The Orioles will seek outside help to avoid another last-place finish, but they also hope that improvement comes from within, that various shortcomings have a short shelf live.
Here are a few that come to mind. I’ll update the list as the offseason rolls along:
Kevin Gausman needs two good halves
In the same season. It’s an important qualifier.
Gausman flashes the ace material after the break. He registered a 3.10 ERA in the second half in 2016, going 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA in six August starts, and a 3.41 ERA in the second half this year, his WHIP falling from 1.763 to 1.204 and the opponents’ average dropping from .318 to .240.
Assuming that the Orioles don’t land a true No. 1 starter over the winter - there aren’t many of them on the market and they tend to cost a lot - Gausman and Dylan Bundy could battle for the opening day assignment. Gausman took himself to task following a Sept. 26 start in Pittsburgh that raised his ERA to 4.81.
“Not very good all around,” he said, reflecting on his season. “Didn’t go deep into ball games. Not many quality starts. Obviously, I’m very frustrated. And with the season I had last year and obviously starting opening day. I haven’t been a guy that should have gotten that right this year.
“It’s kind of frustrating, but I don’t know, I might have one more, so just keep on grinding and like I said, I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well, so that’s what makes it even more frustrating.”
Gausman did make another start and held the Rays to one run over seven innings with no walks and nine strikeouts. Ace-like material.
Manny Machado needs a better first half
Everyone assumed that Machado’s bat would heat up. It was a matter of when, not if, as manager Buck Showalter likes to say.
Machado hit .230/.296/.445 in the first half and .290/.326/.500 after the break. He was named the American League’s Player of the Month for August with a .341/.348/.690 slash line, six doubles, a triple, 12 home runs and 35 RBIs in 29 games. No Oriole hit three grand slams in the same calendar month before Machado.
“He’s at another level,” said Mark Trumbo. “He’s a premier talent. This season is going to be one he can use in the future to build off of.
“He’s proven that even when he has a little bit of a struggle, that talent is in there. It’s going to come out. It’s a character builder and he’s played exceptionally.”
The Orioles need Machado to do it for a full season in 2018. And yes, that’s assuming he stays in the organization throughout the summer.
Trumbo needs to get right at the plate
Making contact became a huge challenge for Trumbo in September, when he was 14-for-73 (.192) with 25 strikeouts to lower his season average to .234 with a .686 OPS. He batted .202/.243/.357 in the second half.
Trumbo led the majors with 47 home runs last season, had 108 RBIs and earned a three-year, $37.5 million deal to stay in Baltimore. He hit 23 homers and drove in 65 runs in 2017, and his .289 on-base percentage and .397 slugging percentage were the lowest of his career.
It’s a bigger issue for a player used mostly as the designated hitter.
Is the bench to blame? Trumbo batted .207/.268/.367 in 111 games as the DH and .331/.368/.508 in 31 games as the right fielder.
Trumbo owns a career .226/.287/.416 slash line as the DH and a .279/.336/.521 line as the right fielder.
Chris Davis needs to regain his eye at the plate
Davis doesn’t need glasses. His vision is checked in spring training like everyone else as part of an extensive physical. But he was slow to identify pitches again this season, the explanation for “not seeing the ball,” and lost his aggressive approach.
Bat on shoulder, strike three into the catcher’s mitt.
Over the past two seasons, Davis has hit .221/.332/.459 and .215/.309/.423 with a combined 414 strikeouts. An oblique injury limited him to 128 games this summer, when he managed only 15 doubles, 26 home runs and 61 RBIs.
Davis collected only two hits in 53 at-bats on 0-2 counts, with no walks and 42 strikeouts. He was 8-for-78 with one home run, no walks and 54 strikeouts on 1-2 counts and 4-for-53 with 41 walks and 36 strikeouts with the count full.
Davis has vowed to work with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh in the offseason and make some mechanical adjustments. Maybe they will allow him to get back in the middle of the order after Showalter finally lowered him to sixth and seventh.
Tim Beckham needs to be closer to his August version than September
No one expected Beckham to keep up his August pace, not in a sport where failing seven out of 10 times can get you into the Hall of Fame. But the drop in production was sharp.
Beckham arrived at the non-waiver trade deadline and hit .394/.417/.646 with 10 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 19 RBIs in his first month as an Oriole. He struck out 25 times in 132 plate appearances.
A hamstring injury shortened Beckham’s September, but it can’t be accused of cooling him off. He batted .180/.255/.348 with three doubles, four home runs and seven RBIs, and he struck out 32 times in 98 plate appearances.
The overall slash line of .306/.348/.523 with 25 extra-base hits in 50 games is worthy of high praise. Beckham turned into one of the better non-waiver acquisitions in baseball and it’s no coincidence that the Orioles were 17-11 in August for only their second winning month of the season.
Many critics of their non-seller methods were temporarily silenced as the Orioles drew within a game of the second wild card.
Beckham will gain more supporters if he doesn’t duplicate his September.
Zach Britton needs to be healthy
I think it’s that simple.
Maybe it was unrealistic to expect Britton to be perfect again in save opportunities, to repeat his historical 2016 season, to be untouchable on the mound as well as in trade talks. The bar was raised to ridiculous heights. But his drop from 47 to 15 saves can be blamed on his forearm and knee.
Britton made two stops on the disabled list with a left forearm strain and was shut down in the final weeks with soreness in his left knee that apparently won’t require surgery. His innings fell from 67 to 37 1/3.
It’s apparent that Britton rushed back after the first DL stint, which led to the second. He didn’t have the same command and the discomfort returned.
Confidence flows through the organization that Britton’s forearm and elbow are sound and he won’t have any setbacks. They want to hold onto him and make another run at the postseason before he reaches free agency.
Note: The Rays released the home portion of their spring training schedule and it includes games against the Orioles on Feb. 27, March 1 and March 7 in Port Charlotte.
I’ve already told you about the March 19 game against the Tigers in Lakeland, in case you’re planning a road trip.