Yea...That sure as hell did not happen.
This season is more or less the same. Brian Matusz is back from the dead, having a stellar spring for the most part. Jake Arrieta seems to have finally "put it all together" after his surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. There is excitement to see Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada. There is hope that improvements from Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold could help bolster the offense.
But what happens if none of this actually fruition's into anything?
I hate to be the one who bursts everyone's bubble, but there is also a chance that the Orioles could actually be worse than they were last season. Let's take a look at each area of the club:
With the rotation likely consisting of Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz at the start of the season, there is honestly not much to be excited about. Even if all five prove to be average #4 or #5 starters, they will still not produce as much as needed. Just check the projected FIP of each starter (Full in-depth Bill James FIP Projections here):
Average FIP = 4.50
***There is no projected FIP for him yet, so let's say he pitches to a 4.50 FIP, which would generally be around league average for a SP***
Obviously there will be other pitchers making starts, which would alter the above FIP, but it is hard to calculate that since it is essentially a wild guess. Nonetheless a team 4.50 FIP is beyond terrible. Only two teams had higher FIP last season, The Reds (4.55) and the Orioles (4.91!!!!!) of course. With that being said, it could very well be possible for the Orioles to still have one of the worst rotations in baseball in 2012. Even if one or more of these pitchers actually pitch to a better FIP, it would still take an exuberant amount to actually matter. It is also important to remember that Zach Britton is essentially a wildcard now with his latest injury. I don't think anyone can truly predict what happens with him now.
Funny enough, I am actually a little more high on the bullpen than anywhere else. I think it could be OK. At least OK enough to not make myself bash my head against the wall. It's pretty tough to guess who makes the 'pen as of now, but it's pretty obvious that Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Kevin Gregg, Pedro Strop, Troy Patton, Alfredo Simon and Luis Ayala will be in it. Tsuyoshi Wada will probably be there too (unless he goes to the rotation or starts on the DL), but it's too early to really know what they are going to do with him. The current FIP projections are:
Average FIP= 4.06
That is actually a half-decent projection based on the talent, although it already has some flaws just by giving it a quick glance. A 4.06 FIP would have ranked 23rd last season. However, that projection also leaves out a ton of other variables involved. Obviously there will be more than just seven different pitchers in the bullpen all year. Also who is to say that the bullpen will not get over-worked again? Last season they were first in innings pitched at 565.2. The Pirates were next with 526.0 innings pitched. The Orioles traded away innings eater Jeremy Guthrie, and in return also traded away essentially ~20 innings pitched (Jason Hammel averaged around 170 IP the past few seasons). The Orioles are also relying on a cast of pitchers whom have never thrown more than 150 innings in a full MLB season before. Chen, Hunter, and Arrieta have never accomplished this feat. While it is very possible that they could, they haven't yet. I just fail to see any reason why the starting rotation would not be a burden on the bullpen. In the long run they will be taxed again like usual.
Now the fun. Of course the Orioles have a few youngsters whom are ready to take it to the next level. Matt Wieters and Adam Jones are the two most talked about on the offensive side. But what happens if both stay at the same level of play? It wouldn't hurt their stock much now, but it could severely alter the long term plans of the Orioles. As of now, both players are above-average at their position. But that doesn't help much in the AL East. With both of them essentially being the Orioles best players, they need to take their offensive game to the next level for the Orioles to ever become anything more than a cellar dweller. Without going much into the statistical side, I just want to say that it is very possible that they both do not make major gains offensively. Of course, they also very well could. But if they don't, it will further hinder the club, and then they will have to decide whether or not to sign both players to extensions or trade them.
JJ Hardy finally had a healthy season last year, but let's remember that he generally does not have healthy seasons. What happens if he misses substantial time again this season? The Orioles could put some form of Matt Antonelli, Ryan Flaherty, Robert Andino at SS, but that is not going to be near the level of play that Hardy brings.
Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis on the corners could be brutal. Everyone in the baseball world knows the flaws of Reynolds, so I will refrain from torturing you with that. However, if the Orioles decide to give Davis 500 PA, they could be in for a gut-wrenching season. To put it simple, Davis has looked terrible this spring. While I will usually be the first person to say spring training stats are meaningless, I will be the first person to also tell you that Davis is still the same old player he was before. He has poor pitch recognition, poor plate discipline, and essentially is only good for a HR every now and then. He will need to take it to the next level this season, and it seems the Orioles may be comfortable giving him 500 PA to iron out all his kinks. If that is even possible.
Wilson Betemit is the teams' new DH. While I don't really have a strong opinion on the signing, I don't think it honestly matters. He probably will put up similar numbers to Vlad last season, which really means he is indifferent to the club.
Last but not least, Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis. Reimold is an interesting case. He seemingly will get a shot at taking over LF for good, unless Endy Chavez steals playing time. Reimold is essentially a fan favorite in Baltimore, and most await the day he gets to play and puts it all together. So what if that never happens? He is already 28 years old, and if he starts off slow this season there could be a chance that the Orioles lose all hope in him. I just think that people are expecting way too much out of Reimold. I personally think he could put it all together and have a pretty good season, but I do not want to over-place his talent with projections. Markakis is working back from an injury, and to be honest I expect him to primarily be the same as last season. That means he will be an average-to-above-average OF for the Orioles. Nothing exactly to brag about, considering the large contract he has.
Overall, it could very well be another long season for the Orioles. They could end up being worse than the 69 win season of 2011. Is there a chance they could be better? Sure there is, but does it really matter if a club wins 69 or 72 games? Not really. This season is probably more about looking at individuals. The team is not going to be very good most likely, even though we all still have that lingering hope that they could somehow even get to .500 baseball.
But most likely they will make you end up doing this:
As Gary Thorne says "Please Drink.....Responsibly"