For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat. If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers. We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.
93-69, second in the AL East and first AL Wild Card, lost in the NLDS
Every year, there's that team. That team that no one expects to do anything but winds up defying the odds. The team that either overachieves or opens their playoff window. There's always at least one of those teams.
Last year, that team was Baltimore.
A last place team the year before, the Orioles flipped their record and led the AL East for a long portion of the summer. Everyone kept expecting the fade, the return to normal, but it never came.
So which was this, the opening of the window or the one-year wonder?
BW: I'd give them a C. That's probably hugher than most of the Orioles' fan base would give them given that they didn't add very many major pieces. Jair Jurrjens is a halfway decent addition, however most people felt they'd pick up a middle-of-the-order bat. However I think that they're looking at the fact that Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts will (in theory) be back from injuries, and they'll have a full season of the likes of Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, & Manny Machado. So while the actual additions are underwhelming, they will get full seasons of some pieces that they added in the middle of the year in 2012. Furthermore, Dan Duquette deserves props for not bending to pressure and trading the likes of Machado and/or Dylan Bundy, which is who most teams wanted in exchange for their talent.
BSL: Are we grading A-F, or can I give Baltimore an NA? The Orioles Front Office gets credit for not doing adding any albatross contracts, and adding some depth to the 40 man roster, but ultimately very little has been added. The biggest stories of the Winter for the Orioles have been the O's not electing to bring back Reynolds, the extensions of Duquette and Showalter, and the signing of Jurrjens - who could possibly be their 5th starter.
CC: I'd give it a C, I guess. With the both Yankees and Red Sox potentially falling off from their usual highs, this was an offseason where an AL East team could make some moves and put themselves in a position to not only compete but perhaps completely leapfrog the other teams. With the Orioles winning 93 games last year and entering 2013 with probably their best squad in years (even if they're starting out from a base of .500 or so), they were in their best position in a long time to actually do something. And they largely passed (while the Blue Jays took the bull by the horns, so to speak). I don't know if it was because they didn't have any money or they are still looking a year or two out as their window or - what would be most unfortunate - they really think returning a team that won 93 games (with some historically good luck in one-run games) means they should 93 games again. Once they didn't make a couple moves it stopped making sense to make others - and ending up in between - so standing fully pat and not doing anything really stupid is at least a small plus.
CCY: Is 'quiet' a grade after kindergarten? No? In that case, this was an average, middling sort of off-season - no horrible moves, but no blockbusters, either. I do like that the team remained intact for the most part.
C70: How is last year viewed by most of the fan base--a good first step or a bit of an aberration?
BW: A little of both. I think that most people want to believe, but some aren't willing to do it. I think a large part of the fans hear the national media not giving the Orioles a chance, and are inclined to believe it. However the fact is that Orioles' FanFest set an attendance record, and the rumor is that season ticket sales are way up.
BSL: The O's had a losing record every year from '98 through '11. They went from 69 wins in '11, to 93 wins in '12. The season was as celebrated as any non-World Series winning team can be. Over the first 4 months of the season, the O's won with a bit of smoke and mirrors. Over the last 2 months, the O's were legitimately very good. There is acknowledgement that there will be regression from the bullpen (still strong, but not going to replicate their 2012), and that the Extra Innings and record in 1 run games will come down. There is optimism the O's will remain competitive.
CC: I think the average fan looks at it as a good first step, but it truly is more of an aberration - those two concepts are not mutually exclusive though, as it was still the best O's club in years even if you go by something like run differential instead of win-loss record. There's probably a longer way to go than many fans expect at this point, but at least they're heading in the right direction.
CCY: Seeing the fanbase start to become less complacent over the course of the season was one of my favorite parts of 2012. The fans I follow on Twitter seem hungry for more - a Super Bowl win helps - and like they're more confident in the team than usual.
C70: What are the plans for Dylan Bundy going into the spring?
BW: The Orioles have been mum on that. My personal opinion is that he starts the season in the minors. The Orioles have a lot of pitching depth in their system right now, so barring a trade there'll be a lot of competition in spring training. While I suppose Bundy could blow them away, I suspect he's probably slated for triple-A.
