All you have to do is go to the same generic websites and read the same predictions. They all have the teams positioned the same. The teams that made the postseason last year are rewarded in the minds of the pickers and are picked to finish in the top of their respective leagues/ divisions. The teams that did not do so well in 2014 are all predicted to finish at the bottom of the division- unless they had a big off season, where in some cases, they get expectations that they cannot fulfill.
My predictions are based on how I perceive each roster looks. I have studied the 2014 MLB team, its 2014- 2015 off season, their minor league system and have come up with an overall outlook for 2015. I also use the Las Vegas over- unders to judge the amount of wins I think a team will net for the upcoming season. In some cases, my outlook is completely different from the likes of baseball prospectus (almost always is), baseball america, MLB dot com and other sites. As in past years, I am always up for the debate so I look forward to hearing from you. As always, thanks and "I'll see you on the other side."
One of the biggest overachieving teams in 2014 was the Baltimore Orioles. A lot of credit has to go to manager Buck Showalter, who I think is without a doubt the best manager in baseball right now. 96 wins is very tough to top, or even match. In fact, I do not have a single team winning any more than 95 games this season. Add in the loss of free agents Nelson Cruz (.271, 40, 108) and Nick Markakis (.276, 14, 50) and I think they will have a tough time duplicated their great 2014 season.
Offensively, the Orioles have to find away to replace the power Cruz provided and the leadership Markakis showed. Travis Snider (.264, 13, 38) comes over from the Pirates and if you were looking at the glass at half full, Snider seems like the type of player Buck can get the most out of. I still think Markakis is the better player, but I guess we will see what Snider is made of. Other than that, the Orioles did not make any other additions. Injured top players Manny Machado (.278, 12, 32) and Matt Wieters (.308, 5, 18) are expected to make up for some of the lost numbers. 1B Chris Davis, who hit 53 HR in 2013, saw his OPS drop 300 points and his batting average drop 90 points last year. He was then suspended for the use of adderall and has one game remaining to serve at the start of next season. However, he has approval to use the drug for this coming season. Does a healthy Machado and Wieters and the thought of a rejuvenated Davis be enough to offset the loss of the other two players? In an ideal world, yes. But I think it is impossible to expect all three to be at their best, especially with Wieters just 8 months removed from Tommy John surgery.
Alejandro De Aza (.252, 8, 41) came over from the White Sox towards the end of last season and will be the everyday LF. Snider is in right with Adam Jones (.281, 29, 96) in center. Jones, without a doubt, is the best player on this team. Davis (.196, 26, 72) is at 1B with Jonathan Schoop (.209, 16, 45) playing 2B. JJ Hardy (.268, 9, 52) is back after signing an extension avoiding free agency and Machado at 3B. Steve Pearce (.293, 21, 49) was one of the better offensive stories last season and because of that, the Orioles think they have their DH. The only issue I have with Pearce is the fact that he had not shown that kind of HR power in several years, even at the minor league level. If he hits 30 HRs, I'll tip my cap. I just do not see it in the cards.
My lineup looks like this: De Aza LF, Machado 3B, Jones CF, Davis 1B, Hardy SS, Wieters C, Pearce DH, Snider RF, Schoop 2B. I do like the Orioles bench which features infielder Ryan Flaherty, OFs Delmon Young and David Lough and C Caleb Joseph. In addition, I like the fact the team brought back Nolan Reimold, a one time top prospect, to compete for some time in the OF and at DH.
Showalter always seems to get the best out of his pitchers, even without some of the more dominant and well known arms. Zach Britton, who had made just 2 MLB relief appearances prior to 2014, had a very good season (3-2, 1.65, 37 saves, 71 games) as the team's closer. Darren O'Day (5-2, 1.70, 68 games) was as dominant a late game reliever that nobody talked about. RHP Tommy Hunter (3-2, 2.97, 60 games) and LHP Brian Matusz (2-3, 3.48, 63 games) provide some depth. LHP Wesley Wright (0-3, 3.17, 58 games) comes over as a free agent from the Cubs and RHPs Ryan Webb (3-3, 3.83, 51 games) and Brad Brach (7-1, 3.18, 46 games) round out the pen. Hard thrower Steve Johnson could be a dark horse candidate to play a prominent role in the Orioles bullpen. I can see him becoming the 8th inning guy nobody thought about coming into the season.
The Orioles starting pitching is led by Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34, 34 starts), Wei Yin Chen (16-6, 3.54, 31 starts) and Bud Norris (15-8, 3.65, 28 starts). RHPs Miguel Gonzalez (10-9, 3.23, 26 starts) and Kevin Gausman (7-7, 3.57, 20 starts) could round out the rotation with top prospects Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey close to being ready. This kind of leaves RHP Ubaldo Jimenez out of the picture. Ubaldo had a solid 2013 season (13-9, 3.30, 30 starts for Cleveland) and parlayed that into a 4 year, $50 million deal with the Orioles. I think it will be interesting to see how things play out with Jimenez, with a trade likely out of the question unless the Orioles want to pay a significant portion of his remaining contract. Can he be a reclamation project as a reliever? I think that will be up to Ubaldo, who is known to have a bit of a temper.
I think it is a safe bet to say the Orioles won't duplicate their 2014 season. Can they win the AL East? One of the major factors of winning a division is to be able to beat the teams in your division. The Orioles did that last season. However, I think the Blue Jays and Red Sox are much better and the Orioles have digressed. The one wild card is the pitching, which will surprise nobody if it overachieves. Having Buck in the dugout is going to win you games you would otherwise lose. Las Vegas has the Orioles O/U at 82 1/2, which I think is a fair number (remember, they won 96 games last season). I still take the under, 79-83, 4th place in the AL East division. I just do not have enough faith in guys like Snider and Pearce and really don't know what to expect from Machado and Wieters coming back from the major injuries.