A look at offense in the American League East

Pitching and defense are pretty important to most teams and very important to the one here in Baltimore. The Orioles used very solid starting pitching, excellent defense and the longball to win 96 games last year - doing so during a season when some of their key players got hurt and missed a lot of games.

jones-swing-follow-through-gray-sidebar.jpgTheir 2014 offense was decent, but unspectacular and certainly not very balanced. It featured much more pop, as they led the majors in homers, than it did speed or on-base capability. It figures to be similar in 2015.

The search for on-base ability goes on and the Orioles have not done much to address that this winter. But they did rank second in the American League East in runs scored last year and sixth in the AL.

Three of the five lowest-scoring teams in the AL last year were in the East, with Boston No. 11, New York No. 13 and Tampa Bay last at No. 15 in runs.

How will the Orioles do on offense compared to the rest of the division this season?

Here is a look at where they ranked in the AL in 2014:

Orioles: runs (6), average (6), OBP (11), slugging (2).
Boston: runs (11), average (13), OBP (8), slugging (14).
New York: runs (13), average (11), OBP (14), slugging (10).
Toronto: runs (4), average (4), OBP (3), slugging (3).
Tampa Bay: runs (15), average (10), OBP (6), slugging (15).

The Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and that should help as they continue to count on some young talent, like Xander Bogaerts, who hit .240 with a .660 OPS. In his recent prediction of the top 10 lineups in baseball, ESPN’s Buster Olney rated Boston No. 1. That seems ambitious to me, with David Ortiz now 39 and Dustin Pedroia’s OPS having dropped every year since 2011 (it was .712 last season).

The Yankees may produce a lineup with only one player under 30 in shortstop Didi Gregorius, who seems to bring much more on defense than offense. But players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Brian McCann could still put up some runs. And A-Rod returns!

The Blue Jays can mash like the Orioles, and Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson have been added. If their young pitchers in the rotation come through, they could be a real threat to another AL East crown for Baltimore.

Tampa Bay may have the best rotation in the division, but looks challenged on offense again after finishing last in runs scored in 2014. Of course, big years by holdovers like Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and James Loney could change that and keep Tampa Bay in contention.

That brings us to the Orioles, who lost their leadoff hitter and a 40-homer power bat in Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, respectively. They are still going to hit plenty of homers, but will frustrate fans again by striking out too much and not manufacturing runs. They are who we thought they were.

They are counting on Chris Davis not hitting .196, while Matt Wieters and Manny Machado return from injuries. Some see that as a big plus, others see question marks.

Some see potential in players like Alejandro De Aza and David Lough, and others see players somewhat unproven. Some see Steve Pearce emerging as a middle-of-the-order force and others see a one-hit wonder that will be exposed as a regular.

There are ifs here, but all teams have them. If Davis has a better season, if Jonathan Schoop hits more than .209, if J.J. Hardy hits more than nine homers, if others stay healthy... You get the point.

AL East team walk rates in 2014 (with AL rank):
3 - Boston, 8.6
4 - Tampa Bay, 8.5
6 - Toronto, 8.1
9 - New York, 7.4
14 - Orioles, 6.5

AL East team strikeout rates, 2014 (with AL rank):
3 - Boston, 21.5
5 - Orioles, 21.0
10 - Toronto, 18.7
11 - New York, 18.6
13 - Tampa Bay, 18.1

So how does the current makeup of the Orioles offense stack up with the rest of the division?

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