Tag Archive | "Zach Britton"

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-2 win over Mariners

Posted on 19 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners 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 38th game of the 2016 season.

1st Matt Wieters entered Wednesday with just four extra-base hits on the season before hitting his third home run of 2016 in the second, collecting an RBI double in the fourth, and scoring an insurance run after another double in the eighth. It was the third time in his career in which he registered three extra-base hits in a game and the first one since May 26, 2013 in Toronto. He also made his 700th career start at catcher, becoming the fourth Orioles backstop to accomplish the feat behind Rick Dempsey, Chris Hoiles, and Gus Triandos.

2ndChris Tillman continued his early-season roll by winning his fifth straight start, completing 6 1/3 innings and allowing two runs and four hits while striking out six and walking three. Despite giving up his first homer since April 8 — a stretch of 44 2/3 innings between long balls — Tillman has now struck out at least six hitters in each of his last five starts. He ran his record to 6-1 and now has recorded six consecutive quality starts to match his career high. Tillman is now 7-0 with a 2.96 ERA in nine career starts against the Mariners, who traded him to Baltimore as part of the Erik Bedard trade in 2008.

3rdZach Britton recorded his first five-out save since Aug. 10, 2015 — also against Seattle — and did his best work in the eighth when he inherited a bases-loaded, one-out situation in a 4-2 game and proceeded to strikeout Dae-Ho Lee and induce a grounder from Chris Iannetta to escape the jam. The lefty is now 11-for-11 in save situations to begin the season and passed Jorge Julio for sole possession of fifth place on the Orioles’ all-time saves list with 84 in his career.

HomeMark Trumbo hit a long home run to left in the second inning to put the Orioles on the board early after Tuesday night’s shutout and added a single and a run scored in the fourth. He is now leading the club with 12 home runs on the young season. … Joey Rickard has reached base safely in 11 consecutive games, his second on-base streak of 11 or more games this season. … Making his major-league-best 200th consecutive start, Manny Machado has only one hit in his last 22 at-bats. … The Orioles will send Tyler Wilson to the hill in search of a series win on Wednesday afternoon while Seattle starts right-hander Nathan Karns.

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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’ 5-2 win over Oakland

Posted on 08 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-2 win over the Oakland Athletics to salvage a doubleheader split on Saturday 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 29th game of the 2016 season.

1st Ubaldo Jimenez turned in the Orioles’ second eight-inning start in three games after they hadn’t received one in their first 26 contests of the 2016 season. The right-hander not only held the Athletics to two runs, but he was able to save the bullpen, which is always a concern in the days following a twin bill. Jimenez credited the effectiveness of his two-seam fastball and splitter, but the biggest key may have issuing only one free pass after he had walked at least three in his last four starts. Jimenez only had one perfect inning, but he finished his outing on a high note by striking out the side in the eighth.

2ndChris Davis snapped an 0-for-16 slump by slugging a long two-run shot into the right-center bleachers to open up a 4-0 lead for the Orioles that they wouldn’t relinquish. The blast ended a seven-game homerless streak, his longest drought of the season. Davis is hitting only .206, but sometimes all it takes is one bomb to get the streaky first baseman going at the plate. He is now one home run shy of becoming the third player to hit 100 career homers at Camden Yards, joining Rafael Palmeiro and Adam Jones.

3rdAdam Jones is only hitting .200, but his RBI single in the third gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead and he scored on Davis’ homer. There’s no sugarcoating how much the All-Star center fielder has struggled over the first month of the season as he raised his season average with a 1-for-4 performance.

HomeZach Britton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to collect his seventh save of the season. He struck out Josh Phegley to end the game. … Jonathan Schoop extended his hitting streak to 10 games, the third in his career of 10 or more contests. … Manny Machado has hit safely in eight of his last nine games and now has 22 extra-base hits in 29 games. … Hyun Soo Kim singled and drove in a run with a grounder and has now hit safely in seven of his nine games played this season. … Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick went an impressive 7-for-9 over both games of the doubleheader. … Chris Tillman goes to the hill in search of a series win on Sunday afternoon while the Athletics counter with right-hander Kendall Graveman.

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

Posted on 06 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 1-0 win over the New York Yankees in 10 innings 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 27th game of the 2016 season.

1stKevin Gausman was brilliant in the best start of his career as he tossed eight shutout innings — matching his longest start in the majors — and retired 23 of the 26 hitters he faced in a throwback duel with Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka. The 25-year-old right-hander masterfully used his split-changeup against a lineup featuring seven hitters from the left side of the plate, and all four of his strikeouts came on that pitch. In a game in which Gausman’s fastball velocity wasn’t great early, he relied more on his two-seam fastball to induce 10 grounders. However, his velocity improved as the game progressed and his fastball was hitting the mid-90s in his final inning of work. Gausman said after the game that he feels more comfortable than ever this season and is no longer questioning his ability to succeed in the majors. His game score of 80 was the highest of his career and he lowered his season ERA to 1.42, more evidence that the young starter is feeling at peace in the major league rotation. The win is an overrated and antiquated stat for pitchers, but it was a shame that Gausman didn’t walk away with one after that effort.

