SARASOTA, Fla. -- Of all the questions surrounding the Orioles heading into the 2015 season, one number may say it best: 40.
How does Baltimore's lineup make up for a career year by slugger Nelson Cruz, who drove in 108 runs and hit a career-high 40 home runs before signing with Seattle? The O's struck a fantastic bargain in getting Cruz on a one-year deal, and he put the Orioles on his back, particularly early on in the season, and was named the Most Valuable Oriole by members of the local media.
Forget Cruz's postseason stats, which are impressive enough. How do the Orioles plan on covering for the loss of his regular-season brilliance?
For starters, they hope to get healthy. While Matt Wieters is expected to start the season on the disabled list, Manny Machado is having a fantastic spring, and there's no reason to think he won't have a big year after undergoing his second successive season-ending knee surgery.
Baltimore will also be bolstered by first baseman Chris Davis, who will finish his 25-game suspension Opening Day. Davis may not have had his monster 2013 -- when he hit 53 homers -- but he still hit 26 last year in a down season. Should he bounce back, it could go a long way in helping to cover for Cruz's absence.
"Yeah, I worry about things," manager Buck Showalter said as his club gets ready to defend the American League East title, with Opening Day on April 6. "I see [the offseason losses] as a half-full deal. We'll have a full season of Steve Pearce and a full season of Alejandro De Aza."
Both Pearce and De Aza figure to get regular playing time this season, particularly with David Lough looking like he will start the season on the disabled list. Pearce had a breakout year in 2014, reaching career highs in nearly every offensive category, while De Aza was a huge late-season acquisition who could have a Pearce-like 2015.
Switch-hitter Jimmy Paredes, who could also benefit if Lough starts on the DL, is another guy to watch at the plate if he makes the Opening Day roster.
Taking nothing away from Cruz's fantastic season, he did have a drop-off in June and July, hitting just nine homers combined over those two months after hitting 20 in April and May. Cruz hit just .215 and .211 in June and July, respectively -- his lowest of the season -- yet the team went 33-20 over that stretch.
The point is, other players were responsible for the O's success last season and, while having Cruz would certainly help, the Orioles have made a living out of unsung heroes in the past. There's no reason that trend can't continue in 2015.