American League East breakdown: Baltimore Orioles

The Cubs mashed five homers, plus Matt Harvey will be available for the Mets' season opener as he recovers from a blood clot in his bladder.

As the Toronto Blue Jays prepare to defend the American League East title, sportsnet.ca breaks down every squad in the division by looking at each team’s depth chart, strengths & weaknesses and key storylines to watch in 2016.


More analysis:
Boston | Tampa Bay | Toronto | NY Yankees


The playoffs are within reach for the Baltimore Orioles, but they’ll need to defy expectations again to get there.

The Orioles doubled down on power after hitting 217 homers last year, adding a pair of all-or-nothing bats in Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez. If the moves pay off, an already-powerful offence led by Chris Davis and Manny Machado will be that much deeper and Baltimore’s bats will keep the team in contention.

But to return to the post-season, the Orioles will need more than power. The addition of Yovani Gallardo adds depth to a pitching staff that includes more than its share of question marks. To reclaim the AL East title from the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore will need a mix of bounce-backs and breakouts, the same kind of performances they got in 2014 when the likes of Steve Pearce broke out. Manager Buck Showalter seems to get the most out of his roster and the Orioles have a couple MVP-calibre bats in Davis and Machado, so it’s at least possible to imagine this club returning to October.

It appears more likely that the Orioles will miss the post-season. Despite their power, they don’t actually reach base that much, so their offence doesn’t carry them. And there are enough questions when it comes to pitching and defence that this team could have trouble preventing runs. In a competitive division, there are no easy marks for Baltimore to beat up on.

Time for Showalter to see if he can prove the doubters wrong yet again.

DEPTH CHART:

Click on each position for a breakdown

KEY STORYLINES TO WATCH:

Will the Orioles’ strikeouts catch up to them?

Just four teams struck out more often than the Orioles a year ago, and that was before Baltimore traded for Trumbo and signed Alvarez. Now it seems like a sure thing that they'll surpass last year's total of 1,331 whiffs.

In theory, strikeouts are no different than any other out, but Orioles GM Dan Duquette will put that to the test this year. With all those strikeouts and little in the way of on-base percentage, don’t be surprised if Baltimore’s enviable collection of power bats ends up hitting more than its fair share of solo home runs.

Can the rotation keep the offence in games?

If the Mets and Indians have the most electric rotations in baseball, the Orioles might have the least exciting group -- at least among teams with a chance to contend.

Kevin Gausman has potential, but his shoulder issues are cause for concern. Gallardo has an excellent track record, but he doesn't miss as many bats as he once did. Chris Tillman has succeeded before, but must rebound from a tough 2015 season. That leaves Ubaldo Jimenez, who pitched respectably in 2015 after a rough debut in Baltimore.

Not only do the Orioles face questions at the MLB level, they’re light on high-upside alternatives in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

Will Manny Machado build on his huge 2015 season?

Machado finished fourth in MVP voting last year, so it’d be a stretch to say he's under the radar. But while superstars like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Carlos Correa get all kinds of attention, the discussion around Machado has been surprisingly quiet considering his talent.

To put Machado’s production in context, Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews leads all MLB third basemen with 18.5 wins above replacement through age 22. Machado’s a close second with 17.7 WAR. Wondering what Mathews did in his age-23 season? He hit 41 home runs with an 1.014 OPS. Considering Machado hit 35 home runs with an .861 OPS last year, it’s not all that crazy to imagine another step forward in 2016.