It is April, which can only mean three things: warm weather, long days, and baseball season has finally arrived. The Baltimore Orioles open their regular season on Monday, coming off of a winning season and an early postseason exit. The Birds will be hoping for a better showing this year.
For the O’s, they hope to wash away the bad taste of last years loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in the Wild Card game. Baltimore fell to their division rivals in extra innings after manager Buck Showalter elected to not bring in All-Star closer Zach Britton while the game was tied.
Orioles fans should expect the same highs and lows that 2016 brought, except without the flair of longtime catcher Matt Wieters, who represents the only major departure from a team that led the Majors in home runs last year.
Fans however can expect third baseman Manny Machado continue his meteoric rise to superstardom in 2016, batting .294/.343./.533 and finishing third among third basemen in wins above replacement behind former league MVP’s Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant. He was also a wizard with the glove, finishing fourth among MLB third basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating. Barring injury, Machado should be in the American League MVP conversation again this year.
Machado should see plenty of pitches this year, as there is plenty of home run power in this lineup. Joining him is last season’s home run king Mark Trumbo. The O’s designated hitter led the MLB with 47 home runs and finished second on the team in on base plus slugging (120 to Machado’s 128).
Meanwhile, Chris Davis, after signing the richest contract in franchise history prior to last season, lived up to that lofty pact. The 30-year-old slugger smashed 38 long balls, good for second on the team. Adam Jones and second baseman Jonathan Schoop also added twenty home run seasons.
Baltimore also brought back the key cogs in a bullpen that had the lowest ERA in the AL last year, which should provide stability entering 2017. Britton led the AL with 47 saves and was virtually unhittable for the entire year (0.54 ERA). It is more than just Britton though. Converted shortstop Mychal Givens (3.13 ERA), submariner Darren O’Day (3.77 ERA), and Brad Brach (2.05 ERA) all headline a tremendous relief corps and help cover for a spotty starting rotation.
That said, the O’s still harbor many of the same shortcomings that cost them the Wild Card game. Their hitters still struggle working the count and drawing walks (20th in walks and on base percentage). Their starting rotation (23rd in MLB in starters ERA, 19th in starters innings in 2016) was a question mark before Chris Tillman went down with a shoulder injury. With Tillman out, Baltimore must depend on Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and (gulp) Ubaldo Jimenez to help pick up the slack
Gausman logged his highest inning totals last season (179 2/3) and led all O’s starters in ERA and strikeout rate. Bundy, a former top prospect, hopes to find more consistency after showing flashes of brilliance last season. O’s fans just have to hope that Jimenez puts up average numbers after a ghastly 2016 that ended with the demoted starter tossing the deciding dinger in the Wild Card game.
Getting back to the playoffs will not be easy for the Orioles. The AL East might be one of the toughest divisions in baseball. That said, the Birds have enough firepower on offense and in the bullpen to make another run at the World Series.