Baltimore Orioles: Why April Could Make or Break the O’s

Last season, the Orioles started the first two months of the season with a 27-27 record. They sat 4.5 games out of first place on the last day of May. The Orioles caught fire the final four months of the season, going 69-39, closing the season as the 2014 AL East Champion by a comfortable 12 game margin.

The Orioles got away with their slow start a season ago because the rest of the division finished a collective 18 games below .500. The division’s record was largely pulled down by the Red Sox who went 71-91 and fell back into the cellar for the second time in three years. That will not happen again.

The Orioles went 47-29 against their division playmates in 2014, and start off the 2015 season with 19 of their 22 games coming against the Rays, Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox. The final three games of April see the Orioles taking on the much-improved Chicago White Sox.

The Orioles are catching the Blue Jays and Red Sox at the right time. Both of these squads feature fearsome lineups but have more than their fair share of questions when it comes to starting pitching. I fully expect the Red Sox to add one, if not two frontline starting pitchers before the trade deadline. Toronto’s rotation features two young studs in Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez getting their first taste of a MLB starting rotation. Both of these guys could be very good by the end of the season, but it will take them some time to put it all together at baseball’s highest level of play.

The Orioles are also drawing the Yankees at the right time, as their rotation is dotted with question marks. Masahiro Tanaka‘s velocity did not impress yesterday as the Yankees were downed 6-1 by the Blue Jays. There are serious health concerns surrounding Tanaka’s elbow. He is followed in the rotation by Michael Pineda, who has yet to log an injury-free season at the big league level. C.C. Sabathia has gone through a sharp decline, and is no longer an ace. Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Warren round out a rotation that leaves much to be desired. The aging Yankees’ lineup does not exactly strike fear into opposing pitchers.

Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections have the Orioles finishing at 79-83. I do not put much stock in that number, as the same projections also have a weak Tampa Bay team projected for 84 wins and a second place finish. The Orioles have been criminally underestimated the past three years — where they have the division’s best cumulative record. The Orioles get lost in the shuffle of the headline grabbing Red Sox and Blue Jays, but field the most complete roster in the division all things considered.

Those writing off the Orioles over the loss of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis must realize that the Orioles were lucky to catch lightning in the bottle for one season with Cruz. He should begin showing serious signs of regression as he ages. Same with fan favorite Markakis. That being said, the Orioles cannot afford another slow start, as both Toronto and Boston are improved this season. The Orioles must capitalize on the opportunity to beat up on their division rivals early on in the season. A good April sets the tone for this club, while another .500 April may put the Orioles in a hole that is too great to climb out of.

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