Conventional wisdom is easy to fall back on, and it’s so often wrong. Last year, many thought that despite the loss of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to free agency, the return of Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters would enable the Orioles to repeat as American League East champions.
Davis, who had a horrific season in 2014, earned his way to the $161 million deal that could become official as early as Thursday.
Machado played every game and hit 35 home runs, and made his case for a contract even bigger than Davis’ in the not-too-distant future.
Wieters hoped to be ready for Opening Day, but ended up missing the first two months of the season.
The Orioles handily won the AL East in 2014 despite Davis’ .196 average and missing the final weeks of the regular season because of a 25-game suspension due to use of Adderall without a prescription.
They swept the Tigers in three games in the Division Series with Machado rehabbing from his second knee surgery in less than a year.
All this was done with Wieters missing most of the season due to Tommy John surgery.
With all three back, it took a five-game winning streak over two teams on cruise control preparing for the playoffs, to even reach .500 in 2015.
Despite all three returning this year, which was hardly the conventional wisdom as the .500 record was secured, the new conventional wisdom is that the Orioles will lag behind others in the AL East because they did nothing to improve their starting pitching.
That may well turn out to be correct.
But, let’s look back four years when the good times began for this Orioles group. The team ended 2011 by playing creditably over the season’s last seven weeks, going 22-16. Of course, fans remember Robert Andino’s thrilling hit to beat the Red Sox, but that was only the Orioles’ 69th win of the season.
The Orioles ended the 2011 season with a rotation of Zach Britton, Jeremy Guthrie, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and Alfredo Simon. Jake Arrieta had gotten bone chips removed from his elbow, and the team was so down on him that Chris Tillman hadn’t even been recalled from Norfolk after the rosters expanded.
After Dan Duquette took over a few weeks later, the Orioles’ biggest free agent signings were Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen. Wada was the much more publicized signing, and the press conference to introduce Chen was held in Taiwan.
Just before spring training began, the Orioles traded Guthrie to Colorado for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.
Fans were disappointed the Orioles didn’t do more. The most optimistic hoped that perhaps a .500 record was possible, ending a string of 14 consecutive losing seasons.
We all know that the 2012 season surpassed all expectations, and then conventional wisdom predicted another great year for the Orioles in 2013. After all, except for Mark Reynolds, the entire team would return.
The Orioles played well in 2013, but their 85 wins wasn’t good enough for a playoff spot.
After Jim Johnson’s near perfection in 2012, he had some stumbles in the final weeks of 2013, and the team traded him instead of signing him to a $10 million contract.
Grant Balfour, who was supposed to replace him, failed his physical, and Orioles fans seethed. Who would be the team’s closer? Why couldn’t they sign an established closer?
Conventional wisdom said that the Orioles would falter without a true closer. After Tommy Hunter stumbled to start the season, Buck Showalter moved Britton into the role, and he’s been brilliant ever since.
The Orioles didn’t fall back last season because Cruz and Markakis were gone. Yes, there were many times when they couldn’t get a crucial hit, but overall they scored eight more runs in 2015 than they had the year before.
What held them back last year? They allowed precisely 100 more runs than they did in 2014. Without Chen, fans wonder how is going to fill the fifth starter role.
That’s important, but it’s more vital that Chris Tillman who allowed 19 more runs in 2015 than 2014, Miguel Gonzalez, who gave up 22 more, and Kevin Gausman, who will finally stay in Baltimore this season, pitch better. Ubaldo Jimenez must have a year at least as good as he did last year, too.
If the Orioles sign a bounce-back pitcher or two, and they bounce back, that will help. But without Tillman and Gonzalez bouncing back, the fifth starter story may become irrelevant.
Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota four weeks from today, and there will probably be some more accomplished contenders for that fifth starter role added between now and then.
At least, that’s the conventional wisdom.
[RELATED: How does Kim change Orioles' lineup?]