Welcome to The Stew’s annual team elimination posts. Like our video-game posts of last year, these are best done in theme. This time? We’re going with “Game of Thrones.” Each eliminated team will join the “army of the dead.” But we won’t just talk about their demise. We’ll also highlight some positives, pick out a memorable moment, tell you their biggest need and let you know when the club might be good again.
Sorry, Baltimore Orioles, but you won’t sit on the Iron Throne this season.
The Orioles, for all the power that was in their lineup, couldn’t make the postseason for the fourth time in six seasons. And it was because of a common problem for them: starting pitching.
The Orioles remained one of the top homer-hitting teams, but beer-league softball wasn’t the goal here. Winning the AL East was, and the Orioles will finish in either fourth or fifth place in 2017. Instead of another playoff appearance, their season is likely to be remembered for its drama — whether it was their explosive feud with the Boston Red Sox or outfielder Adam Jones’ racist encounter at Fenway Park, which had all of sports talking in May.
Let’s take a deeper look at the year that was in Baltimore:
UNBOWED, UNBENT, UNBROKEN (aka WHAT WENT RIGHT)
The Orioles had no shortage of offensive firepower with seven different players connecting for at least 20 home runs. Among them is Jonathan Schoop, who has enjoyed a true breakout season by setting career highs in home runs, RBIs and batting average. Trey Mancini has been another breakout star in this lineup. The 25-year-old slugger put up some big numbers that would stand out a lot more in a weaker lineup. (Mark Townsend)
THE RED WEDDING (aka WHAT WENT WRONG)
Pitching, pitching and did we mention pitching? The Orioles rotation was predictably a mess even with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman managing to stay healthy. Chris Tillman, on the other hand, did not and Ubaldo Jimenez remained his inconsistent self. The bullpen was weakened too with Zach Britton spending over half the season on the disabled list. The result is a team ERA that will likely rank bottom five in MLB. Not helping matters was the Orioles season series against the Yankees. The 154 runs Baltimore allowed to New York were the most by any team against a single opponent in a season since 1960. (Mark Townsend)
THE NORTH REMEMBERS (aka MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT)
What we’re likely to remember most vividly about the 2017 Orioles season is their feud with the Boston Red Sox, which was carried out longer and more publicly than almost any MLB feud in recent memory.
It started with Manny Machado’s hard slide into Dustin Pedroia and Machado then getting thrown at. From there, we saw both teams throwing at each other, yelling at each other and going off in interviews until eventually the league had to step in and tell them both to cool it.
This one ran deeper than most baseball beefs we see. For better or worse, it was a captivating week of the season.
WORDS ARE WIND (aka MOST IMPORTANT THING TO FIX)
Someone needs to have a large, bright, ugly neon sign made for the Orioles front office, and it should say “FOCUS ON PITCHING,” and it should blink at them constantly whenever they’re in their offices. Because sweet merciful Mary, is their pitching in need of help. But let’s be specific here, because it’s not their entire staff. Baltimore’s bullpen is more than decent, boasting Zach Britton and several relievers with 60+ innings pitched and an ERA under 3. The problem isn’t their bullpen, it’s their starters, which have the worst combined ERA in all of baseball.
This is a rotation that includes Ubaldo Jimenez, who is somehow still a starting pitcher in 2017. They let Jimenez start 25 games this season and he’s rewarded them with a 7.20 ERA in those starts. Jeremy Hellickson, who they actually, willingly traded for before the deadline, has a 6.97 ERA in 10 starts. And Chris Tillman has an 8.12 ERA in 19 starts this year. Those are real numbers. This is who the Orioles sent to the mound most of the time. It’s bad. It’s so, so bad. They need help, and if they can’t find it via trade or free agency, then they need to start paying attention to the international market, which they’ve ignored for so long. (Liz Roscher)
A DREAM OF SPRING (aka HOPE FOR THE FUTURE)
Things aren’t super promising. The Orioles’ magic finally ran out, and some major issues were exposed. The offense has a few strong pieces, but the pitching is an absolute mess. They’ll have to turn to free agency to fix that issue. Most of the team’s top prospects are position players. Chance Sisco made a brief debut in 2017, and should take over a more prominent role in 2018. He could be joined by outfielder Austin Hays and shortstop Ryan Mountcastle at some point. Both players reached Double-A in 2017.
Of the team’s top four pitching prospects — according to MLB.com — only Tanner Scott has pitched above High A. The Orioles haven’t exactly been successful at churning out young pitchers lately, but even if all of their current prospect hit, it will be a while before they reach the majors.
It’s certainly possible the Orioles regain their secret formula and make a playoff push next season, but it’s more likely that a rebuild is coming. (Chris Cwik)
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES
San Francisco Giants | Philadelphia Phillies | Cincinnati Reds | Chicago White Sox | New York Mets | San Diego Padres | Atlanta Braves | Detroit Tigers | Pittsburgh Pirates | Oakland Athletics | Miami Marlins | Toronto Blue Jays
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