Unlike last season, when the Baltimore Orioles entered Spring Training after coming off their first playoff appearance since 1997, the team enters Spring Training this season with little expectation from the baseball experts of getting back to the postseason.
Entering Spring Training in 2013, experts felt there was no way the Orioles could repeat the performance they had put up in one run and extra inning games in 2012, but still felt that the team was good enough to contend in a non-typical AL East that appeared as though it was going to be up for the taking with the Boston Red Sox coming off a last place finish in 2012 and the New York Yankees crippled with injuries.
Despite not making many moves, which the Orioles front office was highly criticized for, in the offseason prior to Spring Training in 2013, the team and its players had plenty of optimism and expectations of another good season with a chance to get into the playoffs. Baltimore hung in the playoff race until late September, but were unable to earn their second consecutive playoff berth, despite finishing the season with another winning record.
Now flash forward to this offseason where the critics and fans have been all over this Orioles front office for their lack of moves that make an immediate improvement on this roster, which many says, and we agree, have a two year window right now to win. To sum up the Orioles offseason, the signing of RHP Ryan Webb and the acquisition of OF David Lough are the two biggest additions for this team, while they traded away closer Jim Johnson, saw Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth leave via free agency and did not extend any of their big impending free agents to be within the next years.
One ipso-facto benefit of the front office's horrible winter is the fact that the team itself is now almost in the same situation it was in two years when it entered Spring Training in 2012 as an afterthought in the tough AL East. No one gave the Orioles a chance in the division heading into the 2012 season, especially because of the team's lack of pitching.
Both the 2012 team and the upcoming 2014 team (as well as the 2013 team) have offenses that are highly respected around the league, but again no one really believes in the pitching staffs. The 2012 team went into Spring Training with an unproven closer in Johnson, and this season the team does so again with Tommy Hunter. Sticking with pitching, that 2012 entered the season with a promising young guy as the team's Opening Day starter in Jake Arrieta, and this year Chris Tillman has that distinction, although we all hope Tillman continues to improve, whereas Arrieta did not.
The similarities continue onto the offensive side. Baltimore does not have an everyday DH as they will platoon a few guys depending on who is pitching that night and have Delmon Young who was signed as a free agent this offseason due to his overwhelming numbers against left handed pitchers, and seems to be the leader in the clubhouse to be the right handed DH. Heading into 2012, the Orioles had seemed to resolve the opposite hand as they signed Wilson Betemit to be their left handed DH against right handers.
Baltimore as a whole embraces the underdog mentality, the Orioles, the Ravens and anyone around the area will tell you, "go ahead and underestimate us, you'll see," and the 2012 Orioles team had that mentality. With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report on Thursday to officially begin the 2014 season, this year's Baltimore Orioles better gain that mentality as well, because no one thinks they can do it.
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