The regular season has arrived and after an encouraging month of March – both on and off the field – the Orioles head into 2018 cautiously optimistic.
Despite the absence of closer Zach Britton and designated hitter Mark Trumbo through injury, the difference between this and last year’s team is substantial.
No longer are the Orioles relying on veteran arms Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Jeremy Hellickson to pitch every fourth or fifth day, and the bullpen is not being ‘bolstered’ by the likes of Alec Asher, Vidal Nuno (remember him?), and Stefan Crichton. Offensively, J.J. Hardy’s time in Baltimore finally came to an agonizing end, while Joey Rickard, Hyun-Soo Kim, Ruben Tejada, and Ryan Flaherty are either no longer being relied upon to strengthen the team’s depth, or won’t be featuring as prominently as they did in 2017.
As you can see, there’s been a lot of mediocre performers culled since the 2017 season ended with a bitter taste left in our mouths.
Replacing this bashful bunch are a handful of proven big league performers, including Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Danny Valencia, and Colby Rasmus (yes, I know what you’re thinking, however he is nearing 200 career home runs), and an exciting trio of Rule 5 picks in Anthony Santander, Pedro Araujo, and Nestor Cortes Jr. who all showed promise during Spring Training. Add to that, the ever-exciting Tim Beckham is set to play his first full season in Baltimore.
While the roster is undoubtedly stronger (we can debate by how much), a lot still needs to go right for the Orioles in 2018 if they’re going to compete in the stacked American League East division, or push for one of the two wildcards up for grabs. Among these things needing to go as planned include…
1. The starting rotation must improve on its 5.70 ERA
The Orioles rotation in 2017 stunk big time, working to the worst collective ERA of all 30 major league teams. Thankfully, the likes of Miley, Jimenez, and Hellickson aren’t around anymore and the responsibility instead shifts to free agent signings Cobb, Cashner, and the returning Chris Tillman. While all three – especially the first two – will need to pitch consistently for the Orioles to succeed, there also needs to be marked improvement from younger hopes Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman who each battled lengthy periods of inconsistency in 2017. Now 25 and 27 years of age respectively, they can no longer be seen as the next great hopes – it’s time for each of them to blossom into the 4th overall draft picks they each were and deliver upon the investment made, and patience shown, by the organization.
2. Brad Brach must improve, and cover for Zach Britton’s loss
In a highly competitive American League, and given the nature of this team dating back to its 2012 resurgence, the Orioles are again set to play in many close games, often taking a slender lead into the 9th inning. Over the past four seasons, Zach Britton has converted 135 of 145 (93%) save opportunities, working to a stellar 1.61 ERA over the course of almost 250 innings, however with him being out injured until probably June, Brad Brach will need to step in to fill the void. Lifetime, Brach has converted 21 of 34 (62%) save opportunities and was 18 of 24 (75%) last season in Britton’s absence. Over the course of half-a-season, a conversion rate of between 60-70% will probably result in at least 10-12 blown saves, probably more. This is something the Orioles cannot afford.
3. Chris Davis needs to return to his form of 2013 and 2015
There’s no longer any excuses, the big fella needs to earn his $23 million paycheck this year – something he hasn’t done in either of the last two seasons. While his stellar defense, past heroics, and undeniable power may have helped buy some patience since inking that 7-year deal, the Orioles simply cannot afford to have Davis hitting .220 with 30 home runs this season. After a mediocre spring campaign where he hit just .214 with two home runs while battling an elbow injury, he needs to step it up a notch from the get-go, something he may be doing in a new role – leading off. If he can produce numbers close to that of 2013 (1.004 OPS, 53 home runs) or 2015 (.923 OPS, 47 home runs), then the Orioles may find themselves in playoff contention.
