This isn't to say that the Orioles are going to win the AL East, as it's likely to be a dogfight amongst a bunch of talented heavyweights, but this clearly their best shot since 1997.
The Orioles came out of nowhere to surprise everyone with their run to a wild card berth in the playoffs in 2012. In 2013, the team was expected to battle for the playoffs once again and fell short, but many expected some type of regression.
That's not the case heading into 2014. Thanks to some quality offseason additions, the health of a couple of key players and the maturation of the team in general, there seems to be a different vibe around the club.
The team seems like they expect to win and really challenge the hierarchy in the AL East, and that confidence was only given a bigger boost when Dan Duquette signed Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz.
This is by far the deepest pitching staff the Orioles have put together in recent memory. They may still lack that true ace, but their depth rivals just about anyone. The club has many options for the starting rotation, so if one guy struggles for any significant period of time, there is someone ready to step up and take his spot.
The O's upgraded their defense in left field coming off a season in which they were arguably the best defensive club in the history of baseball, but can they possibly get any better in the field?
The lineup still has OBP issues, but few teams can match the O's and their power bats. The club has, potentially, seven players in their starting lineup that could hit 20 or more home runs. Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop both have the ability to hit close to 20 with regular playing time, and that also doesn't factor in a healthy Nolan Reimold, as unlikely as that may be.
I thought the Orioles were a team that, before spring training, could have a tough time breaking the .500 mark. After the late moves by Duquette, some relatively meaningless spring training action and more roster analysis, this looks like a club set to finally overtake the Red Sox and Yankees. It's been a long time coming. Don't be surprised if the Orioles win their first AL East title since 1997.
AL East prediction
Red Sox 89-73
Blue Jays 78-84