At least the Baltimore Orioles are making progress, slow as it may be.
They were the longest of long shots last season to win the AL East title and 175/1 on the MLB betting boards to win the World Series. After winning 93 games to finish two games shy of the division crown, and breaking a 14-year playoff drought in the process, Buck Showalter's bunch is currently listed at 40/1 to win this year's Fall Classic.
Not a bad jump when you think about it, 175/1 up to 40/1. But that's still the dregs of the division, and the futures odds have been on the rise since last November when Baltimore was going off at 22/1. Projections at SBR a couple of weeks back had the O's at 20/1 to win the American League pennant.
That comes with the territory when you're in the AL East, picked last amongst that group yet level on the wagering front with the second-best squad in the AL Central to go all the way. What makes it even more interesting is this is essentially the same roster the Charm City crew ended last year with.
Showalter heads to spring training with a lot of familiar faces in the dugout, the lone exception being slugger Mark Reynolds who took the free agent express to Cleveland. Funny thing is that it's a collection of mid-to-late 20-something's who are returning, and assuming they stay healthy, 2012 might have been just a taste of their potential.
Predicting the injury stuff can be tricky business, but this group did remain relatively injury free last season. Maybe we won't expect a guy like Brian Roberts to be healthy, or Nolan Reimold. But 140+ games from Nick Markakis, another full season on the uptick by Adam Jones and the team's undisputed leader, Matt Wieters, continuing his growth towards becoming the game's top backstop are all on the radar.
In fact, it might take career seasons from all three to make it back to the postseason.
Repeating The Magic From '12 Will Be Tough
There was a lot of magic behind the Orioles' drive to the postseason, something covered in our postseason report on Baltimore and Oakland back in December. Counting on another 29-9 mark in 1-run games, and an even more amazing 16-2 mark in extras, starts with how likely the bullpen can repeat its performance.
It's definitely a no-name corps headlined by closer Jim Johnson. The pride of Johnson City, NY has enjoyed five pretty strong showings since 2008, even with the injury-marred 2010 campaign. Johnson led the majors with 51 saves a year ago, and how many save ops he gets this time around will depend on Luis Ayala, Darren O'Day, Pedro Strop and Troy Patton, perhaps the most unsung group of players in the '12 season.
Another unsung foursome was Jason Hammel, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen, that latter two rookies who combined for 47 starts, 27 of the quality variety, and the O's winning 30 of 'em. All four enter spring penciled in for the rotation, with a host of arms competing for No. 5. That list includes Jair Jurrjens, Dylan Bundy, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta, giving the Orioles an upper hand for trade bait when some team loses a starter to injury early in the exhibition or World Baseball Classic seasons.
Jones, Markakis and Wieters are the big names in the batting order, but equally crucial to the offense will be infield corners Manny Machado and Chris Davis. The bats scored 712 runs a year ago, ninth in the AL, and that number has to go up by 50 this time if Baltimore has a shot.
Schedule-Makers Give Baltimore Tough Start to Season
Whereas we talked about the Texas Rangers having an easy schedule in '13, the O's are on the other end with a relatively tough slate. And it all begins on the difficult side with 20 of the first 32 games on the road, including nine of the first 12 at Tampa Bay, Boston and New York plus an early 11-game road trip out west to face the A's, Angels and Mariners.
Most of Baltimore's interleague schedule is against the NL West (3 at the Giants, 3 at home vs. the Dodgers), plus a home-&-home series with the Washington Nationals.
The young arms could put together another solid season and the offense could improve just enough to push the Orioles back above the 90-win mark, beating the baseball oddss a fair percentage of the time. But repeating those 1-run game and extra inning records is probably asking too much from this club in 2013.
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