4. The Orioles need to hit 250+ home runs
While not quite a one-trick pony, the Orioles certainly do live and die by the long ball. In fact, they are the only team in baseball to have hit more than 200 home runs each season dating back to 2012, topping out at 253 in the playoff run of 2016. However, in a League packed with long ball hitters, suspect pitching staffs, and hitter-friendly ballparks, 200 home runs in a season is likely to be well behind the powerful lineups of the Yankees and Astros, among others. Further, the Orioles sure as hell won’t produce the same levels of consistency shown at the plate by each of those offenses. The Orioles lineup is packed full of power, with each of Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, Trey Mancini, and Mark Trumbo capable of hitting 30+ dongs, however even so, the likes of Tim Beckham, Anthony Santander, Caleb Joseph, Chance Sisco, and Colby Rasmus will also need to contribute frequently. As seen in recent years, many games will be won and lost by the amount of home runs this team hits.
5. Jonathan Schoop must replicate his 2017 season
Forever living in the shadow of best buddy Manny Machado, 2017 was the breakout season Jonathan Schoop so desperately needed to forge his own identity, hitting .293/.338/.503 with 32 home runs and 105 RBI. The highly-talented second baseman was rewarded with his first All-Star selection and improved his standing and reputation in a League dominated by more heralded second baseman in Jose Altuve, Robinson Cano, and Brian Dozier. While his 2017 season was unlike any seen by an Orioles second baseman before, all of that could easily be forgotten if inconsistency returns in 2018. For the Orioles, who will need all the help they can get offensively this season, it’s terribly important that Schoop maintains his levels of production and consistency.
Earlier today, the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles each announced their starters for the season-opening series in Baltimore next week, and right off the bat, it appears we’re in for a slugfest.
The Twins will send Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, and Jose Berrios to the mound, facing an Orioles’ trio of Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, and either one of Andrew Cashner or Chris Tillman.
In the Opening Day match-up, Odorizzi returns to a ballpark where he’s experienced very little success. In nine outings at Camden Yards, he owns a 3-3 record with a 5.44 ERA, with Orioles hitters launching 13 home runs and 59 his total in just 48 innings. Overall against the Orioles, the former Rays ace is 5-4 with a 4.71 ERA in 18 outings. Facing him will be Bundy, making the first Opening Day start of his career. Against the Twins, Bundy owns a disappointing 0-2 record with a 5.54 ERA and will be looking to turn that around in one of the biggest outings of his blossoming career.
In the middle game of the three-game set, the powerful Orioles lineup will look to inflict more pain on Gibson who has never really enjoyed head-to-head success either in Baltimore or Minnesota. In seven outings against the O’s, Gibson owns a 5.89 ERA with command often being the cause of his troubles, issuing 19 walks in just 36 2/3 innings. Against Gibson, Orioles hitters collectively average .322. At Camden Yards, these numbers improve, however only slightly – 5.66 ERA in four outings. Gausman meanwhile has also had his struggles against the Twins, being 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA over five starts.
In the series finale, it’s not been announced yet who of Cashner or Tillman will look to prevent Berrios improving on his 2-0 career record against the Orioles, which has largely been on the back of strong Twins offensive showings. Despite the perfect record, his 4.67 ERA and .905 opposing OPS over three starts shows he’s struggled against Orioles hitters in the past, allowing 19 hits in 17 1/3 innings – six of which being home runs. Tillman meanwhile has never won against the Twins (0-5, 4.89 ERA) so it’s more likely Cashner will make the start. He’s also winless, however has faced them just once (April 2017) and is largely unknown to a dangerous Twins lineup. In that only outing he allowed two runs in four innings of work.
In summary, the numbers tell a pretty clear story – be ready for three high-scoring affairs.
As baseball fans, all we truly ever want to see is our beloved team enter a new season with a fighting chance. A chance to see our team compete, and a chance to dream that maybe, if everything goes right, we could one day celebrate the ultimate success.
After the 2017 season ended with a terribly bad taste in the mouths of Orioles fans worldwide – even in Australia – there was a genuine fear heading into the 2018 season as to how the roster would stack up, and how much pain could await throughout the summer months. The roster, as it stood, had more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese.
