Baltimore Orioles: What to Make of the 2016 Birds

Aug 17, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; The Oriole Bird holds up a broom after the Baltimore Orioles completed a sweep of the Oakland Athletics with a 4-2 victory at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 17, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; The Oriole Bird holds up a broom after the Baltimore Orioles completed a sweep of the Oakland Athletics with a 4-2 victory at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /

With the Baltimore Orioles spring training season of 2016 headed toward the homestretch, what are we to think and feel about this version of the Birds?

Here on The Baltimore Wire, we are a part of the FanSided Sports Network. We write from the perspective of the fan of a team, without apology. We are like you who read, passionate about our Birds. Our goal is not to be the blandly objective and dispassionate outside party looking in and just reporting about what goes on. No, we are invested in the team, yet not to the extent that we gloss over everything that goes awry, like a grandfather who sees no wrong in his grandkids. We want to speak the truth, good or bad.

Honestly, I’m finding some personal difficulty in getting as excited about this team and the coming season as I have been in recent years. And I’m trying to understand that, even while I write this piece as a sort of catharsis.

It may be simply because of the terribly unpredictable nature of this particular roster and squad. I can visualize the 2016 Orioles as anywhere between World Series Champions and losers who sink the team back to pre-2012 levels of despair.

Those who like big-time home run power and money spent on big-name players to drive the ball out of the relatively small confines of OPACY are going to look forward to this season. But those who buy the philosophy that it is ALL about the starting pitching and that EVERYTHING rises and falls on that component will be disquieted about the coming campaign.

I have written extensively on several occasions of my distance from the latter view. Again, if a team has a powerful rotation, that team is very likely to have a great season. But there are other ways to win in the modern game of baseball, as several franchises have illustrated in recent years.

At the same time, I understand that the best power-hitting lineup in the world is not going to guarantee a successful season. The baseball adage that “good pitching stops good hitting” is an adage mostly because it is so often the truth. There are going to be more than a few games this season where a good day by an opposing starter is going to have one Oriole after another doing the walk of shame back to the dugout without touching the baseball. That is going to be difficult to watch.

But it is exciting to anticipate the displays of power outbreaks that surely will characterize this coming season. The back end of the bullpen is, as well, my favorite part of the team and the saving grace, in my humble opinion. Beyond this, the high-ranking defense is a quiet strength, especially evident when the O’s play a team that has not made this a systemic value.

So what remains as big worries? There is the issue of not sufficiently addressing the on base percentage need. This is becoming the big thing for winning teams in the same way that power rotations used to be. High OBP players not only get on base well, they also drive up pitch counts in an inning, weakening the pitcher and affording power hitters a higher percentage opportunity of getting a mistake that can be driven … far.

And then there is the elephant in the roster, the starting rotation. And I think I’m getting to the core of why I am so “trepidatious” (just made up that word) about the coming season. I have not faulted Duquette and the Orioles for not spending more money to get top-line starters. The top two aren’t worth the incredible dollars they got, nor honestly were any of the others … probably including Yovani Gallardo. The best move would have been to retain Wei-Yin Chen, though he seemed less interested in the Orioles than the other way around.

So while I don’t fault the lack of additions, wanting to see if upcoming pitchers like Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson can fill the holes, I have to admit that there is not a lot to give a fan any certainty or confidence here at the end of March. Not when you hear of Kevin Gausman getting cortisone injections, and not when you see the dreadful numbers from presumptive starters this spring.

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Trying to pin these feelings down a bit more, let me say this: Every one of the Orioles’ presumed rotation pieces have had success for extended periods in the recent past. So why can they not be hoped to have it in the present, if healthy?  Maybe not all five of them, but why not three of them, with one or two new arms to fill out the rest of the rotation?

I guess I am afraid that the loudest, screaming critics could be proven to be correct. The fear is that the rotation will screw up what would otherwise be a playoffs team. Even as in 2015 the loudest critics were largely proven correct that the Orioles shot themselves in the foot by not bolting to re-sign Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. The revolving doors of corner outfielders was painful to see last year, and a similar scenario for starting pitchers could ruin the 2016 season.

More than anything, I think my fears are that the national writers could be proven correct in their annual assessment that the Orioles have no chance of finishing above the basement of the AL East. Forget that these prognosticators have a current losing streak about O’s predictions. I just want them to drown and choke to death in a sea of their own spilled ink cesspool, nothing more, nothing less.

And that is because, at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, with objectivity still in mind, I am ultimately a fan of the Baltimore Orioles.