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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-4 win over Indians

Posted on 29 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 6-4 win over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 48th game of the 2016 season.

1stDarren O’Day couldn’t have inherited a much worse spot in the eighth with runners on second and third and no outs and the Orioles clinging to a one-run lead. Instead of wilting under the pressure, the 2015 All-Star reliever proceeded to retire Mike Napoli on a grounder to third and strike out both Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes swinging to end the inning with the lead intact. Manager Buck Showalter revealed after the game that he was trying to stay away from his reliever because he was under the weather, but O’Day couldn’t have come up bigger for the Orioles on Sunday.

2ndHyun Soo Kim picked the perfect time for his first major league homer, hammering a Jeff Manship fastball into the right-field seats to give Baltimore a 5-4 lead in the seventh. In what was his fifth consecutive start, the South Korean outfielder continued to take advantage of his increased opportunities by also drawing a walk out of the second spot in the order. We still don’t know whether Kim can be an everyday player in the majors, but his .383 average and .463 on-base percentage have provided quite the argument for Showalter to continue penciling his name into the lineup.

3rdMark Trumbo provided the immediate lift that the Orioles needed after Saturday’s deflating loss by crushing a three-run double off rookie Mike Clevinger in the top of the first inning. After scuffling for much of the road trip, Trumbo hit a big two-run blast on Friday and drove in half of the Orioles’ runs on Sunday to close out the weekend series at Progressive Field.

HomeNolan Reimold hit his fourth homer of the season in the top of the ninth off former Oriole Tommy Hunter to make it a 6-4 game. Considering Zach Britton allowed back-to-back singles to begin the bottom of the ninth, Reimold’s homer provided some much-needed breathing room. … Britton quickly settled down to collect his 14th save in as many tries this season. … Despite allowing a season-high three homers on the afternoon, Tillman collected his seventh win of the year. … In his 66th plate appearance of the season, Ryan Flaherty hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth for his first RBI of 2016. … It was downright ugly at times, but the Orioles could feel better about a 4-5 road trip with Sunday’s win to give them series wins in two of the three cities in which they played. … Baltimore returns to Camden Yards on Monday afternoon to take on the first-place Boston Red Sox with Tyler Wilson scheduled to take on knuckleballer Steven Wright.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 1-0 win over Detroit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 33rd game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman continues to look the part of an ace early on as he went toe to toe with 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and tossed seven shutout innings for his fifth victory of the season. Despite getting off to his customary slow start by allowing a total of four baserunners and throwing 38 pitches over his first two frames, Tillman settled in nicely to retire 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced. He recorded an impressive 13 swinging strikes and struck out seven batters, the final two coming immediately after he surrendered a leadoff double to Nick Castellanos in the top of the seventh. The right-hander has now posted five consecutive quality starts and has struck out an impressive 36 batters over those 33 innings of work. His season ERA now sits at a strong 2.58.

2ndAdam Jones picked the opportune time to hit his 200th career home run as he knocked a 92 mph fastball from Verlander into the Orioles bullpen with one out in the bottom of the sixth for the only run of the game. It was the third straight time that Jones had swung at a first-pitch fastball, and the center fielder didn’t miss one of the few mistake pitches made by the Detroit right-hander. The RBI moved Jones into sole possession of eighth place on the Orioles’ all-time list with 663, surpassing Melvin Mora. After a difficult start to the season, Jones has now homered in three of his last four games and has raised his average from .200 to .248 over that time.

3rdZach Britton induced three grounders for a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record his 10th save in as many tries to begin 2016. It was his 83rd career save, tying the left-hander with Jorge Julio for fifth place on the Orioles’ all-time saves list.

HomeDarren O’Day worked around a leadoff single to retire the side in the eighth inning, which included getting Miguel Cabrera out for the second straight night in a close game. … The Orioles beat the Tigers by a 1-0 score for the first time since Sept. 23, 1981 at Memorial Stadium. It was the second shutout victory of the season for Baltimore. … Mark Trumbo saw his 25-game on-base streak snapped in an 0-for-3 night. … The Orioles can clinch a series win on Saturday night with Mike Wright going to the hill against Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 7-5 win over Tigers

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 7-5 come-from-behind win over the Detroit Tigers on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 33rd game of the 2016 season.

