2018 MLB Preview

MLB Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles

In 2017, the Orioles mashed the ball. They also allowed their opponents to do the same (at an even higher rate). Following that ineffective blueprint landed them at the bottom of the AL East. Sadly, 2018 will be deja vu all over again.

What happened in ’17?

2017 Record: 75-87
Division Finish: 5th » AL East
Playoffs: N/A

The Orioles had put together a mediocre-at-best season before the final month of the season came along, then the wheels came completely off. Over their final 30 games, the team managed to stumble to an 8-22 record, dropping them into last place in the AL East. So how did they fall off in such rapid succession? The followed the past decade’s formula of living and dying by the long ball, with September signaling their ultimate death. Interestingly enough, the team placed in the Top 8 in both home runs and batting average, but only managed to finish in the middle of the pack for total runs scored. Guess it was too many Oriole eggs in one basket. With dreadful pitching ranks (near the bottom of the entire league), the O’s provided clear evidence once again that trying to out-slug everyone on a nightly basis, isn’t the most ideal of game plans.

2017 Batting Ranks Runs* Average OPS
16th 8th 19th
2017 Pitching Ranks ERA WHIP QS
27th 27th 27th
2017 Fielding Ranks Errors Field% SB%
15th 16th 10th
* Orioles ranked 5th in Home Runs

Offseason Changes

The New Guys
OF Jaycob Brugman (Athletics), C Andrew Susac (Brewers)

The Departed
1B Pedro Alvarez (Free Agent), C Wellington Castillo (White Sox), 2B Ryan Flaherty (Free Agent), OF Craig Gentry (Free Agent), SS J.J. Hardy (Free Agent), SP Jeremy Hellickson (Free Agent), SP Ubaldo Jimenez (Free Agent), SP Wade Miley (Free Agent), OF Seth Smith (Free Agent), SP Chris Tillman (Free Agent)

The O’s are transitioning through a roster overhaul with a ton of starters (Castillo, Hardy, Tillman) and platoon guys leaving the team in the offseason. And while their starting lineup remains largely intact, their starting rotation and overall depth will change significantly heading into ’18. As you can see by glancing at the names above, there was no significant additions made to the team, something that’s practically required to keep pace with the big spenders that that AL East has come to be famous for.

The Lineup

Projected Starting Lineup:
3B  Tim Beckham
SS  Manny Machado
2B  Jonathan Schoop
OF  Adam Jones
1B  Chris Davis
OF  Trey Mancini
DH  Mark Trumbo
C  Chance Sisco / Caleb Joseph
OF  Austin Hays

Bench guys: OF Joey Rickard, OF Jaycob Brugman, C Andrew Susac, IF Luis Sardinas

As mentioned, the O’s sport a similar starting lineup as they did last season. The power quintuplet of Machado, Schoop, Jones, Davis and Trumbo are still hanging around, while they welcome breakout guy Trey Mancini (.293, 24 HR, 78 RBI, .826 OPS) into the everyday lineup. In reality, you’d be pressed to find a better 1-6 power punch in the game than this crew. Caleb Joseph and newly acquired Andrew Susac will share time behind the plate. One of the interesting stories to watch leading up to Opening Day is Buck Showalter insisting that superstar Machado will move back to his natural position of shortstop. Depending on how that plays out, Tim Beckham’s role in the starting lineup could be subject to change. Rookie Adam Hays figures to win the right field job and stand in on opening day. Overall, the Orioles still possess a wildly dangerous starting lineup (though their bench is pretty thin) that should surpass their ranking of 16th in Runs scored last season, particularly if they implement some small ball into their offense, to compliment all of that raw power.