2ndPedro Alvarez owned a career .201 average and a .596 on-base plus slugging percentage in his career against left-handed pitching, but the former Pittsburgh Pirate provided the game-winning sacrifice fly off Yankees closer Andrew Miller to plate the winning run in the 10th. You could argue that Buck Showalter should have used Nolan Reimold as a pinch hitter for Alvarez instead of as a pinch runner for Hyun Soo Kim at third base, but it worked out for the Orioles manager and his club.

3rdZach Britton pitched for the first time since injuring his left ankle on Saturday and impressively struck out the side after a rocky start in the top of the 10th in which he walked the leadoff hitter. His command was erratic as he threw six straight balls to begin the inning, but Britton was able to whiff Mark Teixiera, Carlos Beltran, and Dustin Ackley to retire the side.

HomeJonathan Schoop had a multi-hit game, and it was his single that advanced Kim to third base with no outs in the bottom of the 10th. The second baseman extended his hitting streak to eight games. … Kim went 1-for-3 with a walk and has hit safely in six of his seven games this season. … The Orioles won two out of three from the Yankees despite scoring only five runs in the series and suffering through 21 straight innings without scoring a run until Reimold scored the winning run on Thursday night. They earned their third walk-off win of 2016 and are now 2-0 in extra innings this season. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill on Friday as Baltimore begins a three-game series with the Oakland Athletics, who will start ex-Orioles lefty Rich Hill.

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Orioles keeping options open at shortstop in Hardy’s absence

Posted on 03 May 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The original Orioles lineup written out by Buck Showalter did not have Manny Machado at shortstop in the series opener against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night.

An afternoon conversation with the two-time Gold Glove third baseman, however, prompted the Baltimore manager to change his mind, shifting Machado to his natural shortstop position and moving recalled utility infielder Ryan Flaherty from short to third base. Showalter said earlier this season when Hardy was dealing with a calf issue that he slightly preferred the defensive alignment of Flaherty at third base with Machado at shortstop, but the Orioles will keep all options open with their three-time Gold Glove shortstop now expected to miss at least a month with a hairline fracture in his left foot.

Slick-fielding veteran shortstop Paul Janish remains a strong possibility to be promoted from Triple-A Norfolk in the near future, and Showalter reminded reporters that Pedro Alvarez has also started more than 500 games at the hot corner in his major league career. Of course, Alvarez at third base wouldn’t represent the optimal defensive alignment for a club that puts much emphasis in defense.

“There’s some other things that we could do,” said Showalter about his decision to move Machado to shortstop on Tuesday. “I’d keep in mind, too, that Pedro’s played a lot of third base. He’s actually played more third base than Manny has in the big leagues. There are some options there. I’d like to keep them all open; I’d also like to keep from moving guys around a lot.

“This is the way we’re going to go tonight.”

Drafted as a shortstop out of high school and having played all but two career minor-league games there before he was promoted to the majors in 2012, Machado was only making his ninth career major league start at short on Tuesday night. The Orioles know the 23-year-old can play elite defense at third base, but it remains to be seen just how good his defense would be at shortstop over the long haul.

The best defensive left side of the infield in Hardy’s absence would likely be Janish at shortstop with Machado staying at third, but the former has hit just .216 and posted a .574 on-base plus slugging percentage in parts of seven major league seasons, making him less than ideal for an everyday role. The Orioles would rather not weaken their defense at two positions, but Flaherty is a better third baseman than shortstop, which has facilitated the opportunity for Machado to play his natural position on occasion.

Perhaps the time is now to see how Machado’s incredible skill at third base translates to shortstop over an extended time as Showalter even noted that he’s seen better preparation than ever from the young superstar who was named American League Player of the Month for April.

“It’s just been so much more focused every day,” Showalter said. “You can tell by the look in his eye that he has a real passion for what he’s trying to accomplish for our team.”

Britton encouraged by ankle improvement

Closer Zach Briton was happy that a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed no structural damage to the left ankle he jammed on Saturday, and he hopes to return at some point during the Yankees series.

The lefty reliever played catch on Tuesday afternoon to better gauge how close he was to being 100 percent from a pitching standpoint. Britton told reporters that all pain is virtually gone when he walks after he was on crutches just a couple days earlier.

“I feel a lot better. The flexibility and range of motion is back,” Britton said. “It’s just swollen. It’s got some bruising, but as long as I can manage the pain. That’s going to be the biggest issue right now. Does it hurt me doing baseball things — covering first, having to field the bunt, or what not? Those are things that I’m going to have to test out.”

