Matthew Taylor: A prescient preseason prediction for the O’s

It’s that time of year when Orioles fans look back on preseason projections and scoff at experts who predicted lots of losing in Baltimore. You might find yourself thinking, “Can you believe they actually wrote that?” as you recall that the Orioles were supposed to be a last-place bunch in the American League East this season. Then again, would you have believed what you were reading if those preseason predictions had actually been accurate?

Here’s what a prescient write-up might have looked like prior to this season:

“After a rare offseason spending spree, the Baltimore Orioles can expect to contend for the American League East title for the majority of the season and are a sure bet to be in the wild card chase right through the final weekend of action. It won’t be easy, though. After some perceived down years, don’t be surprised if the AL East is the only division in baseball with four winning teams. Everyone except for the Tampa Bay Rays can win 80 games or more. Heck, the New York Yankees could force A-Rod into retirement and trade Carlos Beltran, Ivan Nova and their two best relievers, and still scratch out 80 wins.

The O’s predominantly right-handed lineup will struggle against left-handed starters, but will overcome that reverse-split shortcoming with a feast-or-famine offense. The founder of the feast will be Mark Trumbo, who will ensure that Baltimore boasts the major league leader in home runs for the third time in four years. Look for Trumbo to bounce back from a 2015 campaign that saw him hit 13 home runs in only 96 games played and become a fixture in the Baltimore lineup. Trumbo is likely to establish a career-best total for longballs that could approach 50.

This O’s lineup could very well finish the season with six batters having surpassed 20 home runs. It wouldn’t be shocking if three guys posted more than 35 homers in Charm City in 2016. However, beware of the famine. This is the type of outfit that could have a record 56 homers in June and then find itself with only 29 homers in July. Thanks to a thin starting rotation, the Orioles could hit four home runs before even recording the game’s first out and still find themselves trailing by the second inning. Backup catcher Caleb Joseph may face a season-long famine when it comes to delivering an RBI.

The club will need to look internally to navigate some of its expected pitching woes. The O’s are likely to convert injury-saddled pitching prospect Dylan Bundy from a reliever to a starter by July and have him toss more than 100 innings for the club. The veteran hurlers will need to contribute as well. Fans can expect a bounceback year from Chris Tillman, who will chase a career high for wins. Meanwhile, there’s hope that the team’s coaching staff can straighten out Ubaldo Jimenez and help him simplify his delivery. It may take a while, and it could get pretty ugly in spots, but Jimenez should rediscover his mojo in the season’s waning days and help carry the team down the stretch.

The bullpen will again be a strength for Baltimore. The O’s could send two relievers to the All-Star Game, but not necessarily whom you think. (Sorry, Darren O’Day!) Brad Brach is poised for a career year, and Zach Britton may well have a season for the ages. Forget blowing a save, Britton will rarely allow even a run. Brach and Britton’s batterymate, Matt Wieters, is likely to join them on the All-Star team after signing a qualifying offer to remain in Baltimore.

Speed will be an Achilles heel for the O’s, who could have the fewest stolen bases since the 1972 Detroit Tigers. One year removed from a 20-20 season, Manny Machado will continue to show more power at the plate but might not even steal a single base in 2016. Coming off of a sizzling spring training that saw him hit homers like his last name was Machado, Rule 5 pickup Joey Rickard could swipe some bases for Baltimore. It may only take a handful of steals for Rickard lead the team.

Rickard’s primary competition in left field, KBO pickup Hyun Soo Kim, is struggling to adapt to the U.S. game as evidenced by a difficult spring at the dish. The Orioles would be wise to stick with Kim, however, as his on-base prowess could prove valuable on this otherwise all-or-nothing squad. Given his reputation for fighting off pitches until he finds something he likes, Kim could provide clutch hits when the Orioles need them most. Patience is a virtue that O’s fans know well after waiting all this time for a winner.

With a difficult summer weather forecast ahead for the mid-Atlantic region and fewer promotions on the Camden Yards docket, the Orioles could have some trouble filling seats this season despite their recent run of success. Home field advantage or not, this team could win 50 games in the cozy confines. The good news for Baltimore fans is that no team has missed the playoffs after that many home wins since the second wild card was introduced in 2012.”

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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