Well the 2017 season is upon us and as always, hope springs eternal. The “experts” have mostly dismissed the Orioles once again, but with a team that looks a lot like last year – you know the one that won 89 games and a wild card – I believe the team will be in the thick of things in September once again.
Saying that, this is a tough team to judge coming out of spring training and I could see it winning as many as 90 games, or as low as 78 depending on how some things shake out. Let’s take a look at things that need to go right for the Orioles in 2017 for them to win around 90 games this year.
- Chris Tillman needs to come back healthy by at least May and give the Orioles about 180 innings. Even if healthy, Kevin Gausman would have probably surpassed as the Orioles ace this year, but Tillman is about the only other starter on this team that can be counted on to be pretty good throughout the season if healthy. His loss would put a lot more emphasis on Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley pitching like they did last September rather than how they pitched before. It also would mean someone out of the group of Jayson Aquino, Chris Lee, Gabriel Ynoa and Alec Asher would need to step up and become a solid major league starter this year.
- Dylan Bundy is going to have to set a career high in innings pitched and prove he can limit the home runs allowed. Few people seem to realize that Bundy set his career high in innings pitched last year with 109.2 and only has 170.1 minor league innings under his belt. Bundy wore down last year and over his last eight starts he had a 6.00 ERA and batters put up a .865 OPS against him in 39 innings pitched. He allowed nine home runs and had a poor 22-36 BB-K ratio. The Orioles need 180 innings out of him this year so the question is, will he hold up and he be effective over an entire season?
- Will Jimenez (2.32 in 5 starts) and Wiley (1.93 ERA last three starts) be effective? Both of these guys pitched very well in September during the stretch drive last year, but neither had what anyone would call a good year. Wiley’s FIP (3.79 ERA) with the Orioles last season suggests he pitched much better than his ERA (6.17) and could indicate a rebound this season. The Orioles will need them to be around an average AL starter this season but they are both huge question marks.
- The Orioles are going to score runs, especially when they hit home runs, but did they do enough to improve their OBP in order to stay away from those stretches when they aren’t homering? The O’s added Seth Smith to platoon out in right field and he’ll probably lead off against right-handers due to the .351 OBP he put up against them last year. Joey Rickard had a nice spring and will probably lead off against lefties while his platoon mate Hyun Soo Kim will provide some OBP at the lower part of the order against righties. Other than that though, the Orioles return the same type of guys who hit homers more than they worry about getting on base. A return of odd-year Chris Davis and better OBP years from Adam Jones (.310 OBP) and Jonathan Schoop (.298) will be needed to improve this area and help the offense be more consistent.
Minor League break camp rosters
The Orioles released their break camp rosters and a full depth chart can be found here. This depth chart will be updated throughout the year. No big surprises really except that great spring performances by Cedric Mullins and the fact that Orioles want both he and Austin Hays to play center field allowed him to skip a level to Bowie from Delmarva. Reliever Stefan Crichton earned a promotion to Norfolk despite some steep competitions thanks to eye opening spring when he didn’t allow an earned run in his major league appearances despite not being an official invite.
Two hard throwers who have battled injuries continue to do so as both Branden Kline (surgery to remove scar tissue) Lazaro Leyva (oblique) will start on the Disabled List once again. Neither have pitched in a regular season game since 2015.