BSL: Bundy will be in the ML camp in the Spring, but figures to be heading back to AA Bowie. He will be a candidate for promotion, once the O's have gained an additional year of Service Time (end of April). I see him joining the O's in June. Others believe that promotion won't come until later in the year.
CC: I expect him to start the year in the minors, and spend as long down there as circumstances warrant. If the team is magically competing again and there's a hole in the rotation and Bundy is tearing it up in the minors, he could be up relatively early. Given the number of other young (though obviously not as young) pitchers the O's have to run through the rotation ([Jake] Arrieta, Tillman, [Brian] Matusz, [Zach] Britton just as a start), I'm not sure quicky pushing one of them out to bring Bundy up earlier makes a ton of sense (not that the team won't do it though). I'd look for him to get a cup of coffee at the end of the season in preparation for hopefully making the club in 2014 at the very least, certainly.
CCY: You'll get a good look at Dylan in Sarasota this March. He'll probably end up in AA Bowie to start things off, but the team is putting him and Kevin Gausman on a pitching schedule that'll make them available in September and hopefully October. Keep an eye on both of those boys.
C70: What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?
BW: Manny Machado. He showed a lot of spark in the two months he was with the team last year, and there's no reason to believe that won't continue.
BSL: Machado won't be counted as a rookie this year, so I believe Bundy has to be the answer. It's possible that [Jonathan] Schoop could take over 2nd base later in the year (sometime in August).
CC: With Machado no longer counting, it's pretty much Bundy or bust, I think. Despite having a number of younger players, I don't know that the O's are going to be relying on too many rookies except around the fringes.
CCY: In terms of rookies not named Dylan Bundy, keep an eye on pitcher Steve Johnson. He only appeared in 12 games last season, but the kid more than proved he can pitch and he'll possibly compete for a rotation spot in the spring. If he doesn't make it, odds are he'll toil in AAA Norfolk until inevitably needed.
C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
BW: I don't make my final record predictions on Birds Watcher until the final roster is released just prior to opening day. However as it stands now I see no reason why the O's can't be in the thick of things just like last year. I think that NY and Tampa will take steps backwards this year, while Boston might be remotely better. Toronto is the team to beat in the AL East, and I see no reason why the Orioles can't fight them until the end.
BSL: Heading into Spring Training, I have the O's winning 85 games. The O's won the 2nd WC in the AL last year with their 93 wins. Historically 89 wins has been what would been needed to secure that 2nd WC. So, while I currently have the O's 3rd or 4th in the AL East, I think they will be on the door-step of possible contention.
CC: Right now they look like the 5th best team in the AL East, but that doesn't mean they can't finish with a winning record as well. I'd say right around .500 - maybe a bit above - is the baseline heading into 2013. If Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter continue making their sacrifices to the baseball gods maybe they push 90 wins again and a potential wild card run. It's just as possible that the rotation struggles and the bullpen magic goes away and they're closer to 70 wins than 80 though.
CCY: Records are always tough to predict, especially given that there are less games this year in comparison to last. Given that, if this team wins 85 or more games I'll be ecstatic. I'd also love to see them make a run to win the AL East, but if they're runners-up again that won't disappoint me too much.
C70: What one thing from your team are you most looking forward to watching?
BW: The Orioles had one of the best bullpens in the league last year, and there's no reason to think they can't continue that into 2013.
BSL: The easy answer would be to say watching Machado play through his first full season. The true answer would be seeing what happens with the pitching staff. There is a lot of depth to both the rotation and the bullpen. It will be interesting to see how things shake out in that regard.
CC: I'm really interested to see who of Arrieta, Tillman, Matusz, and Britton can maybe establish themselves as quality Major League starters. There's also a number of other talented players who have a chance to really take steps forward this year.
CCY: I love prospects, so I'm eagerly awaiting Kevin Gausman's first Spring Training game. I'm also looking forward to seeing the team support each other the way they did last year - they worked hard and had fun and the results were better than any of us could have imagined.
My thanks to Dominic, Chris, Daniel and Steph on their Orioles thoughts. It's been a while since the team was in St. Louis, but there's still a lot of people rooting for them!
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball