Baltimore Orioles: Previewing the 2017 Season

Feb 17, 2017; Sarasota, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26) watches his team warm up before the spring training workout at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 17, 2017; Sarasota, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26) watches his team warm up before the spring training workout at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /
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After being sent home by the Blue Jays in the 2016 AL Wild Card game, the Baltimore Orioles will look to rebound in one of baseball’s tightest divisions.

Rest assured, they remember it as if it were yesterday. Baltimore Orioles fans waited patiently for manager Buck Showalter to make the call. To walk out of the visiting dugout at Rogers Centre in Toronto and signal to one of the league’s best bullpens for closer Zach Britton.

Unfortunately for Orioles fans, that call was never made and the rest was history.

But, here we are, less than a week away from the first spring training game of a brand new season. A sight that Orioles fans — both home and abroad — continue to be eager for by the time February rolls around, as they’ve advanced to the postseason three of the past five seasons.

In 2016, Baltimore finished well above .500 at 89-73, tied for second in the AL East. A season in which a star studded pitching staff propelled the Red Sox to a division title, the Orioles once again topped the majors in home runs.

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Five returning players — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop — each topped 20-homer seasons as the club was also third with a .443 slugging percentage.

Familiar faces that won’t be returning to Baltimore in 2017 are as follows: Matt Wieters, Pedro Alvarez, Steve Pearce, Yovani Gallardo, Nolan Reimold, Michael Bourn and Vance Worley.

Aside from Wieters and Gallardo, each of the above mentioned played just minor roles and will leave behind voids that are anything but irreplaceable.

After battling injuries for much of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Wieters appeared in 124 games and produced a line of .243/.302/.409 — well below his career averages. Mindful of his free agency status, the organization signed Diamondbacks catcher Welington Castillo.

With career numbers of .255/.318/.416, Castillo looks to be an upgrade at the position and a valid replacement for Wieters, who remains a free agent.

On the hill, the Orioles will be without Yovani Gallardo. An offseason trade sent him to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for left-handed hitting outfielder Seth Smith. At best, Gallardo was a slight affirmation of his past self and was pestered by injuries all season long. He finished with a record of 6-8 and a career worst ERA of 5.42.

The club and undoubtedly fans, were hopeful that Chris Tillman and Gallardo would provide a one-two punch at the top of the rotation. It’s no mystery how that turned out.

Looking closely at the competition, here’s how the offseason additions and subtractions played out in the division.

Boston added Chris Sale but will now have to adjust to life without Big Papi due to retirement. Toronto added some much needed relief pitching, but lost Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders and Chris Colabello each to free agency. The New York Yankees lost Mark Teixeira to retirement, and outside of signing Matt Holliday and Chris Carter, their only real upgrade came in the form of re-signing Aroldis Chapman. The Tampa Bay Rays made a few moves but coming off their worst record since 2007, the Rays won’t be making any significant improvements any time soon.

In order for the Orioles to once again compete in the AL East, the road map plays out rather simply.

Averaging 4.58 runs per game in 2016 — behind both Boston and Toronto — Baltimore will need to find new ways to manufacture runs. Relying on the home run ball places an insurmountable amount of pressure on the starters and also results in a high number of strikeouts.

The Orioles ranked dead last in all of baseball in both stolen bases and runners left on base per game in 2016. If Showalter is hoping for a more well-rounded offense, it will need to start with less bashing of the baseball and more focus on situational execution — not to mention more stolen base attempts.

On the defensive side, it’s going to come down to starting pitching. Customary for a club that struggles year in and year out to staff a consistent starting rotation.

Behind Tillman, who may have to start the season on the DL, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy will be forced to step up. Even though both have battled injuries over the past few years, their flashes of promise are beginning to fade as the franchise and fanbase are growing impatient.

In the outfield, there are certainly holes and All-Star Adam Jones hasn’t shied away from voicing his concerns. Although they had the second highest fielding percentage as a team, Baltimore outfielders ranked last in defensive runs saved in 2016 — according to FanGraphs.

With Jones manning center field, Trumbo, Smith, and Hyun Soo Kim will look to combat those issues.

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There’s no perfect science to it but led by their offense and dominant bullpen, I’m hopeful that Baltimore will once again clinch a wild-card spot in 2017.