5 things to watch this Orioles season

Posted at 7:26 AM, Mar 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-29 15:24:31-04

Zac Britton sitting in the bullpen. That's how I remember the 2016 season.

The Orioles eliminated by the same team they start the 2017 campaign with -- the Toronto Blue Jays. 

As hard as that pill was to swallow, there's hope for another orange October in Baltimore. 

The Orioles had some key additions and losses to their roster that still faces several questions heading into Monday's season opener.

1. Will Chris Tillman's injury linger throughout the season? 

He's started the previous three Opening Day games for the Birds, but will start this season on the DL. Tillman threw Sunday for the first time since his latest cortisone shot as he continues to deal with soreness in his right throwing shoulder. He's threw again Tuesday.

It's been a long few months for Tillman. The club learned he had a platelet-rich plasma injection in his shoulder back in December.  Tillman missed about three weeks last season for the same injury. While he did recover to pitch in the one-game playoff against Toronto, it clearly remained an issue heading into the offseason.

This isn't a new problem for the Orioles. In 2013, a lingering oblique injury impacted Wei-Yin Chen after suffering the setback early that season. 

With a rotation that doesn't have a lot of experience, or a clear five choices, his 16 wins he tallied last season could be hard to replace. 

2. Do Gausman and Bundy finally live up to the hype?

Tillman's injury means Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy need to show they were worthy of being selected high in the MLB draft. 

Gausman's 9-12 record last season didn't tell the true story of progress he made as a starting pitcher. He started 30 games just like Tillman, had a lower ERA, WHIP and 34 more strikeouts (174 on the season). Other than the record, Gausman had a tough time keeping the ball in the Yard, allowing 28 homers in 2016. 

As for Bundy, he appeared in more relief appearances than starts but won 10 games. In just under 110 innings pitched, he also had trouble allowing long balls -- he gave up 18, one less than Tillman. 

Early on, he'lll be asked to be the second man in what is already a rotation full of uncertainty. It still remains to be seen if he can go a full season as a starter without dealing with injuries. 

3. How will the Orioles use Wellington Castillo and Caleb Joseph as the club replaces Matt Wieters?

With Wieters now in D.C., the Orioles lose a switch-hitter in their lineup and one of the best defensive catchers in the game. 

I made a case for Caleb Joseph to be Wieters' replacement, but Wellington Castillo will get the nod.

He provides roughly the same with his bat as Wieters and is competent behind the plate. But Joseph is superior in that department. 

If he can pick it up with his bat after a miserable 2016 without a single RBI, the Orioles could have a small platoon option if Castillo struggles. 

4. How far can living and dying by the home run carry the Birds?

Once again, the Birds will have one of the best lineups in baseball.

Machado, Jones, Davis and Trumbo in the middle of the lineup will frighten any pitcher. But despite all of that power, there's a lack of speed.

Right now, there isn't an everyday starter the Orioles can look to as a pure base-stealer. If healthy, that could be Joey Rickard but his role with the club remains to be seen.

Chicks may dig the long ball, but small ball and fundamentals can win championships. 


5. Will the bullpen last another potential postseason run? 

It's hard to forget seeing one of the best pitchers in baseball not being given an opportunity to stop a division rival in the postseason. But my concern isn't about that decision as much as it's Buck's ability to manage his starters and relief pitchers throughout the season.

When a starter only gives the manager roughly five innings each start, it puts Showalter in a bind. He has to go to the bullpen. How many pitchers he uses and how regularly he uses the same ones could greatly impact their staying power in the American League. 

Darren O'Day, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens are all good setup options leading up to Britton, but they can't be overused.

More careful decision-making with how often these relievers are burned through early on could lead to more success in September and October.