Most people in Birdland would probably agree that the 2015 Orioles team underachieved compared to pre-season expectations in order to end up with an 81-81 record at season's end.
Although they've lost the best starting pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen, from that team, they've also brought back every other good player on the team as well as every player who was good for them in the recent past and still should be good again.
The roster that has been assembled for the upcoming season has once again left the crowd of prognosticating humans and formula-wielding humans underwhelmed. The sunniest speculation comes from Fangraphs, who see a 79-83 record in the cards for the O's; at the low end, the people of Sports Illustrated predict a 69-93 season, the same record that was mustered by the dismal O's teams of 2011 and 2007.
Even for a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist like yours truly, a 69-93 prediction seems way harsh. It's not out of the realm of possibility, of course, but a lot of things would have to go wrong for the team to end up back among the dregs of the league.
What might it look like if things were to start going so wrong for the Orioles to end up sinking into the depths, bringing an end to their streak of four straight non-losing seasons?
The worst case scenario
Unfortunately for Orioles fans, spring training thus far has revealed a lot of the biggest flaws with the team. While none of the statistics count because everything will be wiped clean on Opening Day, it should be a source of anxiety that the O's have struggled in ways they need to not struggle if they're to maintain, or exceed, their record from last season.
The glaring flaw of last year's team was a starting rotation that had the second-worst ERA in the AL with a 4.53 mark. They threw the third-fewest innings in the AL as well. It's a bad combination, and one about which the O's starters have done little to soothe any worries. They have been lit up. While we can still figure they'll do better than what they've shown so far, the possibility that they'll be about as bad as last year is still there.
Added to this are injury concerns, the most serious of which is now faced by Kevin Gausman, whose Sunday cortisone injection stemmed from shoulder tendinitis that could land Gausman on the disabled list to begin the season. At the moment, they're hopeful he wouldn't miss more than one turn in the rotation, but then, on Sunday, the line was "down for three days" and that didn't last long.
If the injury stretches on for Gausman, either affecting his performance once he returns or keeping him on the disabled list for longer than currently suggested, it's a real problem for the O's, for this year and into the future. His development into a front-line starter has long been anticipated.
Without that, where will they be? Relying on the least-bad option out of Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Vance Worley would seem to be what would happen. There's a reason why the O's chose to sign Yovani Gallardo rather than come out of the gate trying to rely on one of those guys.
It's not an inspiring picture to contemplate, especially when you add in that there's apparently "some competition" for a spot even without injury, perhaps meaning the O's are looking to shift Miguel Gonzalez to a different role. Now we would be talking about two of the depth options getting pressed into service. Maybe that would work out, but probably it'd look as bad or worse than last year.
You're probably not super worried about the O's bullpen, what with Darren O'Day returning to the group that keeps Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. That should be a very strong quartet of relievers that will gobble up most of the meaningful late innings in games this season.
That's assuming all goes well, anyway. Collectively, relievers are a volatile lot in year-to-year performance. Buck Showalter and company have done a good job of managing the workload of their bullpen to avoid injuries, but if things are going to crash down the way Sports Illustrated envisions, you'd probably see some kind of injury happening to force everyone else into unfamiliar roles for which they may not be ideally suited.
Position player concerns
Gausman isn't the only Oriole who's had one of those injuries that seems to stretch out forever. Matt Wieters has now been shelved for 11 days and counting with what was originally called "routine spring soreness" and still hasn't really been given a different name.
While the O's are making hopeful noises about his return before Opening Day, they're also planning to hide him in minor league games while he works into game form, which would allow him to return sooner if he ends up going on the DL.
Wieters has never exactly turned into MATT WIETERS, the man who created the Grand Canyon from the destructive force of one of his home runs, but he's a fine player and one without whom the O's would have a big hole. There is not a league average catcher waiting in the wings to shoulder his workload. What if that situation drags on, or what if it affects his performance when he's back? The O's wouldn't have an easy answer to those questions.
There are other problem areas that have lingered on from last year. Orioles left fielders were among the worst in baseball last season, with the O's unit mustering a collective .210/.287/.353 batting line. That's outrageously bad.
The hope was that Hyun Soo Kim would fill that void, and while he doesn't have to do much to be better than that, he hasn't shown so far in spring training that he will be a certain bet to do better. A lot was made of his 0-23 streak to start out, probably because there was nothing else to talk about. He's done better since, but still hasn't taken many walks or displayed much in the way of power. Factoring in a recent hot streak, now Kim is batting 8-40. It's also not good.
Still, for all that the O's had major hitting struggles at certain positions last year - also including shortstop and designated hitter - they fielded an offense that outscored the 2014 division-winning team by eight runs. Everyone who matters is back and dinger machines Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez have also been added to the mix.
One can't truly imagine a grim scenario for this unit without factoring in some kind of injury being suffered by one of the pillars of the offense. If, heaven forbid, something happens to knock out Chris Davis, Manny Machado, or Adam Jones for some length of time, that would be a problem that could send the O's into the cellar. It's not the most likely trajectory for them right now, but it is something that could happen.
The fears are now purged
Sometimes you've just got to get bad juju out of your system. I might not expect the Orioles to rock and roll back into the postseason, but 69 wins? That would take a whole heck of a lot going wrong, probably more than what I have outlined above. Even a disappointing disaster of a rotation still ought to have an offense strong enough to keep them in most games.