The Baltimore Orioles were the Cinderella team of 2012. After beating the Rangers in the Wild Card Game, they came within a Jim Johnson blown save of avenging Jeffrey Maier. Now comes the hard part for manager Buck Showalter and his boys, proving last year was not a fluke.
Much of the team that Showalter employed last year is back, GM Dan Duquette made no major additions. Cornerman and DH Mark Reynolds took his power bat and 200 strikeouts to Cleveland. Utility man Robert Andino and starting pitcher Joe Saunders both signed with the Seattle Mariners.
The Orioles most important addition is from their farm system. Baseball America’s #2 rated prospect entering 2013 is Dylan Bundy. Bundy’s meteoric rise in 2012 took him from Low-A ball to a mid September major league call up to fortify the Orioles bullpen. Along the way he posted a 2.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 104 minor league innings. Though Bundy may be put on a Strasburgian innings limit, he would be Baltimore’s most talented starter if he makes the opening day roster.
A healthy Brian Roberts would add a dimension to the Baltimore Oriole offense that they missed much of last year. Roberts was limited to 17 games in 2012 due to injury. He has a lifetime .280/.351/.413 batting line and averages 36 steals and 101 runs scored every 162 games. A healthy Roberts would help the Birds add to their middling 712 total runs scored in 2012.
Utility man Alexi Casilla was claimed off the waiver wire from Minnesota to provide depth in case of another Roberts injury.
The loss of Nick Markakis in September from a broken thumb hurt the Orioles in the ALDS against the Yankees. Markakis is a solid hitter and right fielder who has twice driven in 100 runs in his career. A full season from the career .819 OPS man would also give the Orioles a valuable offensive boost.
The rest of the lineup remains intact from last year’s playoff team. Catcher Matt Wieters has developed into an elite backstop and Adam Jones is a premier center fielder. Manny Machado was called up midseason and provided a nice spark down the stretch.
The rotation lacks an elite option, unless Bundy can fill that role. Wei-Yin Chen had an impressive first year pitching to a 4.02 ERA and Chris Tillman may finally have developed into a consistent starter. The bullpen was a strength for the Orioles in 2012 as Jim Johnson emerged as star closer with 51 saves. Valuable setup men Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day and Luis Ayala all return in familiar roles.
Despite a strong lineup, the Orioles only outscored their opposition by seven runs in 2012. They were an incredible 29-9 in one run games and 16-2 in extra inning games. Part of their success in one run and extra inning games should go to Buck Showalter, perhaps the best manager in the game. However, a repeat performance in either category is highly unlikely.
The Baltimore Orioles will be hard pressed to repeat the success they enjoyed in 2012. The reward for a tremendous year is another season in the stacked AL East, where every divisional game is hotly contested. If Showalter can squeeze strong seasons from his starters, the lineup and bullpen are strong enough to keep pace and challenge for the division title or wild card. If not, 2012 may end being a one hit wonder for the fans at Camden Yards.