With the season just around the corner, the staff at Sons of Sam Horn is taking a look at the Boston Red Sox’ division rivals. The Baltimore Orioles are next, and this is an offensive-minded team that hasn’t invested heavily in pitching. Lisa Carney looks at the way their roster shakes out to see if they can compete in the AL East.
|Batting Average||Manny Machado||.286|
|Home Runs||Chris Davis||47|
|Runs Batted In||Chris Davis||117|
|On-base Percentage||Chris Davis||.361|
|Earned Runs Average||Wei-Yin Chen||3.34|
The Baltimore Orioles came into the 2015 season with high expectations after having taken charge in the 2014 American League East, winning their first division title since 1997. The 2015 team boasted a powerful lineup, bolstered by the return of third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters from their season-ending surgeries in 2014.
Unfortunately, aside from the steady Wei-Yin Chen, the O’s starting rotation was particularly meh and did little to aid the consistent effort of the offense and bullpen. As a result, the O’s season was a wash at an even 81-81 record. So what, if anything, did the Orioles do this winter to swing the pendulum back to the winning side for the upcoming 2016 season?
The Orioles entered the 2015 offseason with a number of talented contributors potentially headed elsewhere with lefty Wei-Yin Chen, reliever Darren O’Day, first baseman Chris Davis and C Matt Wieters at the top of the list. Based on the mediocre performance of their starting rotation, it would have made sense to target Wei-Yin Chen as the one they “must have back”, as he led all starters in innings pitched and had the lowest ERA. Retaining either one of Wieters or Davis would have maintained the fearsome lineup, and Chen would have remained the anchor every starting staff requires. Instead, Baltimore spent $270 million in offseason contracts and not one dime went to Chen. So, while Wieters, Davis and the talented, but replaceable, Darren O’Day return; Chen will take the ball as the Miami Marlins’ Opening Day starter. The Orioles hope free-agent signee RHP Yovani Gallardo can fill the void left by Chen’s departure, but that seems unfair to ask of Gallardo’s declining fastball.
Curiously, the other notable offseason transactions also did nothing to bolster the starting five. Catcher Steve Clevenger was shipped off to the Mariners for OF/1B Mark Trumbo and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser (since DFA’ed and claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs). Baltimore even dipped into the international market to snag Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, a power-lite but good contact hitter. His job is currently being challenged by Rule 5 draftee Joey Rickard, who is fitting into his Orioles uniform just fine as he’s hammering away to the tune of .396/.475/.566. However, spring training numbers easily inflate and the Orioles are paying Kim $3.5 million per year. He’d also have to agree to a AAA demotion so while the Orioles have some interesting conversations ahead, it would seem Kim will be their starting right fielder on Opening Day.
Baltimore pitching finished ninth in the American League last year, with only the Boston Red Sox trailing them in their division. They did nothing to improve their starting five and at best hope the addition of Yovani Gallardo keeps pace with the loss of Wei-Yin Chen. Ubaldo Jimenez is likely to continue racking up the strikeouts, but he’s unlikely to be anything more than a talented pitcher whose inconsistent performances frustrate fans. Fifth starter RHP Kevin Gausman will begin the season on the 15 Day DL (backdated to March 25) and will miss at least one regular season start after receiving a cortisone injection in his pitching shoulder. It’s going to take Opening Day starter Chris Tillman and RHP Miguel Gonzalez returning to 2014 form for the starters to bring the team above the .500 record of 2015.
Behind the starting five however, the Orioles have strong bullpen. Closer Zach Britton and returning set-up man Darren O’Day have the 8th and 9th innings locked down. RHP Mychal Givens (11.4 K/9) and RHP Brad Brach (10.1 K/9) are strike-throwers who can handle high-leverage situations in the 6th and 7th. LHP Brian Matusz has been dealing with back issues all spring and will also start the season on the DL. That means Baltimore is on the lookout for lefty help out of the pen.
|American League (avg)||176||2276||710||.255||.318||.730||1219|
The 2015 Orioles had power for days and days… and nights… and weekends. In fact, the O’s offense made most opposing pitchers quake, if not at least cringe, at the thought of facing them. One of their few flaws was their high strikeout rate, but when you’re smashing balls out of the park in high numbers, fans can be more forgiving. The re-signing of Chris Davis and improved health of the also re-signed Wieters ensures that the ball-crushing legacy remains intact and Mark Trumbo will fit right in with the power brigade.
It make sense to build a deep lineup when competing in the thunderous AL east and the Orioles look ready to go line drive for line drive with the big bats in Toronto, New York, and Boston.
So where does the 2016 season take the Baltimore Orioles? Their lineup is deep and poised to destroy, and their bullpen will hold and save a high percentage of the leads handed to them. If Chris Tillman embraces the role of ace and the four starters behind him can eat innings while performing respectably, the Orioles have a real shot at a deep playoff run. To do that they will need to win 92-95 games.
But if their starting pitching remains merely serviceable, the other American League lineups will chew right through them and nothing wears down hitters and relief guys faster than playing catch up all the time.
Unfortunately, the O’s offseason spending spree likely depleted any space in their budget to cover potential injuries or ineffectiveness as the season progresses. Matt Wieters surprised quite a few folks when he accepted the Orioles’ qualifying offer and, at the same time, tied management’s hands. They were ready to hand his job to Caleb Joseph and Wieters’ $15.8 million salary would have been a nice chunk to spend on a starter. Instead, Baltimore went all-in on offense and bullpen. After such a busy offseason, fans want to hear that their team is in it to win it all. But remember, the Orioles had a similarly built team last year and only won 81 games. So in 2016, the O’s hopes are flying but starting pitching just may clip their wings; 81 and 81 could happen again.
Lisa Carney has written about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, Pedro Martinez, and a Yankee legend who can’t keep his trap shut.
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