they are stepping into. Personally, I believe general manager Dan Duquette should pursue resigning these key Orioles who lead the Orioles to the division title.
No matter what, Birdland needs to enjoy this ride that this team is going to take us on.