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Reasons for optimism that the Orioles can win the AL East

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Does Baltimore have what it takes to go from worst to first and make the playoffs for the fourth time in seven years?

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Conventional wisdom says hope is not a strategy. That said, if baseball fans can’t be hopeful and optimistic (at least somewhat) when spring training starts, then something is not right with the world. Players and coaches arriving in Arizona and Florida this week means Opening Day is fast approaching, every team is 0-0 and has a chance to be playing come October.

Since 1990, 13 MLB teams went from worst to first, including one managed by Buck Showalter (1999 Diamondbacks) and six advanced to the World Series (1991 Braves, 1991 Twins, 1993 Phillies, 1998 Padres, 2008 Rays, 2013 Red Sox). In 2017 the O’s were worst in their division, primarily due to a horrible 7-21 stretch to end the season.

Why can’t the 2018 Baltimore Orioles rebound to first place and capture the AL East crown? Given the holes in the rotation, and other issues, there are reasons to be concerned about the current club. Even for an optimist, that is true.

But, in the spirit of new beginnings, spring training starting, unexpected things happening, truth being stranger than fiction and for the love of baseball and new beginnings, this piece examines reasons why Orioles fans should be proud, excited and eager for the season to start.

Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman

Bundy and Gausman weren’t great last year, but they weren’t bad either. In 2017, the team expected both to take the next step and become legitimate top of the rotation starters. That didn’t happen, but it could in 2018. Maybe they are just a year behind schedule. Late bloomers, finally ready to launch, so to speak.

Gausman is under team control for another three years, Bundy another four, so the timing is perfect for a solid 1-2 punch in the starting rotation. And as Donovan Moore notes in this commentary on Camden Chat, Gausman (and Bundy too) look like they are worth keeping around.

Obviously, three holes in the current starting rotation are a concern and it’s difficult to feel good about that situation. Dan Duquette cited March 1 as his (flexible) deadline to add starters through free agency or trade, so there is still time. If that path doesn’t work, get ready to see some combination of Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa, Miguel Castro, Alec Asher or Nestor Cortes.

Are those exciting names at this point of the off-season? No, they are not. But, let’s wait until the season starts before saying DD failed at his job of creating a competitive roster. Opening Day isn’t until six weeks from today and this has been the slowest MLB free agent off-season since the 1980’s days of owner collusion. There is still time.

Buck Showalter

With a career record of 1504-1402 (.518), three Manager of the Year awards and a 622-569 (.522) record with the O’s over eight years, including three playoff appearances, Buck is unquestionably one of the best skippers in the game. A case can be made that Terry Francona, Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon are better, but that’s it.

Since Earl Weaver in the 1970’s, Charm City has not seen a manager more committed to the city and as successful on the field. Alongside Andy MacPhail and DD, Buck Showalter is as responsible as anyone for bringing meaningful winning baseball back to Baltimore.

As fans, we should cherish everyday Buck fills out the lineup card and hope he’s signed to a long-term extension to stay in town. With him at the helm, the team has a significantly better than average chance to win. Maybe, just maybe, Buck’s fourth post-season appearance with the O’s is in the cards.

The bullpen

Explained more thoroughly in this piece a week ago, the O’s bullpen is in fine shape. Few teams have a better late inning situation than Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier, not to mention Zach Britton returning in June. That’s a real reason for optimism.

Yes, obviously, the game must get to the bullpen with the O’s tied or ahead for the quality arms there to matter. But, assuming that happens, the Yankees (Chapman, Betances, Robertson) might be the only team in the AL East with a better group to hold leads and close victories.

Manny Machado

Will Manny stay or will Manny go? That is the two hundred million dollar question. In a sense, O’s fans win with either scenario.

If he stays, we get to see one of the greatest players in the game today and have a better chance to win games than if he wasn’t at shortstop. As Buck told Mike Lupica from MLB.com this week, “I plan to appreciate him every day…he’s as good as anybody I’ve ever had.” Good advice. As fans, let’s appreciate Manny while he is in the orange and black. I’d love to see him an Oriole for life and time will tell if that happens.

If he is dealt in spring training or at some point before the trade deadline, expect three or more quality players with moderate to high upsides, including pitchers, to come the O’s way. DD isn’t going to give Manny away, so we should expect the return to include significant building blocks for the future. That would be the bright side of trading him away.

Prospects

Speaking of the future, in the most recent Baseball America rankings, Baltimore has three prospects in the top 100, including: Austin Hays #21, Chance Sisco #68 and Ryan Mountcastle #71. This places them roughly in the middle of MLB teams and the prospect rankings. When is the last time that happened?

Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Tanner Scott and Hunter Harvey also have buzz around them and should see time at OPACY. The often criticized O’s minor league system that very recently ranked near the bottom in all of baseball, is trending in the right direction and provides hope for 2018 and beyond.

Adam Jones and the outfield

It’s been just over 10 years since AJ arrived in Baltimore from Seattle via trade. Jones has been one of the most consistent performers on the team in that time, especially since he took a big step forward in 2012 that helped propel that year’s Orioles team back into the playoffs. His smile, leadership and play are treasures fans get to see practically every game at Camden Yards.

Hopefully the O’s are able to find a way to sign him to an extension. If any Oriole that’s been part of the current run of success deserves to finish their career in Baltimore and see their number permanently on the upper deck in left field, it is Adam Jones.

Joining him in 2018 will be Trey Mancini in left – a homegrown product that gotten better and surprised critics each of the last two years – who showed he can play outfield, as well as first base. In right, it’ll be Austin Hays (homegrown) or a TBD left handed free agent. In any case, a combination of Mancini, Jones and Hays is full of potential and excitement.

Summer and Camden Yards

A day with baseball is always better than a day without baseball. Similarly, a day at Camden Yards is better than a day at almost any other ballpark in America.

Yes, it is absolutely more fun if the Orioles are winning. But, even if they are losing, or “reloading” as DD calls it – relax. Enjoy the weather, sport, camaraderie, food, drink and sounds of the game. MLB during a Baltimore summer is hard to beat.

Six months of living the O’s every day is almost upon us. There is no way they’ll be as bad as some people lead us to believe. They might even win the AL East.