The Baltimore Orioles have to feel good about where the club stands one month into the 2014 season. While the O’s sit just one game above .500, they are just a half game out of first place in a surprisingly weak AL East.
Look for the Orioles to improve in May, as Manny Machado returns from injury. Machado brings important help to a struggling infield, which is currently missing All-Star 1st baseman Chris Davis, who has his sights set on a mid-May return from his oblique injury. If Nelson Cruz and Matt Wieters can continue their fantastic early season offensive production into May and June when the lineup returns to full health, the Orioles have the potential to be the top run-scoring team in the American League.
With the Boston Red Sox struggling to score runs early on (after having the top scoring offense last season) and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays having major starting pitching issues, the Orioles could easily build up a lead in the divisional race if they can just get enough production out of their own starting pitching.
The Orioles’ May schedule is extremely favorable as well. This month, the Orioles play the Houston Astros twice, the Cleveland Indians, and also the Pittsburgh Pirates. These are all teams that are struggling in the early going. The only problem with their schedule is it includes just one divisional matchup, against the Tampa Bay Rays. When a team doesn’t play divisional rivals, it makes it difficult to get separation in the division.
Look for the offense to really start heating up this month, especially when Chris Davis returns to the lineup. If you combine the fact that Nick Markakis’ bat is beginning to heat up, the production the O’s have been getting from Wieters and Cruz, the returning health of power-hitting SS JJ Hardy, and the lackluster pitching they will face this month, the O’s are primed to improve on their standing as the 11th best offense in terms of runs scored.
With the door seemingly open for a division championship run this year, the rotation will have to step up this month and prove they are good enough to have a chance at the crown. The best news of all in the rotation right now is that Ubaldo Jimenez has begun to really turn it around from a rough start, as last time out he went 7.1 innings of 3 hit shutout ball with 10 strikeouts against the Twins. Ubaldo feasted off of weak offenses in the second half of last season, and look for him to repeat that success here in May.
With Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris also pitching well enough to give the O’s a chance to win, the most important thing will be for Chris Tillman to rebound this month after a tough second half of April. He needs to be a leader in the pitching staff and solidify his stance as the no. 1 arm on the staff.