Baltimore Orioles 2017 season preview

WASHINGTON — Despite the botched 2016 Wild Card round, no O’s fans would rather go back to the pre-Buck days of the Baltimore Orioles. From 1998 until 2011 (Buck’s first season with the club), the O’s did not finish above fourth in the AL East. Attendance was paltry at beautiful Camden Yards. Jeremy Guthrie was the Opening Day starter. Fans waited all spring and summer for the first Ravens preseason game, let alone Week One. But back to that Wild Card game last October, which the Orioles lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 5-2 in 11 innings. Why was the often erratic Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound instead of arguably the best closer in the game Zach Britton with runners at the corners and the game on the line? Even Ubaldo didn’t understand why. “Yeah, of course,” Jimenez told USA Today after the game when asked if he was surprised Britton didn’t make an appearance. “He’s our best pitcher.” Buck thought he was outsmarting the competition by asking Ubaldo to try to induce a double play ground ball to Edwin Encarnacion, despite the fact that E5 had never hit into a double play in 40 prior career ABs vs. Jimenez. Encarnacion instead crushed a walk-off home run into left field and Toronto advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs while the O’s headed back to Maryland with Britton unused. The decision was deemed to be a crucial mistake by Buck. But let’s go back to the first paragraph — the Orioles are unquestionably better with Showalter as their manager. Former O’s reliever and current Cleveland Indians setup man Andrew Miller told ESPN.com a few days after the debacle in Toronto: “If you polled front-office guys who are out there, I think in general he would be as well-regarded as anybody at that particular skill.” Showalter has plenty of players with skill coming into the 2017 season, including Britton, who will look to continue his streak of consecutive saves after converting all 47 last season. Here’s a look at the infield, outfield, starting rotation, bullpen and bench coming into the 2017 season for the Baltimore Orioles. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Tom Szczerbowski)
Infield Catcher: Wellington Castillo 1st Base: Chris Davis 2nd Base: Jonathan Schoop Shortstop: JJ Hardy 3rd Base: Manny Machado The obvious change here is the fresh piece of meat behind the plate. Wellington “Beef” Castillo signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the O’s with a $7 million player option for 2018. Castillo was seventh among catchers in MLB in 2016 with 66 RBI (two more in seven fewer plate appearances than the man he replaces, new National Matt Wieters) and does a better job of framing pitches than Wieters. The issue with Castillo will be limiting passed balls. In 2016, he allowed 10 — nine more than Wieters did. Castillo needs to limit those mistakes, especially considering Britton has one of the nastiest sinkers in the league. As far as the rest of the infield, this is probably the most stable portion of the Orioles roster. Manny Machado is already a star and reports indicate his price tag could be near the $400 million mark when he’s set to become a free agent after the 2018 season. Chris Davis played most of the year with a dislocated thumb in the top of his hand on his bat yet still managed to crush 38 home runs. J.J. Hardy is fully recovered from back spasms and Jonathan Schoop is a breakout candidate after a pretty solid first full season last year. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Joe Robbins)
Outfield Left Field: Hyun Soo Kim Center Field: Adam Jones Right Field: Seth Smith Designated Hitter: Mark Trumbo America’s hero in the WBC returns to Baltimore and will look to duplicate the numbers he puts up presumably every season. Since 2011, Jones has hit at least 25 homers every season and driven in no fewer than 82 RBI. Just as importantly, Jones is durable — he has played in better 150 games in all but one of the past six seasons. Hyun Soo Kim will probably lead off this year against righties, while Joey Rickard ought to lead off against lefties. Kim ended 2016 with a .302 average (including .321 against righties) and has a solid glove in the field. Seth Smith is a veteran outfielder who missed some of Spring Training with a hamstring injury, but should be ready to go Opening Day. Smith is a solid lefty bat in the lineup who was acquired in the offseason for right-hander Yovani Gallardo Mark Trumbo is capable of playing first base and corner outfield and had a career year in 2016, when he smashed a league-leading 47 homers. If he can cut down on the strikeouts (170 in 2016) and keep his on-base percentage north of .310, he will exceed the value of the three-year, $37.5 million contract that he received in the offseason. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Joe Robbins)
Starting Rotation RHP Chris Tillman RHP Kevin Gausman RHP Dylan Bundy RHP Wade Miley RHP Ubaldo Jimenez The biggest question mark yet again for the O’s is their starting rotation. Chris Tillman is expected to start with bullpen sessions on Saturday after not pitching the entire spring. Tillman missed three weeks last summer due to a right shoulder injury that resurfaced this spring, eventually leading to a cortisone shot on March 15 to lessen the pain. A live batting practice session is scheduled for April 8 with an extended spring training game on April 11. Tillman is scheduled to become a free agent after this season and if he wants a big payday, he should hope to improve off his 3.77 ERA last season, which isn’t terrible but not exactly ace material. Kevin Gausman will be the O’s Opening Day starter and is poised to build off a solid 2016 season. Gausman now has an expanded arsenal with both a curveball and slider as off-speed pitches along with a fastball that has been in the 96 mph range this spring. Finally, Dylan Bundy has put the injury history behind him and will be counted as one of the reliable starters in this rotation. He may take his lumps as he’s still in the maturation process, but he’s reintroduced the cutter, which was believed to be his best pitch before the Orioles decided not to allow him to throw it due to re-aggravation of the elbow concerns. The O’s will hope to get what they can out of veterans Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez at the back end of their rotation, and it would be big if either of them could bring their ERA below a 5.00 in 2017. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Mike Stobe)
Bullpen On the contrary to the starting rotation, the O’s bullpen is probably the strongest aspect of this team’s roster. Over the past five seasons, Baltimore’s relief corps has a combined 3.25 ERA, ranking third in baseball. The 151 wins by O’s relievers since 2012 are the most in the majors. Britton returns as closer and as long as that incredible sinker ball keeps dropping right before it reaches the plate, Oriole fans should continue to feel confident if Baltimore holds a slim lead into the 9th inning. It will be interesting to see how the 8th inning shakes out as Darren O’Day has always held that role until last year when he went down with hamstring and shoulder injuries. That led to the emergence of Brad Brach, who made his first All-Star appearance and thrived in the setup role. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Mitchell Layton)
Bench Caleb Joseph will back up Wellington Castillo at catcher. Joseph really needs to improve on his paltry .174 average last season in 132 at-bats. Pedro Alvarez is back with the team as he signed a minor league deal in the middle of March. Alvarez is experimenting with playing in the outfield and adds power off the bench and at the DH spot Ryan Flaherty is slated to be the O’s primary backup infielder, and Baltimore hopes he can improve on his .217 BA from last year. Joey Rickard will be the fourth outfielder, and journeyman Craig Gentry has had a heck of a spring and is fighting for one of the final Opening Day roster spots. Trey Mancini may not crack the 25-man roster, but his bat has been live this spring. Even if he does not get regular ABs to start the season, he has a bright future with this team. Aneury Tavarez is a Rule 5 guy who is on the Orioles’ roster bubble. But his left-handed bat, his ability to steal (even though Showalter doesn’t run his guys much) and his versatility to play all three outfield positions will make the decision-making process interesting. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Christopher Pasatieri)
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WASHINGTON — The Orioles had a tough finish in 2016, but Buck Showalter’s boys are back, looking for another run at the postseason.


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