Opening Day is only a day away now, and that means it’s time to look at the upcoming season for the Orioles and offer some bold predictions – in bold:
1. Manny Machado won’t return to the Orioles until May.
This was pretty much my thoughts all along after his injury. The Orioles aren’t going to mess around with a franchise player so expect him to get some ABs in extending spring training and then work his way through a rehab tour of the minors. I also figured the Orioles needed somebody to play 3B on a regular basis for the month Machado is out. They got Alex Gonzalez, but flipped him to Detroit for utility player Steve Lombardozzi. Also Jonathan Schoop made the roster and figures to get some time in at 3B and 2B. Which leads me to my next prediction…
2. We will see the 3B and SS combo of Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado for the first of many seasons beginning in 2014.
J.J. Hardy has been healthy for 2 straight seasons and is entering his age 31 season. Something is going to give here, and I suspect that Hardy will find his way on the DL as some point which will force Machado over to SS. Also if Schoop’s future was at 2B, Showalter would never play him at 3B IMO. Schoop at 3B and Machado at SS is very likely the plan moving forward.
3. Tommy Hunter will lose the closer role by May.
This one could get ugly, as in Chris Ray ugly. Hunter serves up a lot of HRs and that hasn’t changed this spring. I doubt Showalter has as much loyalty to Hunter as he does with Johnson, and I think O’Day, Webb or even Britton could get the next chance. Britton as a closer would certainly be an interesting storyline…
4. Johan Santana will be in the Orioles’ rotation by June.
Santana’s recovery is coming along sooner than expected, and he’s planning on starting, not relieving. I suspect the Orioles will move one of Norris or Gonzalez to the bullpen when the time comes, but a healthy Santana could be the X-factor in the AL East race.
5. David Lough will play his way onto the bench by July.
Look we know that Showalter loves defense, but Lough’s offensive numbers simply aren’t there. He’s exciting when he hits the ball, but he doesn’t get on base enough, nor has the power to carry a low OBP. I suspect that Lough will wind up with a sub .700 OPS playing everyday vs. RHP and the change will be made one way or another as the Orioles could acquire an OFer at the deadline or just move Cruz out there full time. Lough will be valuable as a defensive replacement and pinch runner down the stretch, but not as a full time guy vs. RHP.
6. Ubaldo Jimenez will emerge as the ace of the Orioles over Chris Tillman by the All-Star Break.
I know Tillman is the Opening Day starter, but I suspect that is because he’s the known pitcher on the team. His numbers put him in more of a #2 status and I suspect Jimenez will emerge as the dominant ace, especially working with Dave Wallace. He showed what he could do to carry a team in the second half of 2013, leading Cleveland to the playoffs. I think he has the chance of having the best season for a Orioles starter since Erik Bedard’s 2007 season.
7. Delmon Young will be DFA’d by September
When Lough moves to the bench, the Orioles won’t carry three OFers in Pearce, Young and Lough, and Young doesn’t get on base enough, isn’t versatile and has had a poor track record the past few seasons. I expect the trend to continue and the Orioles won’t carry him all season in spite of what he has done in the playoffs. Maybe the Rays will pick him up again?
8. One of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Eduardo Rodriguez will not be an Oriole by the end of August.
The Orioles don’t have room for all these guys in the rotation, and I suspect Bundy is the one that will be dealt as he’s got the highest ceiling if healthy. Gausman could also be dealt if teams aren’t sold on Bundy. After a poor spring and a second season in AA, Eduardo Rodriguez is sure to be on the trade block while he still has some value as a starter instead of being moved to the bullpen which is likely his future.
9. The Orioles will make a major trade or two by August.
I think we know by now that Dan Duquette isn’t afraid of trading younger prospects, and there could be some big names available at the July deadline and in August with some big contracts that teams would love to unload. Giancarlo Stanton, Andre Ethier, Cliff Lee and Justin Masterson are just a few of the names that could be moved with one of those pitchers previously mentioned being traded in a return package.
10. Steve Clevenger will play his way into a platoon with Matt Wieters.
Yeah that seems pretty bold, but I think by the end of this season Wieters and Clevenger could find themselves in a platoon, as Wieters’ bat has disappeared and Clevenger is coming on strong with a better plate approach than Wieters and improving defense behind the dish. Buck loves Wieters, but I think Clevenger will force the issue. Don’t be surprised to see the Orioles actively shopping Wieters after the season with the thought of making Clevenger the full-time catcher or at least part of a platoon in 2015.
Bonus prediction – The Orioles will play Game 163 against the Rays for a Wild Card berth and the winner will win the World Series.
Finally, I predict the Orioles and Rays will wind up with identical records – 91-71. The two teams will play a Game 163 with major storylines, and you can bet that the Grant Balfour storyline will come up. These two teams seem pretty intertwined and there’s some bad blood between them. I think either has a great shot at advancing to, and winning the World Series.
Game 163 will be epic, and if the Orioles can win it, they will end their World Series drought of 31 years. You heard it here first.
How’s that for bold?