The Orioles need to improve. That’s not much of a secret. But with the primary focus on potential outside additions and an emphasis on the free agent market, it’s easy to forget about the pieces on the roster that have the ability to make an immediate impact in 2018. Last season wasn’t an easy one — but with a few performances pointing in the right direction, there’s a chance the year isn’t a disaster.
This season is no exception. The roster isn’t full of star power this year — the playoff outlook looks rather bleak. But it’s difficult to say that the season is a total loss. It’s spring training season, also known as “what if” decision. Below, a look at three areas in which bounce-back seasons could help the Orioles’ playoff chances.
Last year did not go well for The Crusher, battling through some tough times and rocking a .309 on-base percentage in 128 games. There are plenty of factors for the Orioles difficulties, but continual slumps from Davis can’t be ignored. He carries with him quite a bit of pressure as a member of the heart of the lineup. And with the high strikeout numbers, getting back to the .340-.360 OBP range is going to be key.
If the Orioles lineup is going to cruise, I think it’s fair to put Davis at the top of the list for improvement priority. The home runs are going to come, but the only way the Orioles improve is if Davis finds his way on base more often and keeps innings alive to drive rallies throughout the year.
If Davis represents the Oriole whose improvement is most vital to success, Machado surely isn’t too far behind. Will he be in Baltimore by the end of the season? I’ll let you answer that one. But at least throughout the spring and early summer, it’ll be Machado whose improvement could end up putting the most wins on the board.
Last year’s .259/.310/.471 wasn’t enough, but the good news comes with the idea that it’s almost likely not going to happen again. Manny is going to bounce back, it’s just a matter of how significant that turnaround becomes. The “what if” scenario here ends up focusing on the first few months and the best-case situation that Machado and Davis both put together impressive first halves. What if Davis rakes and Machado finds power and hits close to .300?
It’s somewhat of a daydreaming situation, but it’s entirely possible that Davis and Machado performing early could translate to the Orioles being in the race around the deadline.
Another year of Chris Tillman isn’t exactly what we all envisioned for the rotation heading into the offseason, but it might not be the worst thing in the world. Is it entirely what the doctor ordered? Maybe not. But don’t count out the possibility of Tillman producing on a major impact level.
Last season went poorly, that’s no secret. But his stats over 2013-2016 are pretty encouraging — a 3.91 ERA in 128 starts, a 1.27 WHIP and 8.4 hits per nine innings.
If you could bank on a year in which Tillman makes 28-32 starts with an ERA hovering around 4.00, I’m not sure there would be many who wouldn’t sign up. Tillman isn’t flashy and those 125 hits over 93 innings in 2017 are scary. But a bounce-back season from the right-hander isn't terribly far-fetched. For a fourth starter, a 4.00 ERA might just be enough to keep the Orioles in contention until the deadline.
At the end of the day, there isn’t a single recipe for the Orioles to win more than about 70 games this season. If we’re being honest, it might take quite a few best-case scenarios to get even close to approaching the postseason. But for now, why not keep the optimism alive?