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Orioles set for 2014 season

Can Tommy Hunter be an improvement over Jim Johnson as the team's closer in 2014?
Can Tommy Hunter be an improvement over Jim Johnson as the team's closer in 2014?
Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Baltimore Orioles went into the 2012 season coming off their first winning season and playoff appearance in 15 years.

There was a lot of excitement and optimism surrounding the fanbase, but given the team's incredible record in one-run and extra-inning games in 2011, many around the game felt that the Orioles were an obvious candidate for significant regression.

Those people happened to be right, as the Orioles dropped from 93 to 85 wins thanks to a number of blown saves by Jim Johnson and a record below .500 in one-run games.

It seemed natural that, after such a wake-up call, the owner and front office would realize that the club needed a few upgrades at key positions to really become a legitimate World Series contender and would be active on the open market in the offseason. Instead, the team looked to dump salary, trading away Jim Johnson and going dumpster diving for discarded players that other teams didn't want on their roster, only to finally make some significant moves right after the start of spring training.

The result is a team that has a ton of starting pitching depth but still lacks an ace, while questions linger about the back-end of the bullpen and a lineup that still struggles to consistently manufacture runs, work counts and get on base.

The O's are likely to regress in at least one area. Chris Davis had an unbelievable season, and while he is one of the best offensive players in the game, he is highly unlikely to repeat his 2012 numbers. Davis was not nearly as good in the second half of 2012, which is probably a sign of things to come. He is probably more like a .265 hitter with 35-40 home runs, which is still great but a significant decline from 2012.

The starting pitching is led by Chris Tillman, who had a breakout 2012 season. The O's hope he can build upon that in 2013, but he could always stay back now that he is the club's de facto ace. The acquisition of Ubaldo Jimenez could either be a lot of money spent on an inconsistent pitcher or a steal for a guy that has the potential to be a borderline No. 1. He might be the biggest key to the entire season.

Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen are solid so long as they stay healthy, but function more as No. 3 or No. 4 starters. Bud Norris, if he doesn't end up in the bullpen, is more like a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. The O's are hoping Kevin Gausman takes a big step forward, maybe even becoming the true ace of the staff later in the year, but the team has fallen into that trap far too often in the past with other highly-touted prospects. There is also hope that Dylan Bundy could be ready to help late in the season, and the signing of Suk-Min Yoon adds more depth.

Thanks to some of the free agency signings, the bullpen should at least have a lot of depth. There are so many candidates for the starting rotation for only five spots, so there are going to be some guys that end up in the bullpen or even the minor leagues that could start for other teams.

After winning 85 games last year, the Orioles could fall back to .500 just as easily as they could challenge for the AL East crown. The Red Sox are the defending World Series champs, the Rays feature a loaded pitching staff, the Yankees made some big offseason additions after losing Robinson Cano, and the Blue Jays should bounce back after injuries decimated their club in 2012. Buck Showalter can squeeze as much talent out of a team as anyone, but it will likely take a leap forward by the likes of Ryan Flaherty and David Lough and bounce-back seasons from Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis for the O's to have a chance at the pennant.

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