The biggest thing working against the Orioles this year might be the calendar: 2012, 2014, 2016 - they make the postseason only in even numbered years. There are other big issues, too - they seemed to have significantly overachieved last year, and they did little to address their biggest issues in the offseason. They are a team that relies on three things - solid defense, a world-class closer, and relentless power. It got them 89 wins last year. But it really shouldn't be enough in this era of the major leagues.
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So, will Baltimore find a way to stay in the playoff hunt again? Or is reality going to catch up with them this time around? Can the pattern be broken, or do fans just have to look hopefully towards 2018? Then 2020?
Orioles 2017 Projected Lineup
If you like power then this is still going to be the team for you. Mark Trumbo led the majors in home runs last year with 47, yet he might only be the third-most-feared power hitter on the roster this year. Chris Davis is a total beast, and Adam Jones is consistently explosive. And Manny Machado couples power with general hitting prowess that makes him a perennial MVP threat. And then there is the next wave. Jonathan Schoop went deep 25 times last year, and he's only 25 now. And newly-added catcher Welington Castillo has abnormal power for the position. And new right fielder Seth Smith can go deep, too. The biggest challenge for the team is figuring out how to put the power in the order to maximize it all. And for opposing pitchers - especially those who tend to let hitters get under the ball - it's just an all-round nightmare.
There are issues generally with home run hitters, and that is the case here, too. Guys who hit for power often don't tend to get on base a lot, and this team can have that issue, too. Home runs are the most useful with guys on base, so it will be very important for guys like leadoff hitter Hyun soo Kim, shortstop J.J. Hardy, and Davis and especially Machado to show as much discipline as they can to maximize this power they have. If they don't then they just don't have enough other dimensions to shine. They are all in on one approach, but it remains to be seen if they are ideally situated to maximize the upside of that approach.
Matt Wieters was a star for this team, and he's now moved on in free agency. He has a strong defensive reputation. It felt, though, like he wasn't as good at managing a pitching staff as a catcher needs to be. He'll likely be missed but not nearly as much as he could be if Castillo has more success getting the pitchers to throw strikes.
Orioles 2017 Projected Rotation and Closer
This is just so ugly that I barely want to write about it. It's just gross, and it is very hard to believe that they didn't work hard to do something about it in the offseason - especially with Boston and Toronto so well set up on the mound. Kevin Gausman is the highlight of the rotation, and he's cast as the ace. He is very good, but he isn't ready for that role yet. He's young, and he clearly ran out of gas last year. He'd be much better off as a third option on a veteran staff at this point, but that can't happen here. Dylan Bundy showed flashes last year and has some upside, but he's still coming back from Tommy John surgery, and you never know how long that will take. Chris Tillman can't stay healthy. And though he can be good at times, if he is your third best pitcher then you don't have much of a rotation. Tillman as a fifth starter would make me much happier than this. And then it really gets ugly. Wade Miley is just awful. Ubaldo Jimenez is a joke. Tyler Wilson? Mike Wright? They have several options, but none of them are any good. They opted not to rush prospect Chris Lee along, and he'll be starting in Triple-A. He might be the best option and could even be the third-best pitcher they have right now. Hopefully they give him a chance soon - they certainly don't have anything to lose. The rotation was bad last year, and there is no reason to believe that it will be any better now. This is a real problem.
What a contrast the bullpen in, though. Zach Britton is the best closer in baseball - especially when they actually put him in the game unlike in the wild card. Brad Brach is an outstanding setup man. And the rest of the pen is strong. These guys will bail out the team more than the squad probably deserves. It's just up to the starters to get the game to them in reasonable shape. Easier said than done.
Orioles Futures Odds
Oddsmakers are not optimistic that the Orioles will repeat last year's playoff appearance. At +800 they are the fourth choice at BetOnline to win the AL East. Only Tampa Bay is given less of a chance. At +1800 to win the American League pennant, they sit behind eight other teams. At +3600 to win the World Series they are right in the middle of the pack.
Chris Davis is one of three co-favorites to win the home run crown this year at +800. Mark Trumbo, the defending champ, is at +1400, which is tied with teammate Manny Machado. Adam Jones is also listed at +10000 for this power-heavy team. Machado is tied with Josh Donaldson as the second choice to win the MVP at +650 behind only defending champ Mike Trout at +125. Chris Davis is also listed as a long shot at +6600. Kevin Gausman, at +2800, is the only Baltimore pitcher listed in the hunt for the Cy Young, and he is one of the longer shots on the board at that price.
Orioles 2017 Predictions
The season win total is set at 80.5. I honestly don't know what to do with that number. When I handicapped this team before seeing the number I had them between 78 and 82 wins, so there's not really a play at this number. The bats are strong, though, so if the rotation can be better than I expect - meaning the top three are fine and the bottom two suck less than I think they will - then maybe this team contends for a wild-card spot - though that will be tough with Toronto and two AL West teams all looking to be strong wild card contenders, too. Realistically, though, I don't think that happens. This team needs to do something about their pitching - even if they have to deal some power to do it.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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