As the Orioles prepare to begin the 2014 season, we'll pose a series of questions and answers about what might happen this year. Previously, we discussed which Orioles could have a breakout 2014 season.
The next question: How will first baseman Chris Davis follow up on his extraordinary 2013 offensive season?
Davis' 2013 numbers were eye-popping, from his major league-leading -- and Orioles single-season record -- 53 home runs, to his .634 slugging percentage and 1.004 OPS. His 138 RBIs and 370 total bases were also best in the bigs. Davis was an All-Star for the first time during his career and finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting.
Replicating those stats would be a tall order. Davis was the 26th player since 1901 to hit at least 53 home runs during a season. Even if Davis has another stupendous season in 2014, it might be a difficult task to tally quite as many home runs this year.
"Fifty-three is a big number," Davis said. "You don't see 50 home runs a lot. I was obviously very fortunate to have a huge year last year, but a lot of different things went into that -- guys getting on base. Adam Jones had one of the greatest years that I've seen in recent history. And there's a reason why I hit 53 home runs. It wasn't that guys were just laying it up there. Guys were getting on base, putting pressure on pitchers, really making it harder on them. So a lot of factors went into it.
"Will I be able to [repeat]? I don't know. Obviously, I have the power to do it, but it just depends."
Still, Davis, at age 28, could be in the prime of his career, and he has put up prolific power numbers throughout his minor league and major league career. There's little reason to think 2013 was simply a fluke. In fact, it's possible he could improve several aspects of his game in 2014.
"I feel like you grow every year," Davis said. "There are little things here and there you want to improve on. Defensively, I didn't quite win the Gold Glove, which would've been awesome. Obviously, the strikeouts (199 in 2013) are going to be a big issue. I'm going to strike out, as a power hitter. Can I cut down on them? I would like to. But there are things here and there you want to try to do to tighten your game up every year."
Reliever Darren O'Day, who has been Davis' teammate with both the Rangers and Orioles, expressed confidence that Davis could sustain his success after his 2013 breakthrough.
"I've been with Chris for a long time," O'Day said. "I've seen him mature and grow as a player. His talent has always been obvious, but what I think has changed in Chris is he's gotten much better in terms of his mentality when he's playing. He's figured out how to come back from a bad at bat, or come back from a bad pitch and be ready for the next pitch.
"He's figured out that if he goes 0-for-10, he might go 10-for-10 the next game. So he's figured out that failure is part of the job, and he's bringing a more consistent approach in his head to the batter's box, and just letting his God-given talent do what he does."
Hitting coach Jim Presley noted that even if Davis' 2014 numbers didn't match the otherworldly heights of 2013, he's still poised to be an offensive force for the Birds in 2014.
"Is he going to repeat ?" Presley said. "That's hard to do. I mean, it really is. I just try to keep him on an even keel. Let's hit 30 [home runs], let's drive in 90-100 and help our ballclub win. I'd rather him drive in big RBIs late in the ballgame than hit 55 and drive in 130. I really would.
"I'd rather him hit 33, drive in 95 and have some big hits for us. It's going to be hard for him to have that kind of year and repeat that like he did last year. You don't see anybody the first few months, the two months that he had, have that kind of year. It's just hard to do."
The odds suggest that Davis is unlikely to reach the 53-homer, 1.004-OPS level for a second consecutive year. Those types of seasons don't come around often, regardless of how good a hitter is.
Still, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect Davis to crush 40-some home runs and continue to be a bona fide middle-of-the-order threat in the Orioles' 2014 lineup. Even if Davis regresses a bit from 2013, he's still capable of producing the type of offense many players could only dream of.