The winter was miserable. There were no major free agent signings and extension talks with soon-to-be free agents Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and co. were non-existent. Further, it was widely rumoured that Machado may not even start the 2018 season wearing orange. Dan Duquette, Peter Angelos, and anyone else holding a position of importance within the front office were copping a beating on social media platforms, at the pub, and around the office water cooler. Everyone had an opinion and all of them predicted doom and gloom – myself included.
Soon enough spring arrived, and with it came an unprecedented amount of quality players remaining unsigned as a truly tumultuous free agency period continued. This would potentially work in the Orioles’ favour, however only if they were prepared to spend some money and capitalize on a market far more aligned to the ballclubs than it was the players.
Pleasingly, the Orioles did just that.
The additions of Alex Cobb (4 years, $60 million), Andrew Cashner (2 years, $16 million), and the return of Chris Tillman (1 year, $3 million) significantly improve a starting rotation which last year was nothing short of laughable in its historically poor performance. Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez are out, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner are in. They are huge upgrades. Tillman meanwhile looks healthy and his last spring outing was impressive. Finally unrestricted by injury, his mechanics look to have improved and his control has returned. It’s encouraging. Add to this trio the younger arms of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, who are each hoping to find some consistency and deliver upon their undoubted potential this season, and the Orioles have a very stable rotation – arguably its best in decades.
Offensively, some depth has been added with the experienced trio of Pedro Alvarez, Danny Valencia, and Colby Rasmus all being signed to Minor League deals. With Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo each experiencing some injury concerns throughout spring, and in Trumbo’s case the start of the regular season, these signings have only grown in importance and value as the weeks have progressed. As it currently stands, aided by Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, Trey Mancini, and Davis, the Orioles offense is still one of the most potent in the Major Leagues and will likely slug more than 200 home runs again. It’s well complemented by the likes of a rejuvenated Tim Beckham and what’s hoped is a consistently performing duo of Caleb Joseph and Chance Sisco sharing the catching duties. Anthony Santander has also shown his tremendous potential at the plate this spring.
As with any team Buck Showalter pens onto a lineup card, the defense will take care of itself and will remain a strength. Lead by Machado patrolling the infield and Jones marshalling his troops out deep, the improved rotation can take the mound knowing full well it’s backed by one of MLB’s most consistently high-performing defensive outfits.
And finally, despite the loss of Zach Britton for the first part of the season through injury, the bullpen also appears to have been strengthened following the additions of impressive Rule 5 picks – Pedro Araujo, Jose Mesa Jr., and Nestor Cortes Jr. All three have shown signs this spring that they can add value to a relief team already consisting of proven big league performers in Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day, and Richard Bleier.
All in all, the Orioles front office ought to be commended for its efforts this offseason in building what appears to be a very competitive roster. While it may not be filled with the often over-hyped big names seen in New York and Boston, the team will be competitive and I believe, has a strong chance to reach the postseason – albeit more likely via a wildcard.
For now though, there’s hope – and that’s a lot more than can be said about the situation facing Orioles fans just a few months ago.
The 2018 Spring Training campaign has passed its halfway mark and for Orioles fans, there’s been more than enough reasons to smile and finally look forward to the season ahead. Despite a miserable winter and painfully slow start to the exhibition season, the team has strung together an impressive two weeks, cruising to 11 wins from 14 games.
Here are six things I’ve especially liked thus far:
Manny Machado continues to hit frequently – and hard. The defensive switch to shortstop seems to have rejuvenated the young star after a tough 2017 season, and through 34 at bats owns a sizzling 1.366 OPS. His .471 average, three home runs, four doubles, and 15 RBI only tell part of the story though, as his body language – calm, relaxed, and happy – speaks volumes.
Jonathan Schoop is almost matching his best buddy, owning a 1.316 OPS himself, while hitting four home runs and two doubles from his 32 at bats. Seemingly living in the shadow of Machado throughout his pro career, 2017 was the breakout season he’d been craving and that doesn’t appear to be letting up heading into 2018.