1st — Jonathan Schoop had never tripled in his major league career before lining a ball down the right-field line to plate two runs and give the Orioles their first lead of the night to cap off a five-run seventh inning. The second baseman also drove in Baltimore’s second run of the night with an infield single an inning earlier as the Tigers bullpen began losing its grip on a 5-0 lead. Schoop has hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games with two doubles, a triple, two home runs, and seven RBIs over that stretch.

2ndChris Davis doubled to left-center to plate the first Orioles run off Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey in the sixth, but his next at-bat was even more impressive as he lined an 0-2 fastball from lefty Justin Wilson into right for a run-scoring single to make it a 5-4 game in the bottom of the seventh. Davis would then score the go-ahead run on Schoop’s triple to complete his two-RBI, two-run night.

3rdPedro Alvarez entered the game with just one hit off left-handed pitching this season and had already lined out to center off southpaw Kyle Ryan with two runners on in the sixth, but he became the second lefty to collect a key hit off Wilson in the seventh when he singled past first baseman Miguel Cabrera to drive in the tying run with two outs. He also drew a walk and lifted his season average to .212.

HomeDarren O’Day walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth, but he then retired the heart of the Tigers order to preserve the 7-5 lead. … The Orioles improved to 5-6 in games in which they haven’t homered this season after going 11-39 in that department in 2015. … Mark Trumbo went 0-for-3, but he drew a walk in the sixth to extend his on-base streak to a major-league best 25 consecutive games, according to MLB Network. … Zach Britton earned his ninth save of the season and his 82nd career save with the Orioles, one shy of tying Jorge Julio for fifth place on the club’s all-time saves list. … Adam Jones collected his 662nd RBI with the Orioles, tying Melvin Mora for eighth place on the club’s all-time list. … The Orioles’ five-game winning streak is their second longest of the season, topped only by their 7-0 start to 2016. … On Friday, Chris Tillman goes to the hill trying to improve to 5-1 on the season while the Tigers will start 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Yankees

Posted on 04 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Tuesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 25th game of the 2016 season.

1stMark Trumbo continues to give the Orioles everything they could have asked for in the offseason trade with Seattle as he hit two home runs and drove in three runs on the night. His first homer in the second inning was an absolute bomb to left with an exit velocity of 113 miles per hour and an estimated distance of 405 feet to tie the game at 1-1. He hit his second shot off Luis Severino in the fifth to give the Orioles a 4-1 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Trumbo isn’t going to hit .337 for the entire season, but it’s tough not to be reminded of the impact Nelson Cruz brought in 2014 when you see the right fielder continuously driving the ball with authority and leading the Orioles in home runs so far this season. It was the ninth multi-homer game of his career and second this season.

2ndChris Tillman was excellent for a second straight outing as he held the struggling New York lineup to one run and five hits over seven innings, his deepest start of the young season. The right-hander struggled with his fastball command at times and walked four hitters on the night, but he used his secondary pitches effectively to keep hitters off balance and struck out nine to match his career high. Four of those strikeouts came via his slider, three by his changeup, and two by his fastball, but his curveball was also an effective pitch for much of the night. Tillman lowered his season ERA to an impressive 2.81 in 32 innings, and he is now averaging 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, which is markedly better than his 6.7 career average entering the 2016 season.

3rdBrad Brach faced four left-handed hitters in the eighth inning, but the reliever only allowed a soft one-out single to pinch hitter Dustin Ackley in a scoreless frame against the heart of the Yankees order. The lefty-heavy lineup might have been best suited for lefty specialist Brian Matusz in past years, but Brach has held lefties to a .148 average and Matusz has struggled since being activated from the disabled list late last month. Brach lowered his season ERA to 1.18 and has arguably been the Orioles’ most valuable reliever so far.

HomeChris Davis went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, but he continues to play excellent defense as he scooped a couple balls in the dirt and made a good throw to second to get the lead runner on a close play in the fourth. Buck Showalter said after the game that his first baseman is playing Gold Glove-caliber defense so far in 2016, and it would tough to argue. … With Zach Britton still resting his left ankle, Darren O’Day picked up his 16th career save and second of the season in a scoreless ninth. The Orioles are 11-1 in games in which he pitches. … Baltimore collected its sixth straight win over the Yankees, a stretch dating back to Sept. 8 of last season. … The Yankees lost their season-high sixth consecutive game and have now scored three or fewer runs in eight of their last nine games. They’re eight games below .500 for the first time since May 29, 2007. … The Orioles retook first place in the AL East after Boston fell to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night. … Tyler Wilson goes to the hill on Wednesday against New York southpaw CC Sabathia.

