The 2015 Orioles left a lot of people disappointed. The 2014 team had been just a few lucky bounces away from making their first World Series appearance since 1983, and so most fans were excited about the chances of the team stepping it up and finally making it to the pinnacle of baseball glory. What happened though is something that many of us would soon rather forget. The Orioles had a dismal off-season and found themselves worse for wear than they had been before, leaving 2015 a sad reminder that baseball can be a fickle sport.
Jump ahead to the 2016 pre-season predictions and the long list of major league experts who have expressed their lack of confidence in the O’s attempts to improve. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anybody that does not have Baltimore finishing last in the American League East. They say that the Orioles will struggle against what will be strong competition from greatly upgraded teams such as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. David Price will take the mound for the Sox while the Yanks are healthy once again, getting back Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, and starting pitching. The Blue Jays are no joke- they made themselves better at the trade deadline last year by emptying their farm system of prospects in exchange for players who give them the opportunity to win now. And the Tampa Bay Rays are never to be overlooked. They have set the bar in the past for teams that can make do with little fanfare (Literally. Nobody goes to their games.).
But don’t write off Baltimore as quickly as some of these so-called experts. What some say was a useless off-season was, in fact, much better than people seem to understand. Want proof? Here you go. Let’s take a look what the Opening Day lineup looked like just a year ago, the start of what was to be a very long and tumultuous season.
- Alejandro De Aza, LF, traded to Boston mid-season
- Manny Machado, 3B
- Adam Jones, CF
- Steve Pearce, 1B, became a platoon player due to underproduction
- Travis Snider, LF, released mid-season
- Delmon Young, RF, released mid-season
- Ryan Flaherty, SS, utility player filling in for injured J.J. Hardy
- Jonathon Schoop, 2B
- Caleb Joseph, C, backup player filling in for injured Matt Wieters
Not so impressive, right? Of those nine players, three of them (De Aza, Snider, Young) weren’t even on the team by the end of the season. Snider is in the minor league system for the Kansas City Royals and Delmon Young is out of baseball entirely. Flaherty and Joseph were backups thrust into a starting role due to the season-long lingering injuries to J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters, while Steve Pearce was placed in the cleanup spot only because of Chris Davis’ suspension for Adderall. And that’s just the players in the starting lineup. There was a carousel of roster changes throughout the year as Buck tried to establish some type of consistency from guys who were just not good enough to get the team back into the playoffs.
The starting pitching was just as unimpressive as fans witnessed a career-worst year statistically for Chris Tillman. Also part of the experience was the implosion of Miguel Gonzalez, leaving the O’s struggling to fill a rotation with prospects like Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright, both of who weren’t quite ready to make it to the big leagues.
The analysts that say the Orioles did not improve again during this past off-season. Whether they really believe that the pitching staff will be a perennial underperforming unit, or their focus is on the more attractive names in the division, nobody is giving this team much of a chance. However, the experts and bigheads do seem to miss a lot. For example, there has been no reference to Tillman’s dominance in years past- numbers that have been good enough to be the Opening Day pitcher three years in a row, an appearance in an All-Star game, and a gem of a game against Detroit in the playoffs in 2014. There has been no mention of the newly acquired Yovani Gallardo rounding out the hole left by Wei-Yin Chen who followed a paycheck to Miami. There is no credit given to Kevin Gausman, who is poised to have the reigns removed and to have the breakout season that his first round draft pick warrants. None of this is noticed because, time and time again, the shiny, glimmering attraction of David Price-type acquisitions blinds the “experts”, causing them to see only what they want to see, and not what is truly there.
In regards to the starting lineup, the Orioles are worlds better than the position they found themselves in last year. They are healthy and they made moves to get better. They did not sit back on their haunches like many of the big media outlets would have you believe. Here is a look at their starting lineup from yesterday’s Opening Day.
- Manny Machado, 3B, .286 batting average, 35 homeruns
- Adam Jones, CF, .269 BA, 27 HRs
- Chris Davis, 1B, .262 BA, 47 HRs
- Mark Trumbo, RF, .261 BA, 22 HRs
- Matt Wieters, C, HEALTHY
- Pedro Alvarez, DH, .243 BA, 27 HRs
- J.J. Hardy, SS, HEALTHY
- Jonathon Schoop, 2B, .279 BA, 15 HRs (in 86 games)
- Joey Rickard, LF, .391 BA (in Spring Training)
I would be willing to say that the 2016 Baltimore Orioles starting lineup is much more improved when compared side-to-side with last year’s. Balls will be sailing out of Camden Yards this summer, and when these players buy into Buck’s system, this offense will be a lot of fun to watch. Improvements to the middle of the lineup and the return of Wieters and Hardy, both of whom are fully healthy and have no lingering injuries, make the Orioles a very powerful and scary team to opposing pitchers. The starting pitching is definitely the unit to keep an eye on, and much of the success of the team will sit in how they perform on a daily basis. However, it’s hard to fathom that the starters will be as bad as they were last year. And with a bullpen that is built to be strong and to endure, the starters don’t have to be perfect.
Of course, nobody can predict the outcome of a sporting event, especially not a 162 game season. Just as every other team does, the Orioles will have stretches of games that they will look dominant and there will be times where they may struggle. But, credit needs to be given where it is due- this is not the terrible team the analysts would have you to believe it is. For as long as the pitching holds up and guys stay healthy, the O’s will be a far cry from the basement of the AL East, and the rest of the teams in that division better not get too comfortable.