Anthony Santander is looking to put an injury-plagued 2017 behind him, and the early indications have certainly been promising. The 23-year-old, who has a real presence about him at the plate, has knocked in 14 runs from 43 at bats and owns a .960 OPS while doing so. His hot stick, highlighted by a pair of doubles and three long balls, adds further power to a potent O’s lineup, while his defense has also been impressive patrolling the outfield.
Chance Sisco entered camp with an expectation of securing the backup catcher’s spot on the roster, and he’s achieved that and more. The left-handed hitting 23-year-old has slugged three doubles and a home run in 21 at bats and owns a .458 on base percentage. Behind the dish is where Sisco really needs to continue his development and will need to improve his caught stealing ratio of just one in six.
Hunter Harvey‘s spring numbers – a 3.86 ERA and 1.86 WHIP – may not be headline grabbing, however his ability to remain healthy fills O’s fans with hope. Despite walking four in his seven innings of work, he has struck out seven and his fastball has consistently been in the 94-96 mph range. He’s mixed in his curveball and changeup well, and while yet to pitch as high as Double-A, there’s a feeling within camp that the 23-year-old will feature at some point this season.
Pedro Araujo, the Rule 5 pick who has an outside chance to break camp with a bullpen role, looks filthy. After seven years in the Chicago Cubs’ organization, the 24-year-old has struck out seven in five innings, and both his appearance and demeanor has drawn comparisons to former O’s reliever Pedro Strop. Araujo’s success has come from mixing his mid-90s fastball with a dirty changeup that catches hitters off balance.
Others who have impressed throughout Spring Training have been Trey Mancini, Tim Beckham, and prospect James Teague, while Andrew Cashner looked good in his only outing thus far – four scoreless innings against the Phillies on Sunday.
After a slow start to their Spring Training campaign, the Baltimore Orioles have come alive at the plate these past five days, mashing 38 runs on the way to four wins in five games. While there’s been impressive signs from many regular members of the line up, most notably Tim Beckham, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and Trey Mancini, the star of the show continues to be Manny Machado who has gone on an absolute tear since his first game back on 23 February.
Across six partial appearances, the young infielder who switched from third base to shortstop over the off-season, has been nothing short of exceptional, collecting nine hits and 18 total bases from just 14 at bats. In addition to the consistency of his hitting, his power has also been on full display, tagging three doubles and two home runs. His 10 RBI has him just four shy of the 14 he tallied in 2016, which to date has been the most productive exhibition campaign of his seven year career. That seems certain to change this year.
Historically a slow starter during spring, Machado hit just .154/.241/.308 in 2017 and seemingly carried that poor form into the start of the regular season. That soon developed into the most prolonged slump of his career, hitting just .224 and .191 in April and May respectively, and striking out 49 times in 200 at bats. The 3-time All-Star would eventually finish the 2017 season with 33 home runs and a .782 OPS, and while more than respectable in their own right, they were still the lowest figures of any full season across his major league career.
After a winter full of trade rumors and debate about where the 25-year-old would play defensively, Machado finally appears settled and hungry for redemption in 2018. His move from the hot corner to shortstop has been been confirmed and he appears reinvigorated. The early signs have been encouraging too – the move appears seamless. Offensively, Machado is red hot, barreling up most batted balls and still yet to strikeout. His pitch selection and patience at the plate has been exemplary, drawing three walks which have helped boost his OPS to a dizzying height of 1.992.
While the season proper is still some 3 1/2 weeks away, Machado’s hot stick and solid defense has Orioles fans excited for the season ahead despite some obvious shortcomings on the roster. With a somewhat dubious rotation, the Orioles have a huge challenge ahead of them if they wish to compete with New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox teams stacked full of talent. Should they stumble early, the club will almost certainly explore trading Machado away at the deadline in hope of securing something in return for the mercurial talent before he leaves when free agency hits at season’s end. Should that occur, Orioles fans may have just three months left to witness Manny’s magic – so they must enjoy it while they can.
An off-season of mostly doom and gloom hasn’t let up for the Orioles over the first four days of Spring Training match ups, with the team failing to win any of its five games, while being comprehensively outscored 31-17 throughout.
