So here we are, on the eve of Opening Day for the Baltimore Orioles and manager Buck Showalter. There are a lot of questions hanging over this roster, and not only limited to the starting pitching. Will the lineup produce? Will the injured but re-tooled Orioles’ bullpen hold as strong as past renditions? All of those questions will be answered…
…come October, that is. I can’t tell you how any of that is going to work. I can’t tell you how the season is going to play out. But I can tell you for what I’d watch as we transition from the off-season into the regular season. And that’s the purpose of any season preview.
As I said, the only question at hand isn’t about starting pitching. But it’s probably the biggest question for this club. Going into camp Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman were the only starters on the roster. That made most experts pick the Orioles to finish last in the division. I said at the time that wasn’t rational, as Tampa has a double-A roster (with Toronto not far behind).
But since camp started, the Birds have re-signed Chris Tillman, and signed the likes of Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb. The rotation is looking much stronger these days. Cobb we obviously won’t see right away, but soon enough – and I think it’ll be very soon.
The bullpen is a question, mainly because of the absence of Zach Britton. As many close games as teams league-wide play, much of the success or failure of this season may lie with the likes of Darren O’Day and Brad Brach. But don’t sleep on the middle relief either. If a starter can’t go deep into a game, it’s that middle relief that can make or break you.
At the end of the day, this is a power-hitting club first and foremost. Many people point to the likes of Jones, Machado, Trumbo (who’s injured), and Davis, while mentioning that they fell off the map at the end of last year. I think you have to assume that all players are going to revert to the mean. Their career numbers indicate that they’re much better than that.
Keep in mind that last year was taxing on everyone involved with the Orioles – including writers. So those offensive struggles came as a result of fatigue, both physical and mental. But again, I think you have to look to how guys have performed over time, and realize that we aren’t doomed to see last September play out again over an entire season.
Of course everyone wants to know how the Birds will fair this season. They’re certainly in the toughest division in baseball. I’m not going to tell you that they’ll make a run at the post-season. I can’t say that now – nobody can. But as competitive as the division is, they aren’t the worst team in it. Again, the likes of Tampa and possibly Toronto aren’t up to the Orioles’ level.
So will the O’s compete for the division crown? It would be tough for me to say that’s probable. But they won’t be fighting to stay out of the basement, either. As poor as the bottom of the division can look at times, it would be tough for me to say it’s probable that they finish near the bottom. To say so at this point would be doing a disservice to the O’s.
This will be a competitive season from my vantage point. It’ll have it’s toils and snares, but also it’s big moments. Will they be in the post-season? With their rotation having improved leaps and bounds over last year, they have as good a shot as anyone else. But one way or the other, I think they’ll be in contention well into September. Incidentally, the price of admission, you ask? One Buck.