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Baltimore Orioles 2013 Preview

By Jesse Pantuosco, Contributing MLB Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles partied like it was 1997.

The Orioles ended a 15-year postseason drought by eliminating Texas in a dramatic win-or-go-home wild card matchup.

How'd they get there? By winning the close ones. The Orioles finished the season with a stunning 29-9 record in one-run games. Even more remarkably, the O's rattled off 16 straight wins in extra innings. No other team finished with more than 13 extra inning wins in 2012.

The bullpen may not deserve all of the credit for Baltimore's success in 2012 but it definitely deserves some of it. Baltimore's relievers combined for a 3.00 ERA in 545 1/3 innings last season, fifth-best in the majors and the second-lowest bullpen ERA in the American League (Tampa Bay led the AL at 2.88). Jim Johnson enjoyed a breakout season in his first year as the full- time closer, leading the major leagues with 51 saves in 54 chances.

Johnson's strong season earned him a trip to his first All-Star game where he was joined by teammates Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. Jones led the team in batting average (.287) and wins above replacement (3.4) while Wieters finished second on the team in runs batted in (83). Both players received Gold Glove awards at the end of the season.

The Orioles weren't among the league leaders in batting average (.247) but they made up for it by smashing 214 home runs (second in MLB) for an average of one homer every 26 at bats. Five Orioles (Jones, Waiters, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds) blasted 20 or more round-trippers last season, the first time that's happened since 2008.

Unfortunately, Baltimore's bats fell silent in the postseason (.195) as the team bowed out to New York in a thrilling five game series.

The Orioles' final regular season record represented a 24-game improvement from 2011 when the team finished 28 games out of first place. Buck Showalter's club returns essentially the the same team as last year, meaning expectations are through the roof.

2012 FINISH (93-69) - Second Place (AL East)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Alexi Casilla (2B), Jair Jurrjens (SP), Danny Valencia (3B)

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Robert Andino (2B), Endy Chavez (OF), Dana

Eveland (RP), Nick Johnson (DH), Omar Quintanilla (2B), Mark Reynolds (1B), Joe Saunders (SP), Jim Thome (DH)

PROJECTED LINEUP: Brian Roberts (2B); J.J. Hardy (SS); Nick Markakis (RF); Adam Jones (CF); Chris Davis (1B); Matt Wieters (C); Manny Machado (3B); Wilson Betemit (DH); Nate McLouth (LF)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Jason Hammel (RHP); Wei-Yin Chen (LHP); Miguel Gonzalez (RHP); Chris Tillman (RHP); Jake Arrieta (RHP)

PROJECTED CLOSER: Jim Johnson (RHP)

MANAGER: Buck Showalter

WHICH ADAM JONES SHOULD WE EXPECT IN 2013?

They say it's not how you start, but how you finish.

Adam Jones must have gotten a little mixed up last season. His slugging percentage dipped by more than 60 points in the second half and he was just plain awful in the postseason (2-for-26 with seven strikeouts).

The hope was that Jones would shake off his late season struggles and return to have an even better season in 2013. So far, that hasn't materialized.

Jones looked like a deer caught in the headlights at the WBC (.182 AVG in six games) and he's been just as bad in the Grapefruit League (also .182). He isn't making contact and even when he has, his power has completely evaporated.

Of course, spring training stats aren't always indicative of what we can expect in the regular season. Ryan Braun couldn't hit a lick in Arizona last spring (.213 in 19 Cactus League games) but he was terrific once the regular season got underway (NL-leading 41 HR). By that same token, Pittsburgh's Matt Hague belted seven homers last spring. His regular season home run tally? A big ol' goose egg.

Jones is probably just in a slump right now. But if this funk stretches into the regular season, the Orioles could have a problem on their hands.

WHAT ABOUT THE BACK END OF THE ROTATION?

Jason Hammel is tentatively penciled in as Baltimore's Opening Day starter. It looks like Wei-Yin Chen will follow Hammel in the rotation with Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman clinging to the third and fourth posts respectively.

As for the final spot in the rotation, well, your guess is as good as mine.

This spring has turned into a Hunger Games style competition for the last man standing. At certain points, up to seven different pitchers have been in contention for the fifth spot in Baltimore's starting rotation.

Top prospect Dylan Bundy fell out of the running when the team reassigned him to minor league camp on March 16. Jair Jurrjens and Zach Britton entered the spring as the two favorites to land the last spot but neither has had a good spring (4.61 ERA for Jurrjens, 6.10 for Britton). Tommy Hunter (7-8, 5.45 in 2012) had an outside shot but it looks like Showalter would prefer to use him as a long reliever.

That leaves us with three front-runners: Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson and Brian Matusz.

Johnson (4-0, 2.11 in 12 games last season) has been the most consistent but he doesn't have as much upside as Matusz or Arrieta.

Matusz might be the most talented pitcher in that group but there's a chance Showalter could opt to keep him in the pen so he'll have a left-hander he can call on in the later innings.

Arrieta has experience (60 starts for the Orioles since 2010) and he's put together a pretty nice spring so far (1-0, 1.56 in four appearances). It's just a matter of whether or not Showalter is willing to overlook his disastrous 2012 campaign (3-9, 6.20).

If Arrieta does have the upper hand in the race for the fifth spot, it sure isn't by much. In the end, we could see all seven of these candidates get a chance to prove themselves at the big league level in 2013.

CAN BRIAN ROBERTS BE A FACTOR?

For a period in the mid 2000s, Roberts was the most consistent producer in Baltimore's starting nine. Between 2005-2009, Roberts averaged 13 HR, 64 RBI and 37 SB per season while hitting at a .294 clip.

Injuries began to pile up for Roberts in 2010 and since then, he has missed a whopping 371 games. Roberts hasn't had much success at the plate over that span, collecting a .244 average in 459 at bats.

Now for the first time in several seasons, it looks like Roberts will be 100 percent healthy on Opening Day.

Expectations are pretty low for Roberts but there's always a chance he could have a renaissance in 2013. If Roberts reaches or comes close to his career on base percentage of .351, he could be a major asset to the Orioles.

X-FACTOR: MATT WIETERS: You can do a lot worse than 23 HR and 83 RBI, especially when it's only your third full season in the major leagues.

But if 2012 was the high point of Matt Wieters' career, I think we'd all be a little bit disappointed.

When Wieters made his big league debut in 2009, he was being touted as the next Mike Piazza. Instead his career has taken a very Brian McCann-like trajectory.

If Wieters is going to have a breakout season, why not make it 2013?

First, he'll need to make some adjustments. The switch-hitting Wieters did a lousy job against right-handers last season (.224 against righties, .323 versus southpaws) and too many of his at bats ended with strikeouts (whiffed once every 4.7 at bats last season).

Perhaps the adjustments have already been made. Wieters has been outstanding this spring, collecting a .429 batting average with 13 RBI. He's hitting .467 from the left side of the plate and get this: he's struck out just four times in 35 at bats.

In a division where there's almost no margin for error, a breakout season for Wieters could be the difference between a division title and a last place finish.

OUTLOOK

The Orioles didn't add much this offseason, but after winning 93 games last season, they didn't really need to. The bullpen is spectacular, the lineup has power for days and Showalter is one of the smartest managers in the major leagues. The only real question mark is the starting rotation, especially the back end of it. From the looks of it, the No. 5 slot is going to be a revolving door all season. The Toronto Blue Jays are still favorites to win the division but a Wild Card berth doesn't seem out of the question for Baltimore. It's going to be a coin flip for second place in the AL East with the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays battling punch-for-punch the whole season.

03/26 14:08:16 ET