There has been a Charm City resurgence as the Orioles have made the playoffs two times within the last four years, snapping a postseason drought dating back to the Roberto Alomar Era. They ran roughshod over their AL East competition in 2014, capturing 96 wins while finishing a massive 12 games ahead of anyone in the division. Had a scalding hot Royals team not stood in their way in the ALCS, they very well could have won it all.
Now, just two years later, they seem destined for the AL East cellar. What happened?
What they did last year:
Whereas yesterday Tanya noted that the Red Sox were absolutely terrible in 2015, the Orioles were perfectly mediocre. The O's slipped from division champions to 81-81, just barely avoiding their first under-.500 season since their renaissance began. They managed to catch up to the Yankees and held a share of first place on July 2nd, but they were a 39-44 team the rest of the way. Although they climbed to within four games of the Blue Jays on August 17th, they were never really that close again.
On the bright side, Chris Davis recaptured his 2013 form with a 47-bomb season, Adam Jones was his usual solid self, and Manny Machado was a pure superstar with 7.1 WAR. There weren't too many other positives however, and they were doomed by a dismal rotation outside of Wei-Yin Chen. Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Kevin Gausman all had setbacks and Bud Norris was so awful that he was gone by early August. A merely mediocre rotation might have pushed Baltimore into Wild Card contention; this group couldn't even offer that.
Who they lost:
Remember how Chen was the one bright spot in the rotation? Well, he's gone. A free agent for the first time, Chen took his talents to South Beach with the Marlins, leaving the O's in a hell of a bind.
Out-of-nowhere 2014 hero Steve Pearce signed with the Rays, but since he fell back to Earth last year, he's not a great loss. David Lough and Gerardo Parra also bid farewell to Baltimore. Both were disappointing trade acquisitions, so tears will not be shed over them either.
Who they gained:
This section might more effectively be titled "Who they brought back." Fan favorites Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Darren O'Day were all free agents, and all ended up re-signing with the Orioles. Wieters became just the second player to accept a qualifying offer and O'Day inked a nice four-year, $31 million deal to return as the setup man to Zach Britton. The Davis negotiations were long and drawn-out, but owner Peter Angelos finally gave in, bringing him back on a seven-year, $161 million deal. That could end up looking ugly soon, but "in dingers we trust."
Speaking of "in dingers we trust," GM Dan Duquette probably made that his 2016 motto. He acquired masher Mark Trumbo in an early December deal for backup catcher Steve Clevenger and then swooped into the Korean baseball market that impressed with the Pirates' Jung Ho Kang last year to pick up outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who hit 28 homers last year in the KBO. To top it all off, Duquette gave Pedro Alvarez a home in March after the former NL home run leader struggled to move on from Pittsburgh in the off-season.
While all the dingers are nice, the only move Duquette made to address the dismal rotation was signing Yovani Gallardo late in February to a two-year, $22 million deal. Since they lost a draft pick for the middling starter, the signing was viewed with mixed results, particularly when they let Dexter Fowler (who would have cost another pick but made sense for a one-two punch) slip through their fingers.
An ode to Manny Machado:
The Orioles basically need Machado to repeat his terrific 2015 to keep them in contention, and both Davis and Jones will have to keep pace too. Young second baseman Jonathan Schoop slugged .482 in just 86 games last year, so a full season of that would go a long way toward helping them. Healthy rebounds from Wieters and J.J. Hardy would also be appreciated, though Hardy might be a long shot since his shoulder is still ailing.
Baltimore is going to have an awfully difficult time returning to the playoffs if Tillman, Gausman, and Gonzalez can't rebound though. They really need to stop tinkering with Gausman and just let him start for a full season and see what happens. Everyone in that rotation is a question mark, but none more so than Ubaldo Jimenez. He was so disappointing in his first season that he was left off the 2014 playoff roster. Then he had a 2.81 ERA and 98 strikeouts in the first half of 2015, only to completely fall apart down the stretch.
Ubaldo is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ personified.
The Orioles can take solace in the fact that no one stands out in the AL East right now, so if the bounces go their way as they did in 2014, they could defy the last place predictions and end up on top anyway. As they stand now though, they are the least likely team in the division to make the playoffs.
Too many uncertainties need to turn out in Baltimore's favor for them to be expected to finish better than the other four teams. Maybe all the dinger-happy players click and they belt over 200 homers! Maybe the rotation decides to exist! Maybe Dylan Bundy can finally be a thing! Machado will remain a menace and it's not going to fun pitching to that lineup, but due to even shakier starting pitching than their own, the Yankees should finish ahead of the Orioles in 2016.