With a tiebreaker in hand over the Oakland Athletics, but a last-place finish in the American League East, the Baltimore Orioles are the next stop on our climb of the Major League Baseball standings this offseason.
Things looked promising for the Orioles to start 2017, especially after an 89-73 season in 2016. But after a 15-8 start in April, the rollercoaster ride began May 9 and the Orioles dropped from 12 games above .500 with a half-game lead in the AL East, to just three games above .500 and 3.5 games back by the end of the month.
By July 31, the Orioles were three games under .500, in third place and 6.5 games back of the surging New York Yankees. However, they sat just 3.5 games back of the floundering Kansas City Royals for the second Wild Card slot. The Orioles saw an opportunity and sprinted to a 17-12 record in August and finished just a game and a half back of the second Wild Card spot.
But as we know, the season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the Orioles ran out of gas and finished the season on fumes to the tune of 7-21 in the final month.
Put simply, the Orioles lacked the plate discipline in 2017 to have much success. The O’s boasted big sticks by finishing fourth in the AL in homers, but they also struck out more than 11 AL teams and finished 14th in walks. There has to be a balance. First-time All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop led the Orioles offensively with a .293 average and 105 RBIs.
The second worst pitching staff in the AL, the Orioles tossed a 4.97 ERA in 2017. They failed to keep runners off the bases or get anybody to swing and miss with 9.4 hits per nine innings and a 2.13 strikeout to walk ratio. Second-year starter Dylan Bundy was the lone bright spot in the starting rotation with the only winning record at 13-9, which is still not fantastic.
Despite tying for turning the most double plays in MLB and not committing too many errors, defense was really a struggle for the Orioles as they were below average at nearly every position. They were solid behind the plate with catcher Wellington Castillo, third baseman Manny Machado and Schoop, but had issues everywhere else. The Baltimore outfield was horrendous and rated the second worst in the AL according the wins above average by position.
The Orioles are looking to build for the future, and nothing is more evident than their willingness to shop Machado, who had a down year (by his standards) in 2017. Schoop has shown that he can be the guy for this team. The unfortunate thing for Baltimore, however, is that it has just two players on the MLB.com top-100 prospects list. One is catching prospect Chance Sisco at number 45, the other is outfielder Austin Hays at 89. We know catching isn’t an issue, but Hays could make an immediate impact in a downtrodden outfield. Scouts say Hays has the bat, speed and arm to make in impact at the top level in a hurry.
Photo by Brigham Berthold