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Orioles, Britton hoping he can avoid trip to disabled list

Posted on 01 May 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 6:15 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — Despite using crutches to walk around the clubhouse on Sunday, Orioles closer Zach Britton told reporters he doesn’t expect to go on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left ankle.

The 2015 All-Star selection was injured trying to field a bunt in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s 8-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Britton had to leave the game and was limping as he walked to the dugout with head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, but his prognosis hadn’t changed since initially being labeled as “day-to-day” a night earlier.

“Not much swelling. I think he’ll be a pitcher shortly — hopefully,” said manager Buck Showalter, who later revealed after Sunday’s game that Britton would undergo a precautionary magnetic resonance imaging exam on Monday. “It’s the left one. I actually kind of like that a little better than the right one. I’d rather have that one as opposed to the landing foot, but it was more like he kind of jammed the capsule in there a little bit as opposed to turning it. The lack of swelling kind of reiterated what Richie thought it was looking at the tape.”

It remains to be seen whom Showalter might use as his closer in Britton’s absence, and he was predictably tight-lipped about it when asked by reporters.

As the Orioles prepared to conclude a four-game set with Chicago, Showalter acknowledged there were a “couple” relief pitchers he wouldn’t use on Sunday, adding more intrigue to the possibility of a save situation. Having pitched in three of the last four games and throwing 35 pitches over the last two nights, primary setup man Darren O’Day was likely to be unavailable on Sunday. Givens also pitched in two of the first three games of the series and tossed a combined 50 pitches in those outings, leaving his status for the series finale in question.

The Orioles will be off on Monday, which will give Britton another day to recover and Showalter an opportunity to better set up his bullpen for a three-game series with the New York Yankees.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-1 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 27 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 20th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman was terrific as he turned in his deepest outing of the year with 6 2/3 shutout innings and struck out nine to match his career high. The right-hander only allowed four baserunners as Rays hitters consistently struggled to make contact with eight of his nine strikeouts coming on swings. The biggest moment of his night came in the fourth inning when he struck out Chris Dickerson on a 95 mph fastball with runners on second and third and one out and then got Desmond Jennings to fly out to retire the side. Tillman hasn’t been much of a strikeout pitcher in his career, but his velocity is up so far this season and it was good to see him reach back for a little extra against Dickerson in such a big spot. He also effectively used his slider and curveball to miss bats as the night progressed. If not for the fact that he had a rested bullpen, manager Buck Showalter could have gone a little deeper with Tillman, who struck out four of the last six batters he faced and threw 101 pitches.

2ndJoey Rickard brought a sigh of relief to the Orioles dugout when he smacked a three-run shot into the left-field seats off Matt Moore with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. The Orioles had scored only one run in their previous 30 innings before the Rule 5 pick hit his second home run of the season. It would prove to be all the Orioles would need and the rest of the lineup took that literally as Tampa Ray retired 13 in a row after Rickard’s blast. The clutch hit snapped a 2-for-22 slump for the young outfielder.

3rdBrad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning despite a two-out walk and has now allowed only one run in his 13 1/3 innings to begin the 2016 season. The right-hander entered Wednesday holding left-handed hitters to a .158 average before retiring all three lefties he faced in the inning. That’s as good as any lefty specialist many clubs would typically use in such a situation.

Home — In addition to making a sliding catch in the third inning, Nolan Reimold worked a four-pitch walk with two outs and nobody on in the fifth to begin the rally that culminated with Rickard’s home run. … Pitching for the first time since April 21, Darren O’Day retired Steven Souza Jr. for the final out of the seventh and has yet to be scored upon through his first nine appearances of 2016. … Adam Jones went 0-for-4 and is now hitting .196 on the season. … Chris Davis was also hitless, but he was robbed of an extra-base hit in the fourth when Souza made a tremendous diving catch on the warning track in right-center. … Beginning a stretch of 17 of their next 20 games at home on Thursday night, the Orioles will send Tyler Wilson to the hill to open a four-game set against lefty John Danks and the Chicago White Sox.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-2 win over Toronto

Posted on 22 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 14th game of the 2016 season.

