Much of the winter for the Baltimore Orioles revolved around whether or not free agents Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters would return. In the end, Trumbo came back and Wieters went up the beltway to Washington, so there’s been some roster movement this offseason. After those changes, can the Orioles return to the postseason in 2017 or will they succumb to what one paper looks like the toughest division in baseball?
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The Baltimore rotation had the highest ERA of any postseason team last season, and that’s obviously something that will have to change. Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman are both coming off seasons in which they made 30 starts and posted an ERA under 4. Those two will once again be relied upon to be the leaders of the rotation and perform like frontline starters. However, the Orioles will still need production from the rest of their rotation.
Dylan Bundy may be the key to Baltimore’s rotation this season. After struggling with injuries throughout his minor league career, Bundy finally stayed healthy in 2016 while splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. He’ll finally get a chance to become a full-time member of the rotation this year, and he needs to take the opportunity and run with it because the Orioles need a third starter they can count on.
Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez are projected to fill out the back end of Baltimore’s rotation, although both had rough seasons last year. Pitchers like Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright who figure to provide the Orioles with rotation depth this year weren’t much better, and so there are definitely questions about Baltimore’s rotation beyond the first couple spots.
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It was Baltimore’s dynamic bullpen that helped carry their pitching staff last season, and they may need similar results from their relievers this season. Zach Britton remains the closer after collecting 47 saves last season, but it’s unlikely that he’s able to replicate the 0.54 ERA he posted in 2016.
Fortunately, the Orioles still have the trio of Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens pitching in front of Britton, which will help them to shorten games. Donnie Hart was also impressive as a lefty specialist the second half of last season, giving the Baltimore bullpen another weapon.
Even without Wieters, the Orioles will still have one of the best home run hitting lineups in 2017. Trumbo is returning to a lineup that also includes Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Adam Jones, in addition to Welington Castillo, who is replacing Wieters behind the plate. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop also provides plenty of pop, and youngster Trey Mancini may have an opportunity to showcase his power well.
The key for Baltimore’s offense will be what they get out of the periphery of their lineup. Shortstop J.J. Hardy had a nice bounce-back year in 2016, but the 34-year old has shown signs of decline in previous seasons. The Orioles also have questions about their corner outfield spots, where Hyun Soo Kim and Seth Smith are penciled in heading into the season. Of course, both are likely to be platoon players, and so the Orioles will need to sort out their outfield depth.
The Orioles figure to use the same formula in 2017 that helped carry them to the Wild Card game in 2016. That formula is an up and down rotation, a dominant bullpen, and hitting a ton of home runs. Obviously, it’s a formula that can work, but relying on it for a second straight year could be risky.
Look for the Orioles to finish 2017 with 83-79, six games worse than last season. It’s possible but unlikely the Orioles to replicate the home run power and dominating bullpen they exhibited last season. Combined with a rotation that has some question marks, it doesn’t add up to a playoff appearance in 2017.