Manny Machado BALTIMORE SUN FIELDING Fielding was an issue at times during the 2013 season. If the Orioles want to make it back to the playoffs, they’ll need to be much more consistent in ’14. You can’t always rely on the big bats to win a game. Sometimes, it has to be the defense that steps up. Machado was much improved by the end of last season. Wieters is developing behind the plate more and more each year. Second baseman Steve Lombardozzi and shortstop J.J. Hardy will be a major key. If they can do the job up the middle, everything else should fall into place. STARTING PITCHING Ubaldo Jimenez was signed to a four-year, $50 million contract in mid-February, and the 30-year-old is expected to be a star pitcher and anchor the top of the Orioles’ rotation. Jimenez was quite dominant from 2008-10, and the Orioles have to be hoping he can regain that form. Wei- Yin Chen and Chris Tillman are both unproven but have been impressive thus far. Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez figure to be in the mix as well, though nothing is certain. There are spots to be won and competition will surely be healthy here. RELIEF PITCHING Tommy Hunter won the right to fill the team’s closer role. Hunter had four saves last season, the only four of his career, so it will be interesting how Hunter adapts. Darren O’Day and Ryan Webb both have strong arms and look primed to achieve big things this season. Brian Matusz, Troy Patton and Kevin Gausman all seem to ready to take the next step and fill big roles in the bullpen. There are question marks here, but one thing is certain: there is plenty of talent. MANAGING Showalter won 178 games with the Orioles over the last two seasons. In other words, he’s a highly skilled manager who knows how to build a team and win consistently. Showalter won’t shy away from making a tough decision in the heat of battle, and that’s important during a long season. Players respect him and it has shown since he arrived in Baltimore. Whether it’s the last man on the bench or a superstar, Showalter treats every player the same, and he wins. It’s hard to argue with winning.
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