1stManny Machado went 2-for-5 and actually saw his batting average fall a smidgen from .4074 to .4067, illustrating how incredible his start has been. The All-Star third baseman put the Orioles on the board with an RBI single in the first and blooped a double down the right-field line to plate the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning. His 14-game hitting streak has matched a career high set in 2013 and has made him only the third player in Orioles history to hit safely in the first 14 games of a season, joining Brian Roberts (2005) and Eddie Murray (1982). Machado entered Thursday with the most hits in the AL and was tied for the major league lead with Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. It has to be terrifying for the rest of the AL to wonder if the 23-year-old might be even better than he was last year.

2ndChris Tillman looked a lot like the pitcher who posted a 11.72 ERA against the Blue Jays in 2015 in the first inning, throwing 38 pitches while allowing two runs, two hits, two walks, and a hit by pitch. However, the right-hander mixed his curveball and slider effectively as the night progressed and he managed to register his first quality start of the season by not allowing a run over his next five innings of work. Toronto squared up a few balls hit directly at fielders over the course of the night, but Thursday turned out to be a vintage performance from Tillman in which he started slowly before regrouping to turn in a solid six-inning outing. That’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted against a very dangerous lineup.

3rdJoey Rickard only saw his legend grow on Thursday when he literally lined a ball through Toronto third baseman Josh Donald’s glove, a feat on par with Roy Hobbs tearing the cover off the ball in “The Natural.” In all seriousness, it was another impressive game for the rookie left fielder as he also stole the first base of his major league career before scoring on Machado’s single in the first. Rickard started the game-winning rally in the eighth inning with a single to center before advancing to second on a passed ball and aggressively scoring on Machado’s bloop double. It was a 3-for-5 night for Rickard, who is now hitting .350 and has hit safely in 13 of 14 games this season.

HomeDarren O’Day may have walked nemesis Jose Bautista on four pitches, but he turned in a masterful eighth inning against the heart of the Blue Jays order by striking out Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Troy Tulowitzki. … Chris Davis registered four walks, a new career high, and currently has a .397 on-base percentage despite a .208 batting average. … Zach Britton recorded his 77th career save, moving past Randy Myers for sole possession of sixth place on the Orioles’ all-time saves list. … Dylan Bundy recorded the first strikeout of his major league career as he pitched on consecutive nights for the first time this season. … The Orioles are now 3-0 in games in which they’ve failed to hit a home run after going 11-39 in that department last year. … Matt Wieters was ejected for only the second time in his career after he was called out on a check-swing attempt by home plate umpire Dan Bellino, who drew the ire of both teams for an inconsistent strike zone throughout the game. … The Orioles begin a six-game road trip on Friday by sending Yovani Gallardo to the hill in Kansas City where he’ll be opposed by Royals right-hander Chris Young.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Minnesota

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins to complete a three-game sweep on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the third game of the 2016 season.

1stUbaldo Jimenez didn’t look like he would complete seven strong innings early on, but he induced a 1-4-3 double play from Trevor Plouffe to escape a jam in the third inning and turned his outing around from there. The right-hander retired 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced, striking out eight over that stretch. Minnesota hitters were on his fastball early, but Jimenez mixed in his secondary pitches more effectively the second and third times through the order and his split-finger fastball was particularly sharp. Known for his occasional control issues, Jimenez didn’t walk a batter while striking out nine and scattering eight hits. His outing not only allowed the Orioles to remain within striking distance, but he saved a bullpen that had worked 11 innings over the first two games of the series.

2ndManny Machado was moved out of the leadoff spot for the Orioles on Thursday, but he still served as the catalyst for a lineup that was scuffling against Minnesota starter Phil Hughes for much of the evening. His home run to left with two outs in the bottom of the sixth reminded the rest of the order that a 2-0 deficit was far from insurmountable and the Orioles responded with three more runs over the next couple innings to surge ahead. The first-pitch homer came after Machado was locked in during his previous at-bat, a nine-pitch battle in the fourth that resulted in a line-drive single.