Gallardo update

It remains unclear when starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo (right shoulder tendinitis) will resume throwing, but Showalter is hoping they’ll see a better pitcher than the one who posted a 7.00 ERA in 18 innings last month.

“I’m very optimistic about the return we’re going to get on some of the things that he’s doing,” Showalter said. “Hopefully, he’s moving towards throwing here before too long.”

The 30-year-old was sent to the 15-day disabled list with an arm-related ailment for the first time in his career on April 23.

Harvey sidelined again

Showalter confirmed that top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey underwent sports hernia surgery on Tuesday, the latest challenge in a career that’s been derailed by various injuries since July 2014.

However, the Orioles aren’t as concerned with the current ailment since it has nothing to do with the elbow issues he experienced in each of the previous two seasons.

“If he pitches from June, July on and finishes up strong like we think he can, I think he’s OK,” Showalter said. “But we’d really like to see him get the ball every fifth day at some point there and kind of get some of that experience he needs to finish off some things [with his development].”

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Hardy reportedly expected to miss 6-8 weeks with hairline fracture

Posted on 02 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s fears were realized Monday as shortstop J.J. Hardy will be sidelined with a hairline fracture in his left foot.

According to MASN, Hardy is expected to miss six to eight weeks after fouling a ball off his left foot in the fourth inning of Sunday’s loss to the Chicago White Sox. The 33-year-old infielder temporarily stayed in the game before leaving in the sixth inning as Pedro Alvarez took his place in the lineup and Manny Machado shifted from third base to shortstop.

It remains to be seen how the Orioles will handle Hardy’s absence, but it appears likely that utility infielder Ryan Flaherty will be recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take his place on the 25-man roster. Baltimore could move Machado to shortstop with Flaherty serving as the primary third baseman, but Chris Davis and Pedro Alvarez have also played at the hot corner in the past.

Another option would be 33-year-old infielder Paul Janish, who is currently hitting .318 at Triple-A Norfolk and plays superb defense at shortstop. However, he owns a career .216 average in the majors with a .574 on-base plus slugging percentage in 1,242 plate appearances over seven seasons.

Regardless of what the Orioles decided to do, the injury is a definite blow from both offensive and defensive perspectives.

In other injury-related news, pitching prospect Hunter Harvey is expected to undergo sports hernia surgery this week and will be sidelined for several weeks.

On the positive side, MASN reports that Zach Britton’s left ankle continues to feel better and the All-Star closer could even be available to pitch at some point during the three-game series with the New York Yankees beginning Tuesday night.

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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’ 3-2 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’ 4-3 win over Toronto

Posted on 21 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays 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 13th game of the 2016 season.

1stManny Machado wasted no time extending his hitting streak to 13 games with his RBI double in the first inning, but his most impressive at-bats came late in the game when it was clear that Toronto pitching wanted no part of the All-Star third baseman. Coming to the plate with a runner in scoring position in both the eighth and the 10th, Machado saw a total of one strike while patiently taking walks to continue the innings. A couple years ago, he might have expanded the zone to try to be the hero in those situations, but he instead drew his free passes on Wednesday night. It was the kind of maturity at the plate that sometimes makes you forget that Machado is just 23 years old. His 2-for-3 night raised his average to .407 on the season.

2ndJoey Rickard collected three hits, scored the first run of the game, and threw out Ryan Goins at the plate to end the top of the sixth inning and protect a one-run lead at the time. Two of the three hits were of the infield variety, but the Rule 5 pick continues to show good speed to put pressure on infielders when he hits the ball on the ground. Though he’s only drawn two walks to this point in the season, Rickard saw a total of 30 pitches in his five plate appearances on Wednesday, which is exactly what you want to see from a leadoff hitter. He leads all major league rookies with 18 hits this season.

3rdAdam Jones offered the Orioles’ defensive play of the year so far as he laid out in a head-first dive in shallow right-center to catch a sinking liner off the bat of Jose Baustista in the top of the seventh. The play temporarily saved a run as Michael Saunders inexplicably failed to tag up and score, but the Blue Jays left fielder came around to touch home plate on Edwin Encarnacion’s two-out double. That said, Jones taking away a hit from Bautista might have been the difference between a tie game and Toronto going ahead on Encarnacion’s extra-base hit if Bautista had been on base.

Home — The bullpen wasn’t flawless but allowed only one run in five innings of work, and Zach Britton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth against the top of the order to headline the group’s effort. … Jonathan Schoop made fine defensive plays to end the ninth and 10th innings, the latter being a 4-6-3 double play to strand a runner in scoring position. … Baltimore has pitched to a 2.11 ERA in seven games at Camden Yards so far this season. … According to STATS, Wednesday marked the first walk-off win in Orioles history coming on a passed ball. … The Orioles send Chris Tillman to the mound in search of a series win on Thursday while the Blue Jays will go with Marco Estrada.

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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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