But let's not forget that Johnson was an unknown commodity when he was awarded the closer role in Baltimore. He also didn't pitch that well in that role last season so I'm willing to give the O's the benefit of the doubt on filling that role.
American League East 2014 Division Preview
The Boston Red Sox went from worst in 2012 to first in 2013, bringing home their third World Series title of the new Millennium. In fact, that makes eight World Series championships for teams coming out of the American League East in the last 20 seasons, by far the most of any division (the NL East is in second place with four).
It would seem to make sense that there are early favorites coming out of the AL East again this year for reasons we will get into later; the Red Sox and the New York Yankees represent one-third of the teams that are being given 12/1 odds (or better) to win the World Series in 2014, via Bodog. While the Vegas lines don’t necessarily represent the actual probability of winning, it does give us a good indication of how these teams are viewed going into the season.
Key Subtractions: Brian Roberts
Biggest Strength: Middle of the order
Biggest Weakness: The whole rotation
The Orioles are a team that didn’t really do much to fill out their roster in the offseason. Baltimore let Brian Roberts walk and now he’ll be the starting second baseman for the New York Yankees (or at least platooning with Kelly Johnson) and as of today they haven’t acquired anyone to help fill out the rotation. They do have Kevin Gausman penciled in their rotation and he’s a guy that has a lot of upside – his ERA was a bit inflated by a sky-high 1.51 HR/9 – but he still has just 47.2 innings at the Big League level. Expecting him to be an anchor this year is a bit of a pipe dream.
The rest of the rotation will be filled out by Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez (Dylan Bundy is still a ways away from being ready after Tommy John surgery). Tillman had a pretty strong year last year and that makes two consecutive solid campaigns for him (even if 2012 was only 86 innings). Tillman could be a decent middle-rotation guy this year but the rest of it seems like crapshoots to me: Chen faded in the second half and that’s two years in a row he’s done that; Norris had his highest WHIP of any full season of his career last year and things got worse when he got to Baltimore; Gonzalez also faded down the stretch last year and as a 30-year-old (in May) with under 300 MLB innings, he’s not more than a #3 starter. Essentially, this is a rotation relying on one of Tillman or Gausman to emerge as an ace this year and that should be a bit worrisome.
Of course, this team still has a middle of the order with the names Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters all hitting next to each other so Baltimore can slug with the best of them. I do have concerns about Jones’ inability to take a walk but he’s been able to maintain a 280-plus average for several seasons now so I guess he’s the exception. Davis isn’t a true .286 hitter like he was last year, it’s just too hard to maintain that high an average while striking out in nearly 30-percent of your plate appearances as he has over the last two seasons. The power is real though and 40-plus home runs shouldn’t be out of the question. It’s a wonder how Manny Machado will rebound this year after that devastating knee injury last year. The rookie was only one of two players in baseball with at least 50 doubles last year and how he comes back from this injury will be a big storyline for the Orioles as the season approaches.
This team, like many others, will only go as far as their starting pitchers take them. It’s a lot to put on a rotation like this so I don’t have the most optimistic outlook for this team this year. They could be among the wild card contenders but not among the division leaders.