As the Baltimore Orioles begin their 2018 regular season campaign on Thursday, they have five major questions to answer.
How improved is Baltimore’s starting rotation?
The Orioles started spring training with just Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman as their only penciled-in starters, after moving on from free-agent pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson. Baltimore finished with the 29th ranked ERA in the MLB in 2017 (4.97). Initially, it was believed that the club would allow Nestor Cortes, Mike Wright, Miguel Castro and other starters to compete for the three remaining spots on the staff. That didn’t happen.
First, Baltimore signed Andrew Cashner, who went 11-11, with a 3.40 ERA and 1.320 WHIP in 166.2 innings pitched in 2017. Baltimore would also bring back a familiar face in Chris Tillman, who battled injury in 2017. Though Tillman finished with a 1-7 record, 7.84 ERA and 1.892 WHIP in 2017, he has regained strength in his shoulder and seems to have the same arm slot that he had when he pitched to a 3.77 ERA in 2016. Lastly, the Orioles added Alex Cobb, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, who pitched to a 12-10 record, 3.66 ERA and 1.221 WHIP in 179.1 innings. If they can get more from Gausman, Bundy and Tillman, as well as Cashner and Cobb staying consistent, Baltimore’s rotation will be much improved.
Who will be the lead off for the Orioles?
There are recent reports that first baseman Chris Davis would be considered for the leadoff role at the beginning of the 2018 regular season. Davis has never batted in the leadoff role and has only 56 career at-bats in the number two hole (.214 batting average). Davis had his second poorest season as an Oriole in 2017, slashing .215/.309/.423, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 61 runs. There is hope that Davis getting extra at-bats can do the team some good.
“There’s that potential, and to get him at-bats as much as possible, but there’s that potential,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Davis. “It’s something we’ve looked at since last year, especially with our team.”
Left fielder Trey Mancini hasn’t been discussed much as a leadoff candidate. However, he batted .293/.338/.488, hitting 22 home runs and driving in 78 runs, so his ability to get on-base is enticing for Baltimore.
Another candidate to lead off is third baseman Tim Beckham. Beckham batted .278/.328/.454, hitting 22 home runs and driving in 62 RBI in 533 at-bats between the Rays and Orioles. As the leadoff man, Beckham batted .259 in 212 at-bats in 2017. With Beckham’s speed, he’s looked at as a player who could possibly set the table for the rest of the lineup.
Will there be any complications from Beckham and Manny Machado switching positions?
During spring training, the two players have fielded their new full-time positions pretty well. Both players have fielded their new positions in the past, so there hasn’t been too much of an issue. Machado has logged 433.0 innings at shortstop in the majors, though Beckham has only played 52.0 innings at third base.
”I go out there and I play,” Machado said, via the Associated Press. ”It’s my natural position. I’ve always been able to do it. It’s just a matter of getting the repetitions. Every day that goes by, I feel better and better. I’m just looking forward to this year. It’s going to be special, and I’m going to do a lot of special things over there.”
As a pending free agent, is Machado primed for a MVP season?
As for Machado, he’s in the best shape of his career. He’s slimmed down and is about to become a free agent at the end of the season. Despite having a down year in 2017, batting .259/.310/.471, he still hit 33 home runs and drove in 95 runs.
At 25-years old, Machado is about to enter his prime years and is in a contract season. If Machado can play in 2018 as he did in 2016, he will be a candidate for MVP. Will he improve upon his career-high .294 batting average that he had in 2016?
How will Baltimore’s bullpen produce this season?
Orioles closer Zach Britton is most likely on the shelf until at least late-May. Brad Brach (3.18 ERA, 18 saves in 2017) will take his place in the bullpen. Mychal Givens (2.75 ERA) has been talked about as Baltimore’s possible closer of the future. Richard Bleier (1.99 ERA) had an impressive season last year and may take a more expanded role in Baltimore’s bullpen. Darren O’Day (3.43 ERA) is the elder statesman of the bullpen, at age 35 and being in his seventh season in Baltimore.
As for other pitchers, Baltimore will most likely go to Castro (3.53 ERA), Cortes or Wright and Pedro Araujo. Castro could eventually be stretched out to become a starter, but will be used as a middle or long reliever for the time being. Araujo is another player that is intriguing for Baltimore, as the 24-year old is also a Rule 5 draft pick.
More predictions and analysis at Doc’s Sports.
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