3rd Darren O’Day did have a two-run lead and has proven to be more than capable of handling the closer duties in the past, but he was very impressive in striking out the side to complete the 4-2 victory. The right-hander was also making his third appearance in four days, a heavy workload for this early stage of the season. O’Day recorded six strikeouts in three scoreless innings in the series.

HomeJoey Rickard continued his storybook start to the 2016 season with his first major league homer in the bottom of the eighth. The Rule 5 pick received a curtain call for his efforts as the crowd chanted his name repeatedly. … Jonathan Schoop knocked in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh with a single to center. … Dylan Bundy made his first major league appearance since Sept. 25, 2012 and pitched a scoreless eighth inning after he had warmed up at several other times during the series. … Caleb Joseph threw out two runners attempting to steal, one of them being Danny Santana right before Joe Mauer homered off Jimenez in the first inning. … After throwing only 22 pitches because of a rain delay on Opening Day, Chris Tillman returns to the hill on Friday where he’ll be opposed by Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer to begin a three-game set.

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Five things that must go right for 2016 Orioles

Posted on 31 March 2016 by Luke Jones

At the start of every season, we try to pinpoint what must go to plan and what cannot happen if the Orioles are to have a successful year.

In truth, there are very few absolutes you can count on over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule full of twists and turns.

No one would have predicted a division title if they knew the Orioles would lose both Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in 2014. Last season, the discussion centered around the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and the Orioles ended up scoring more runs than they did the year before — and still finished 81-81 and out of the playoffs.

You just never really know and that’s what makes the game great.

With that truth in mind, below is a stab at five things that must go right for the Orioles in 2016:

1. Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman take the lead for a suspect starting rotation

It’s impossible not to be concerned with the starting five, especially with bounce-back candidate Miguel Gonzalez being released after a poor spring. That’s why Tillman and Gausman are so important to the Orioles’ chances of improving a starter ERA (4.53) that finished 14th in the AL in 2015.

Tillman will once again take the ball on Opening Day and posted a 3.42 ERA from 2012-2014 to lead the rotation, but his 4.99 mark last year was one of the big reasons why the club allowed 100 more runs than it did in 2014. A hip ailment slowed him at the start of spring, but the 27-year-old is still talented and young enough to rebound. The question will be whether it’s enough improvement to move the meter.

Gausman’s right shoulder tendinitis is cause for concern until he’s back on the mound, but the Orioles hope they were proactive in taking care of it. Finally a full-time member of the rotation, Gausman has the ability to become the best pitcher in the rotation if he can master his command of a third pitch to go with his electric fastball and tough split-changeup. At the end of last season, he expressed growing confidence in his curveball after throwing a slider earlier in his major league career.

The Orioles will hope for the best with the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, but inconsistency has followed him his entire career. Newcomer Yovani Gallardo has an impressive track record, but a declining strikeout rate and diminished velocity make him an expensive question mark. After that, the Orioles will hope the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson can handle the final rotation spot.

If Tillman and Gausman can be productive rocks for the rotation, it becomes easier to put together the rest of the group to improve from last season. If not, things could get ugly.

2. The lineup produces its highest run total since 2008

The Orioles have averaged just under 719 runs scored per season over the last four years, but it’s fair to expect more from a lineup that added sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez and hopes to have healthier versions of Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Jonathan Schoop.

Even if the starting rotation can improve from last year, it doesn’t appear to have the kind of ceiling that would make you think the Orioles will stay in serious contention without boosting their run total of 713 from 2015. After finishing third in the majors with 217 homers, the lineup now has two more bats with 30-homer ability in Trumbo and Alvarez, making it arguably the most powerful order in the majors.

The lineup will strike out too much and doesn’t have many hitters with good on-base ability, but it’s not impossible to think the power-hitting Orioles can eclipse the 750-run mark for the first time since 2008.

3. The defense returns to its 2014 level of excellence

Most focus on the demise of the 2015 club fell on the regression of the starting pitching from the previous year, but a rotation that depended on pitching to contact did not have the same quality of defense behind it as in 2014.

Sure, the Orioles committed the fewest errors in the AL, but that traditional measure doesn’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, or the ability to make spectacular plays. After leading the league in defensive runs saved (plus-50) in 2014, the Orioles finished ninth at minus-11 last year.

