Orioles could be a hit in 2016 if pitching comes through
BALTIMORE (AP) A rare offseason spending spree has provided the Baltimore Orioles with a free-swinging lineup perfectly suited for tiny Camden Yards.
Manager Buck Showalter can only hope all that hitting is enough to offset a precarious starting rotation.
After reaching the AL Championship Series in 2014, the Orioles skidded to .500 last season - even though they scored eight more runs and hit only six fewer homers.
The difference was the pitching: Baltimore's 4.05 ERA was a half-run higher.
In spite of this, much of the team's offseason activity centered around the offense.
Slugger Chris Davis (seven years, $161 million) and catcher Matt Wieters (one year, $15.8 million) were retained. Outfielder Mark Trumbo was acquired in a trade and free agent Pedro Alvarez was signed for $5.75 million.
Another addition - South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim (two years, $7 million) - has struggled in spring training and won't make the opening day roster.
''We had a lot of players that were leaving the club last year so we knew we had a lot of work to do in the offseason,'' executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. ''We were able to bring back some of the players that did good work for us and we were able to bring in some other players like Pedro.''
But the Orioles lost left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who went 11-8 last season. His spot was filled by free agent Yovani Gallardo, who's made at least 30 starts in each of the last seven seasons but owns a mediocre 33-32 record over the past three years.
The rest of the rotation is shaky. Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez and Kevin Gausman all failed to post an ERA under 4.00 in 2015, and Miguel Gonzalez was released this week after extending his poor performance from last season into spring training.
Still, Showalter remains optimistic.
''I feel good about adding Gallardo. I feel good about Tillman bouncing back to where he was,'' the manager said. ''I think `Gaus' is ready to take the next step, and Ubaldo might have been our most consistent pitcher last year.''
Fortunately, the bullpen remains solid. Zach Britton notched 36 saves last year, and part of the Orioles' franchise-record payroll will go to setup man Darren O'Day, who signed a three-year, $31 million contract to return for a fifth season with Baltimore.
Some things to know about the 2016 Orioles:
PERFECT FIT: It didn't take long for Alvarez to feel right at home in the middle of a potent lineup that features the reigning major league home run king (Davis with 47), Manny Machado (35 HRs in 2015) and Adam Jones (27 HRs). ''Any time you can have a lineup like that, it's a big headache for the other team,'' said Alvarez, who hit 27 homers for Pittsburgh last year. ''Everyone's a threat. It would be such a privilege to be part of a lineup like that.''
EXPERT ANALYSIS? Many of the so-called experts see the Orioles struggling to survive in the AL East. ''For as long as I can remember, it's been the same thing: `Oh you guys (stink), you are going to be in last place,''' Machado said. ''But we've made the playoffs three out of the last five years. We just can't think about that stuff. We have to go out there and play.''
MEANINGLESS GAMES: Showalter warns against reading too much into the Orioles' poor spring training record. ''We're trying to keep the end game in mind,'' Showalter said. ''If I wanted an unbelievable spring training record, I would have J.J. (Hardy) play all the games. I would have Adam (Jones) go to Dunedin.''
BUCK & DAN: The Orioles suffered through 14 straight losing seasons before Duquette and Showalter brought the franchise back from the abyss. They don't see eye to eye on everything, but each is consumed by a desire to win. ''I enjoy working with him. We share the same passion for a winning baseball team,'' Duquette said. ''I think he has developed as a manager and still embraces fundamentals. But as he has gained experience along the way, and his players understand his passion and his pursuit of excellence.''
ACE IN THE HOLE: Tillman will become the first Oriole since Mike Mussina to start on opening day for three straight years. The right-hander was 9-3, 16-7 and 13-6 before slumping to 11-11 in 2015. ''I didn't pitch as good, didn't execute,'' Tillman conceded. ''I'm going to have to get better.''