In honor of the start of the 2014 season being less than two weeks away, The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction used this week’s Tuesday Top 7 to ponder what exactly needs to go right for the Orioles to seriously contend for their first American League East crown since 1997.
Obvious notions such as staying healthy were assumed, but Luke Jones and Drew Forrester each tackled their own list of items that need to take place for Baltimore to not only earn its third consecutive winning season for the first time since 1992 through 1994 but to return to the postseason.
Luke Jones’ Top 7 …
7) David Lough needs to be an upgrade over Nate McLouth in left field.
The Orioles have raved about Lough’s defense in left field, but the former Kansas City Royal would go a long way toward keeping Nelson Cruz at the designated hitter spot if he can best McLouth’s .209 average against left-handed pitching and .729 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) overall from the 2013 season.
6) Chris Davis still needs to hit 40-plus home runs.
Expecting Davis to hit 53 home runs again is setting yourself up for disappointment, but the slugging first baseman needs to remain one of the most feared hitters in baseball and an MVP candidate if the Orioles want to compete to have the best lineup in the American League.
5) Nick Markakis needs to put up 2012-like numbers over the entire season.
Because two freak hand injuries limited Markakis to 104 games, people forget just how productive he was in 2012 with an .834 OPS — his highest mark since 2008 — and 44 extra-base hits in 471 plate appearances, numbers the 30-year-old would like to rediscover after bulking up this winter to bounce back from the worst season of his career.
4) Another starting pitcher needs to make a Tillman-like leap in 2014.
Whether it’s an incumbent starter such as Wei-Yin Chen or Bud Norris or someone not projected to be in the Opening Day rotation like Zach Britton or Kevin Gausman, the Orioles need another hurler to find a higher gear to help push the starting pitching into the top half of the American League, sparing the bullpen in the process.
3) Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day need to be better against left-handed hitters.
Left-handers hit .294 with 11 home runs against the new Orioles closer in 2013 while setup man Darren O’Day saw southpaws hit .309 against him, numbers that must improve if manager Buck Showalter wants to not only protect late-inning leads but keep his bullpen viable through September and beyond.
2) Ubaldo Jimenez needs to live up to the billing after receiving a $50 million contract.
Projecting Jimenez to match his 2013 earned run average of 3.30 in the AL East would be asking a lot, but the Orioles need the 30-year-old right-hander to keep his ERA south of 3.80 to not only justify the financial investment but to quell annual concerns that the rotation is made up of too many fourth and fifth starters.
1) Manny Machado needs to be himself whenever he returns to action.
It doesn’t matter that the All-Star third baseman is all but certain not to be ready by Opening Day, but when he does return, the Orioles need Machado to be the player he was prior to the knee injury as he’s their best all-around asset and still has plenty of room for improvement at the tender age of 21.