Healthier versions of Hardy, Schoop, and Adam Jones should improve the overall defense at positions that suffered in their absence last year. And Machado being another year removed from his knee surgeries will likely eliminate the shaky defensive start he had in 2015, making the already-elite third baseman even better in the field.

Of course, Trumbo being projected as the primary right fielder probably won’t help a position that was abysmal for the Orioles at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2015. And it will be interesting to see how a heavier workload for Wieters will impact the defense behind the plate after Caleb Joseph finished second on the 2015 club with 12 defensive runs saved.

If the starting pitching improves enough in 2016, the defense will likely have a lot to do with it.

4. The bullpen becomes even more dominant than it was the last few years

How can you expect much more from a group that finished third in the AL in bullpen ERA over the last two years and posted a 3.21 mark in 2015?

Full-season contributions from Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy give a deep bullpen even more upside than it already had with 2015 All-Star selections Zach Britton and Darren O’Day leading the way. There is some short-term concern about the lefty specialist role with Brian Matusz ailing this spring, but the Orioles have right-handed relievers such as O’Day and Brad Brach who are effective against left-handed hitting to help pick up the slack for the time being.

Long-term depth might be even more important than dominance late in games with the serious questions about the starting rotation. Fortunately, there are a couple more capable arms such as Oliver Drake waiting in the wings at Triple-A Norfolk.

Manager Buck Showalter is as good as they come handling relievers, so you trust his ability to keep them fresh for the long haul. At the same time, the starting rotation might test the bullpen like it hasn’t faced in several years.

5. Someone other than Machado emerges as the leadoff hitter

Machado did an admirable job primarily serving in the top spot in the order with a career-high .359 on-base percentage, but his run-producing ability is better utilized in the second or third spot.

Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard figures to receive some early opportunities in the leadoff role after winning the starting left field job to begin the year. He had a .390 career on-base percentage in the minors, but will that ability translate to the majors considering his limited power that will prompt pitchers to challenge him with strikes and better stuff at a higher level?

Veteran Nolan Reimold could also factor into the equation as he had a .344 OBP in 195 plate appearances last year.

It isn’t as important that the Orioles move Machado out of the leadoff spot as it is to find a replacement who is truly deserving of hitting at the top of the order. If they do, the offense can better maximize its power capabilities and score more runs to help out a starting rotation that remains the biggest concern entering 2016.

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2016 Orioles preview: Darren O’Day

Posted on 16 March 2016 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than three weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2016 Orioles every day as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in five years this season.

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman
March 3 – Jonathan Schoop
March 4 – Brad Brach
March 5 – Nolan Reimold
March 6 – Yovani Gallardo
March 7 – Matt Wieters
March 8 – T.J. McFarland
March 9 – Dariel Alvarez
March 10 – Brian Matusz
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Mychal Givens
March 13 – Ryan Flaherty
March 14 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 15 – Mark Trumbo

RP Darren O’Day

Age: 33

Contract status: Under contract through the 2019 season

2015 stats: 6-2, 6 saves, 1.52 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.3 K/IP, 1.9 BB/IP, 5 HR, 65 1/3 innings

Why to be impressed: The 2015 All-Star selection posted career bests in ERA, strikeout rate, and walk rate last year and has pitched 62 or more innings in each of his four seasons in Baltimore. Making it more impressive was the fact that opponents posted a .278 batting average on balls in play, which is higher than his .256 career mark and indicates his career year came without the benefit of much luck.

Why to be concerned: It’s remarkable that O’Day set a career high in strikeouts at age 32, so one would reasonably expect his strikeout rate to regress closer to the 9.2 per nine innings he averaged from 2012-2014. The Orioles made a four-year, $31 million commitment to O’Day, but he’s approaching his mid-30s and manager Buck Showalter may need to monitor his workload a bit more moving forward.

2016 outlook: Every year you wonder if O’Day can continue to be so dominant and he only managed to get better in his contract season that resulted in a big payday this winter. It would be a lot to ask the right-hander to be as superb as he was in 2015, but there’s little reason to think he won’t continue to be the backbone of the Baltimore bullpen like he has been for the last four years.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: 5-3, 5 saves, 1.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.6 K/IP, 2.3 BB/IP, 6 HR, 64 innings

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