Despite the results being meaningless and historically proven not to correlate to regular season standings, there has been little to get excited about for a team which is seemingly a long way behind the Red Sox and Yankees, who appear set to battle it out in an old-school AL East showdown this season.
Offensively, young catcher Chance Sisco launched a 3-run bomb in the 9th against the Rays in Friday’s 6-3 loss and went 2-for-2 on the day as he looks to solidify his spot as the team’s back up catcher to Caleb Joseph. He’s started the spring 4-for-7. Fellow catcher Audry Perez also sent one deep in the 9th and went 2-for-2 on Saturday against the Phillies in a game the O’s lost 9-6. Keeping with the catcher theme, Austin Wynns hit a solo shot in the 7th in Saturday night’s 1-1 tie with the Twins, while Manny Machado collected a pair of hits which included a two-bagger. The team scored just once in Sunday’s 7-1 loss to the Red Sox, hitting safely just four times, however in Monday’s 8-6 loss to the Tigers Trey Mancini and Jonathan Schoop each went deep for their first home runs of the spring, with Schoop’s being an Earl Weaver special. Infielder Luis Sardinas has collected five hits in his 10 at bats, while the outfield duo of Alex Presley and Anthony Santander each have four. Of those who have yet to hit safely, Garabez Rosa is 0-for-8 and Joey Rickard is 0-for-7, while Chris Davis is 1-for-8 with four strikeouts.
On the pitching front, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy were lit up, each allowing five earned runs in their first outings which lasted 1 1/3 and two innings respectively. Mike Wright Jr., Nestor Cortes Jr., and Gabriel Ynoa have also made starts, each allowing one earned run through two innings of work. A quartet of relievers – Alec Asher, Richard Bleier, Jayson Aquino, and Jimmy Yacabonis – have each tossed two scoreless innings while Mychal Givens tossed a scoreless inning on Monday against the Tigers. Asher, Aquino, and Ynoa have each struck out four batters. Of those who have struggled early, Jeff Ferrell, Jason Gurka, and Jose Mesa have each allowed three earned runs in their limited appearances thus far.
Defensively, Manny Machado has looked at home at shortstop in his limited appearances, while Tim Beckham has also been impressive in the hot corner. On Monday, Beckham involved himself in three double-plays and appears to be enjoying the new challenge. Outfielder Cedric Mullins has a pair of outfield assists and the team has committed just three errors across the five games.
The Orioles take on the Rays in Port Charlotte tomorrow, with Hunter Harvey making his first spring start in what is hoped by all within Baltimore to be a breakout season for the young flamethrower.
The Orioles won’t be adding a high caliber free-agent starting pitcher this offseason, settling for the additions of Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman. Hopes of adding Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb to lead the rotation have subsided.
With both Cashner ($16 M guaranteed over two seasons) and Tillman ($3 M guaranteed in 2018) signed to team-friendly deals, it appeared that further money could be spent on addressing the mediocre rotation, however Roch Kubatko of MASNsports reported earlier that the Orioles checked on Jake Arrieta, Lynn, and Cobb, and determined that there wasn’t a financial match. As such, they have now moved on from the trio.
Seemingly now content to find a fifth starter from camp, options include Miguel Castro, Alec Asher, or Gabriel Ynoa, while Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes could land a spot with a strong spring showing. Mike Wright’s name has been discussed too, unfortunately.
With the luxury of an over-supply of starters in Houston, Collin McHugh has been linked to the Orioles in potential trade talks with the Astros, however that appears unlikely given the Orioles weak farm system and unwillingness to trade away the few high prospects it does have.
The Orioles starting rotation last season had a 5.70 ERA, which was the worst in the major leagues and the second worst of any team this past decade (behind the 2012 Colorado Rockies, 5.81 ERA). In 2018 it’s hoped that the young arms of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy can find some consistency and deliver on their potential. Cashner and an injury-free Tillman are expected to provide a steady third and fourth option, with the back of the rotation potentially being a combination of others throughout the early parts of the season until a candidate impresses enough to make the role their own.