Orioles end satisfying season with flawed finish
BALTIMORE (AP) The Baltimore Orioles powered their way into the postseason with a one-dimensional offense and a flawed starting rotation.
Those shortcomings proved to be their undoing in a bitter, season-ending defeat.
Baltimore hit a major league-leading 253 home runs to finish 89-73 and reach the playoffs for the third time in five years. That would be the takeaway from a surprisingly successful 2016 season if not for the circumstances surrounding Tuesday night's 5-2 loss to Toronto in the AL wild-card game.
Mark Trumbo, who led the majors with 47 home runs, hit a two-run drive to give Baltimore a 2-1 lead. But the Orioles didn't get a hit after the sixth inning and ultimately succumbed in the 11th when Ubaldo Jimenez yielded a three-run homer to Edwin Encarnacion.
Jimenez began the season as a starter and was twice exiled to the bullpen. On the final night of Baltimore's season, the right-hander finished what Chris Tillman started - and neither of them did it effectively.
Though Tillman (16-6) led the team in wins, he didn't make it out of the fifth inning.
It may take some time before Baltimore fans get over seeing Jimenez in the 11th instead of closer Zach Britton, who converted all 47 of his save chances and owned an 0.54 ERA.
Manager Buck Showalter deserves to be second-guessed, but only after being lauded for guiding the Orioles to the playoffs. Who could have possibly done more with a slow-footed team that finished with 19 steals? Or with a starting rotation that included Jimenez (8-12, 5.44 ERA), Yovani Gallardo (6-8, 5.42) and Wade Miley (2-5, 6.17)?
''Going into spring training you have a goal to make the playoffs,'' said catcher Matt Wieters, who may have played his last game in Baltimore. ''We had our share of great times and our share of adversity this year.''
Some things for the Orioles to think about this offseason:
FOR STARTERS: Young right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman got their first taste of steady work as starting pitchers in 2016, and it went well.
Bundy went 10-6 and Gausman won six of his last eight decisions after a 3-10 start. With Bundy, Gausman and Tillman back, the Orioles have a solid foundation from which to build their starting rotation in 2017.
''We're proud of the way both Gausman and Bundy handled new things they haven't experienced before,'' Wieters said. ''More than anything, they have learned they're going to have different situations thrown at them, and the best way to move forward is to keep working and keep getting better.''
Tillman should start on opening day against Toronto, but who knows?
''Every one of us wants to be that ace,'' Gausman said.
FREE AGENCY: Trumbo signed a one-year contract and will likely take his potent bat elsewhere this winter.
The Orioles could make a run at signing him, but they shelled out big money to retain Chris Davis and already have enough players who can bash the ball.
Pedro Alvarez likely won't be back, either, and Baltimore might not be inclined to again make a qualifying offer to Wieters.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette would be wise to turn his attention toward obtaining players whose specialty is getting on base.
That's what the Orioles thought they got in Hyun Soo Kim, who finished with a .382 on-base percentage. Instead, his two biggest hits were game-deciding home runs in the final 10 days of the season.
BULLPEN SOLID: Britton was nothing short of outstanding, Brad Brach made the All-Star team and Darren O'Day was solid despite battling shoulder and hamstring injuries.
If there's one thing the Orioles don't have to worry about this offseason, it's the back end of the bullpen.
YOUNG BLOOD: A couple young players made an impression in 2016, and the hope is that they continue their progression next season.
Joey Rickard hit .268 before a thumb injury ended his year and Trey Mancini finished with three homers in only 14 at-bats.
Rickard showed speed at the top of the lineup and Mancini appears to be a perfect fit for Camden Yards.
THE NEXT STEP: Following a run of 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles under Showalter have established themselves as one of the best teams in the AL.
They haven't had a losing season over the past five years, but only once in that span have they advanced to the AL Championship Series.
''We need to find a way to be more consistent,'' said Jimenez, who included himself in that broad statement.
''I think we have a pretty good team,'' he said. ''Guys like me, I didn't do the job I'm supposed to do.''