Five players the Orioles need to win the AL East again

Chris Davis You could argue that no player in Major League Baseball fell harder from one year to the next more than Chris Davis in 2014. After posting 33 HRs upon his arrival to Charm City in 2012, he “crushed” (pun intended) 53 bombs in 2013, finishing third in the MVP voting. While clubbing 26 homers isn’t too shabby, it’s the .196 batting average Davis posted last year that’s deplorable. Worse, he missed 25 games during crucial games at the end of the season and into the playoffs due to a suspension for amphetamine usage. The Orioles don’t need Davis to supplant the mammoth power numbers that Nelson Cruz posted in his only season in Baltimore all on his own, but Crush needs to be that cleanup hitter that pitchers fear will open up the floodgates with one swing of the bat. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Zach Britton Back in 2013, Baltimore closer Jim Johnson blew nine saves, the most in Major League Baseball. To be fair to Johnson, he did have the most opportunities out of all closers in baseball that season with 59, and his ERA was still under 3.00. But imagine if he had posted closer numbers to that of Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel in the same season, who only gave away the game four times in 54 appearances. Five more wins might not have carried Baltimore to the postseason that year, but you must also factor in the next-game mental makeup of the team as a whole when you’re one inning away from a victory the night before, only to be sent home disappointed in dramatic fashion. Zach Britton has come into his own ever since moving from the starting rotation to the bullpen, and he’s become one of the top-tier closers in baseball. Now that the job is his and should be for the entire season (pending no Johnson-esque consecutive-game meltdowns), the Orioles should feel comfortable holding onto the lead when they get to the last inning. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Kevin Gausman When it comes to “stuff,” it would be hard to argue that anyone in the Orioles rotation is better than Kevin Gausman. And here’s the doozy: Gausman won’t even be in the starting rotation to begin the year. Once again he’s the odd man out, as Buck Showalter will give the fifth spot to Ubaldo Jimenez and his ugly 4.81 ERA. I’m not sure why, but as the Oriole faithful always say, “In Buck We Trust.” Rick Petersen, the director of pitching development for the Orioles, said Gausman is wise beyond his years and has the perfect mindset to be a dominant starter in the major leagues. Gausman has elite velocity on his pitches, and after his exceptional performance in the postseason, Gausman knows how good he is. That confidence should translate consistently when he does finally get that spot in the rotation. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Matt Wieters Wieters is unlikely to be ready to play by Opening Day, still recovering from the Tommy John surgery he underwent last year on his throwing arm. It’s quite a shame about last year, considering he was batting over .300 before he went down. Granted it was only May 11, but it was still encouraging, especially since he hit a career-low .235 in 2013. The importance of Wieters is not so much with his bat as with his defense and ability to captain the field. Caleb Joseph, who caught 78 games sharing duties with Nick Hundley and Steve Clevenger last year, called Wieters “a human encyclopedia that talked back to you.” Wieters already has the Gold Gloves to prove his importance on the defensive end. Now, the O’s hope that Wieters can get back to being the durable guy who averaged 140 games the prior four years, and that his surgically elbow will prove capable of throwing out speedsters trying to test him on the basepaths. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Adam Jones Adam Jones is the most consistent hitter on the Orioles, and it’s not close. No, he doesn’t walk much (only 19 times in 644 at-bats last season), but still doesn’t strike out all that much, even with his low walk rate. And who can argue with a guy who hasn’t hit below .280 since 2009? He’s also in the lineup almost every day. Jones missed three games last year, two the year prior, and none in 2012. Want to talk about his power? Last year he hit 29 home runs; the prior two years he hit more than 30. #StayHungry is the hashtag Jones likes to tout on Twitter. He’s proved that he wants to eat every season since he’s been an Oriole, and barring a major injury he should continue to post similar numbers and produce from the valued third spot in the lineup behind a rehabilitated and newly confident Manny Machado. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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WASHINGTON — If one simply judged the offseason moves of the Baltimore Orioles, he or she might be skeptical of the above headline.

Gone is not only the team leader in home runs, but also the entire leader of Major League Baseball in the category, Nelson Cruz. So is one of their team leaders in the locker room, nine-year Oriole veteran Nick Markakis, who signed with Atlanta in the offseason to the tune of four years and $44 million. And last but not least, prized reliever Andrew Miller and his superb 1.35 ERA joined the hated rival New York Yankees.

Despite these key losses, the Orioles are still in prime position to return to the postseason, and should avoid playing in the do-or-die Wild Card play-in game to boot. First and foremost, Buck Showalter is still the manager of this team, and his track record of success speaks for itself. He was the 2014 AL Manager of the Year, the third time he’s won the award. He’s won more than 1,200 games in his career, and as Baltimore has improved in his tenure, he’s shown throughout his career that he can manage egos that subsequently are born with some successful teams.

Speaking of successful teams, will any of the other AL East foes jump into that category in 2015? While the Boston Red Sox made improvements after a down 2014, they along with the other three teams are lukewarm at best. The Yankees lineup continues to age, and questions persist about prized ace Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow after he opted not to undergo Tommy John surgery last year when he partially tore his UCL. The Rays appear to be in rebuilding mode after losing 2008 Baseball Executive of the Year Andrew Friendman, who built a club with Joe Maddon as his manager that reached the playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The Toronto Blue Jays showed promise, but like the Yankees, their lineup is aging and their rotation is subpar at best. Finally that leaves the aforementioned Red Sox, who lack a dominant starter and sank too much money into free agent Pablo Sandoval.

So who are the five players that must produce at a high level in order for the boys from Baltimore to pop the Champagne in celebration of another AL East division title? Click through and find out for yourself.

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