After 14 straight losing seasons, the Baltimore Orioles put together their fifth straight year of at least 81 wins. Still, the way the season ended in extra innings of a Wild Card game left a bitter taste in the team’s mouth.
The Orioles still have much of the same team as playoff squad from last year and will look to have a bit better results, but prognosticators aren’t as optimistic and neither are the odds makers. Despite five straight years at or above .500, they’re projected win total is just 80.5. This is a team that’s now consistently undervalued year after year with Buck Showalter and the team feeding off the low expectations to continue to surprise year after year.
2016 Record: 89-73
2016 Moneyline Record: +16.11 Units
2016 Over/Under Total Record: 67-91-4
Current World Series Odds: +3552
Current Odds To Win AL: +1650
Current Odds To Win AL East: +750
Regular Season Win Total: 80.5
There are a few changes to this team from the one that made the Wild Card game a season ago, but this team is largely the same and will need to count on improvements from a few players to produce better results.
The primary players gone from this team are Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez who have been replaced by Welington Castillo and Seth Smith respectively. Castillo actually out hit Wieters last season while Smith doesn’t quite have the pop that Alvarez possesses, but provides a much better OBP and more flexibility in the field.
In the end, one could argue that the lineup may have actually improved. It’s at least a bit more dynamic than just home run or bust like last year. Smith gets on base and so does Hyun-Soo Kim who was part of last year’s equation, but figures to play a larger role in 2017.
As for the returning players, Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado are both young enough that you can expect continued growth. In Machado’s case, that’s just a scary thought as he’s already one of the game’s better players with back-to-back seasons ranking in the top-5 in MVP voting.
As has been the case for years, the story of the Orioles’ season will come down to the starting rotation.
This has long been a team that can mash the ball and a team that’s been built around a strong infield defense and deep bullpen. That pen will again be very good. They’ve got Zach Britton coming off his historic 0.54 ERA and have a healthy Darren O’Day and Brad Brach to set up with youngsters like Donnie Hart and Mychal Givens as premier situational relievers. Beyond them, there’s plenty of depth for the last few spots with Oliver Drake and Vidal Nuno seemingly having the inside track.
Back to the rotation, however, the O’s will again be led by Chris Tillman, though he’s expected to miss the first few weeks of the season. After him, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are the real X-Factors. Gausman seems poised to take another step forward after a 3.61 ERA last year while Bundy will have the restrictions lifted and be in the rotation all year after making some very good impressions. Between Tillman, Gausman and Bundy, the O’s likely have their best top-3 heading into the season in years, but the four and five spots are questions while depth is also lacking.
Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez will fill out the last two spots. The two are veterans each with some solid numbers in the past, but both are enigmas. They each finished last season very strong, but had more than their share of bumps and bruises prior to that. With Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, Logan Verrett, Gabriel Ynoa and Nuno the players lined up for starts should someone go down, the team’s depth is better than years past, but still not overly exciting.
All in all, this is a team with pop and a good bullpen that will only go as far as the starting pitching and questionable outfield defense will allow.
April 3-5: vs. Blue Jays
April 7-9: vs. Yankees
April 11-12: at Red Sox
April 13-16: at Blue Jays
April 18-20: at Reds
April 21-23: vs. Red Sox
April 24-26: vs. Rays
April 28-30: at Yankees
Save for a quite trip to Cincinnati for a brief three games interleague showdown against a rebuilding Reds team, the Orioles will stay within the AL East for the rest of the month of April, giving them a good idea of exactly where they stand.
The opening series against Toronto should be particularly exciting given the recent bad blood between these two teams. These were the two teams that played the classic extra-inning Wild Card game that saw the Orioles fall with their best pitcher, Britton, still on the bench. Even before that game, however, it seemed that hardly a series goes by between these two teams that doesn’t result in somebody being plunked or at least some words being exchanges with Jose Bautista and Adam Jones the primary parties on each side. Baltimore will get two shot against the Jays in their first four series and will get to test themselves against the projected cream of the crop in the division in the Red Sox twice as well.
Perhaps the biggest note on this early schedule for the Orioles is the number of early off-days. That could prove particularly helpful as ace pitcher Chris Tillman is expected to miss the first couple weeks of the season, but with three off-days in the first eight days of the season, they’ll be able to stagger the rotation enough until he’s back unless he has a setback.
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The 2017 Major League Baseball season is tentatively set to begin on April 2, 2017, and feature three games, including the 2016 World Series champions Chicago Cubs facing off against the St. Louis Cardinals, which will be ESPN's first Sunday Night Baseball game of the year.
The 88th MLB All-Star Game will be hosted by the Miami Marlins and will be played at Marlins Park on July 11, 2017. It will be televised nationally on Fox.
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