The Orioles, as we all know, are one of the few teams favored to win the 2016 World Series. The offense plays an important role, as the Orioles have a strong middle of the lineup with Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano and Adam Jones. It’s a shame the Orioles only have one middle of the lineup. Jonathan Schoop is considered a rising star and the Orioles are hoping that he can take another leap forward. It’s too early to judge, but his comments about focusing on plate discipline during the offseason and spending extra time just studying video is a good sign.
People may have complained about Matt Wieters deciding to accept the Qualifying Offer, but he was certainly the best catcher available in free agency this year and gives this team more depth. Ron Herder may have written an article about how Desmond wasn’t worth the draft pick lost by signing him, but Desmond has shown an ability to be above average at RF and is good insurance in case JJ Hardy gets hurt. It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that piles of cash don’t help teams win championships. All in all, the Orioles may not have many high OBP players, but they have a number of elite power bats and their only real possible weakness is at SS. That’s acceptable for a team that wants to contend for a championship.
The defense is looking pretty good also. The infield is strong defensively, boasting a superb Machado/Hardy combo on the left side of the infield. The Wieters/Joseph time-share at catcher will ensure that both players remain fresh. Nelson Cruz is getting a bit past his prime in LF while it’s questionable whether Miguel Sano will be able to stick, but Ian Desmond is showing good range and a plus arm in RF while Reimold and Rickard are showing the ability to be acceptable defensive replacements. As usual, the Orioles promise to have a strong defense.
The bullpen also looks tough. Britton is settling in for another year as the closer, while O’Day and Givens promise to be top setup men. Wright and Brach will compete to pitch in the sixth inning and sometimes seventh inning. Matusz is a capable LOOGY. The Orioles could probably use another left-handed pitcher to even things out, but no team is perfect.
But the real reason why the Orioles are favored to win it all is due to their tough starting rotation. It may have taken Jake Arrieta a long time to figure things out, but he finally broke through at the end of 2013. His turning the corner convinced the Orioles not to go after a starting pitcher that offseason and instead focus on buying the bats.
This also allowed the Orioles’ to bring Kevin Gausman along slowly. Gausman feels comfortable throwing his fastball, circle change and curveball, which allows him to dominate opposing batters. Tillman and Zach Davies pitch at the back of the rotation, at least until Eduardo Rodriguez is healthy. The Orioles haven’t given up hope completely for Tillman (unlike Miguel Gonzalez who was DFAd this offseason), but he certainly is feeling the heat. Rodriguez is expected back in June and will likely kick someone out of the rotation. Otherwise, Hunter Harvey and Tyler Wilson are also just waiting for their opportunities to start. The rotation has good talent and a reasonable amount of depth.
But you may have noticed that I omitted a starter from that rotation. As we know, Dylan Bundy first made it to the majors after a strong 2012 season, and seized a starting spot in 2013. Since then, he’s thrown 200 innings in both 2014 and 2015, and makes a terribly good 1-2 punch combined with Jake Arrieta. At $136 million, this roster is extremely expensive, but teams like the Orioles don’t have chances to win the World Series every season and decided to take a shot. The Orioles offense may only be above average, but combined with a deadly pitching staff and makes the Orioles a tough team to beat and it’s easy to see why they’re a contender.
Or more accurately, this is what could have been. Instead, Jake Arrieta and Eduardo Rodriguez were never able to figure it out until they left Baltimore and Dylan Bundy has been hobbled by injuries the past three seasons. Chris Tillman did turn into a serviceable starter for the Orioles, but one wonders whether a better development program would have turned him into a top-of-the-rotation starter rather than the back of the rotation pitcher that he has ultimately become. One has to wonder whether Kevin Gausman would be further along in his development if he wasn’t shuttled from major leagues to minor leagues because the Orioles were competing for a playoff spot and needed pitching talent. Would the Orioles have signed expensive and average pitchers like Jimenez and Gallardo if their homegrown talent had turned out slightly better? Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz would be an extremely potent addition to this clubs’ offense. It’s impossible to blame the Orioles for not signing those two guys as both were extreme question marks, but this club would be better if they were.
By just looking at players that were either on the Orioles or nearly signed by the Orioles, it’s quite easy to see how this team could be a legitimate world series’ contender if it was able to develop its pitching better. The sad thing is that the Orioles were able to find enough raw talent to be a top club but were unable to develop it. It’s not so hard to develop a scenario where this club really did look like the team I described earlier in this article.
In the end, perhaps this franchise over the past four years is best described by Dylan Bundy. Both had so much potential to do great things, but despite some success were unable to truly become stars. Bundy had a strong 2012 when he looked like he was ready to become a top starter. He was considered a top prospect by Baseball America for a number of years. The Orioles have been to the playoffs in 2012 and 2014 while having respectable seasons in 2013 and 2015. They’ve had one of the highest win totals in baseball over the past four years. But what ultimately matters is performance on the big league level and whether or not teams end up winning a World Series. Who cares which team won the AL East in 2003? Both the Orioles and Bundy’s results weren’t bad per se, but you look back at both of them and wonder what could have been.
And now, the Orioles really resemble Dylan Bundy. Most commentators see a few sparks of talent in this Orioles club; they look at guys like Manny Machado and Chris Davis, but ultimately don’t think the Orioles will be successful this year. They simply have too many weaknesses. Likewise, it’s possible to see the talent in Dylan Bundy. He’s still got talent, but it’s been three years since he’s been in the majors and people are wondering whether he can be successful. And even if he can succeed, will he ever be able to start? Can he truly develop his potential?
Everyone is simply asking question after question about this team and player. Looks like they both get a chance to answer their critics starting right now. Play Ball!