Five worries for Orioles fans

Five worries for Orioles fans
December 27, 2012, 11:15 am

Orioles fans like to worry, and there’s always lots to worry about. They’re concerned the team hasn’t done enough to shore up its weaknesses and that their AL East competition has been aggressive this off-season while they have not.

Here are five areas to be concerned about for 2013:

1) The bullpen

What? The bullpen. Yes, relievers are much more inconsistent than starters. Jim Johnson had one of the best seasons ever by a reliever in his first full year as a closer.

Pedro Strop, unhittable for four months, was very hittable for the last two. Darren O’Day had a career year. Luis Ayala had his second strong season in a row, and Brian Matusz was very effective in his first outings in relief.

It would be hard for the bullpen to get much better. If Matusz returns to the pen, he, Johnson, Strop, O’Day, Ayala and Troy Patton leave only one opening.

Unless there’s a trade, T.J. McFarland, a Rule 5 draft choice, will battle Tommy Hunter, Steve Johnson, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton for the only spot.

It’s just hard to see the bullpen being that effective two straight years.

2) Left field

The Orioles didn’t invest long-term in Nate McLouth, just a year. His two-month comeback was impressive, and the Orioles are betting he can’t do it again.

In 2010, McLouth hit .190. He batted .228 the next year. He was hitting .140 when the Pirates let him go. The Orioles are betting that a two-month audition will equal a full year’s success.

If McLouth doesn’t produce, they have Nolan Reimold. Injuries and ineffectiveness have prevented him from playing a full major league season, and he’s 29.

Xavier Avery and L.J. Hoes may not be ready. Trayvon Robinson has never been a major league regular. Minor league invitees Lew Ford, Conor Jackson, Steve Pearce and Jason Pridie haven’t had recent big league success.

It could be a long season in left field.

3) Second base

Brian Roberts hasn’t played regularly since 2009, and in the last season of his contract, he’s working to prolong what’s been a productive major league career.

It’s easy to forget how good Roberts was on bad Orioles teams. It’s a shame that he hasn’t been able to fully enjoy the good times.

If he’s healthy, he’ll start 2013 at second base. Since 2010, he’s had back and hip injuries and two concussions. In Roberts’ absence, the job would fall to Alexi Casilla, who’s never been a true major league regular.

Casilla can steal bases, but the Orioles would like something better. Ryan Flaherty will get a chance to win a job, and so will Yamaico Navarro.

The betting here is that the Orioles will add someone else to the infield mix before spring training begins.

4) The starting staff

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series with five starters who won 10 or more games. The Orioles had just one, Wei-Yin Chen.

Unless Chen, Jason Hammel, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez can win more than last year, the Orioles are unlikely to sustain their 2012 success.

There are plenty of other candidates to step in: Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter, Steve Johnson at the start of the season, perhaps Tsuyoshi Wada a little bit later. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman could be on hand later in the season.

If the Orioles are able to re-sign Joe Saunders, and the odds are probably against it, they’ll have another starter to anchor the rotation.

Right now, things could get a little shaky.

5) The lack of a big hitter

The Orioles struck out nearly 1,200 times last year. Seven struck out  more than 100 times. Two of them, Robert Andino and Mark Reynolds are gone.

Reynolds, Wilson Betemit and Chris Davis struck out more than once a game.

Other than Travis Ishikawa, a contact hitter who’s a non-roster addition, there’s still room for another hitter.

While the Orioles may hope that Davis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters cut down on their strikeouts, they haven’t added another true hitter to the lineup.

Other than Jones and McLouth, there’s not a lot of speed in the lineup. It will be interesting to see if Manny Machado displays increased power and speed. That could be the answer.

There’s still time for the Orioles to add another player or two. There’s an opening on the 40-man roster, so an addition could be coming soon. Luis Exposito, who doesn’t seem to fit, also could be dropped from the 40-man roster to make some room.