The Rotation

Projected Starting Rotation:
1. Dylan Bundy
2. Kevin Gausman
3. Gabriel Ynoa
4. Miguel Castro
5. Mike Wright

If you thought last season’s performance on the mound was rough with the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, Chris Tillman and Jeremy Hellickson (all established pitchers), you might be in for something truly “special” in 2018. Gausman (has shown flashes) and Bundy (was the best starting pitcher last year) lead the rotation, then it falls off into an abyss of youth and inexperience. Gabriel Ynoa, Mike Wright and Miguel Castro, the three guys expected to grab rotation spots before the season begins, have registered a combined total of 296 innings for their entire careers. And not exactly at a high level. Castro showed the most promise of the three last season, with a 3.53 ERA in 66.1 relief innings. Alec Asher started six games last year and might sneak into the rotation conversation, though I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities available with this unstable group.

The Bullpen

Projected Pen:
Closer: Zach Britton
Brad Brach
Mychal Givens
Darren O’Day
Donnie Hart
Richard Bleier

Aside from the Herculean power in the lineup, the bullpen might be the team’s biggest strength. Of course, that would typically include the presence of closer Zach Britton, who’s going to miss more time to begin the ’18 season, as he destroyed his achillies tendon a couple of months ago. Brad Brach (3.18 ERA, 18 Saves) was very good in his absence last year and will step in to close games immediately. Givens, O’Day and Hart are all reliable arms and somehow, Richard Bleier managed to post the bullpen’s best ERA (1.99) despite striking out only 26 batters in 63.1 innings. The O’s pen is just fine.

Health Concerns?

Zach Britton. Despite the adequate bullpen arms, missing their dominant closer at the back end of games will hurt a bit. However, while his timetable to return is still a little blurry, his rehab is apparently ahead of schedule and he hopes to at least be throwing off a mound before Opening Day rolls around. To complicate things, when Britton does return, he’ll have to deal with the swirling trade rumors that he’s found himself a part of, for whatever reason. Certainly not ideal.

The Pressure is on…

Manny Machado. It might seem like an easy decision to cast the pressure on the team’s best player, but Manny is certainly the straw that stirs this lineup’s drink and is a catalyst as the team’s superior defensive player. It might seem more appropriate to say the entire O’s pitching staff has the most pressure, but when you have that little experience, pressure can be voided. Machado saw a minor dip in his defensive play last season and he is switching positions on the diamond after a few years getting comfortable over at the hot corner (he posted the second worst DWAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement) since his rookie season. They’ll need Machado’s A-game to resurface if they want to even consider contention with the juggernauts in the AL East.

Manager’s Seat Check

Buck Showalter
20th Season, 1504-1402 (.518%)

One of the most experienced managers in all of baseball, it’s hard to imagine Showalter making any drastic changes to much of what’s worked successfully in the past. However, being in the final year of his contract is the monkey wrench thrown into that equation. If things go poorly this season (I expect they will), there will be very little reason to bring Buck back for a 10th season, if he makes it through the season at all. Because of that, his seat is pretty damn warm. Seat Heat = 8/10

2018 Prediction

Projected 2018 Record: 72-90
Win differential from 2017: -3
Projected Finish: 5th » AL East
Projected Playoffs: N/A

Without adding any pitching upgrades to their perennial Achilles heel, those ghastly rotation numbers are going to repeat themselves for the Baltimore Orioles in 2018. No matter how great the offense, they just won’t be able to circumvent the inexperienced young arms in the meat of their rotation. I have them bringing up the rear of the AL East again, albeit by a close margin. They will win a share of ball games by simply outscoring teams via the long ball, but don’t expect them to sustain any kind of winning record. Especially not with the rest of the American League East sporting superior rosters from top to bottom (yes, even the Rays). Look for this team to begin transitioning to a major culture change at the end of this season and heading into 2019.

Joe’s Two Cents: “I kind of hate the Orioles. I hate them mostly because they’ve failed to capitalize on an amazing core of offensive players. With Jones, Machado, Davis and the rest, there should be a World Series ring in Baltimore. I expect more underachieving in 2018 and ultimately, Manny Machado will be gone by the deadline. They just better hope to acquire some pitching for him. If you’re a “Baltimore” fan, I’d consider the Nationals instead.

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