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MLB season preview: The Orioles need some pitching to match all those homers

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If you’ve watched the Baltimore Orioles the past few years, then you know this refrain well: They’ll hit a ton of homers, but will the pitching be good enough?

There’s no doubt the Orioles lineup has pop, from Manny Machado to Chris Davis to reigning home-run king Mark Trumbo, the O’s can flat-out hit. To the tune of the most homers in MLB last season. With Zach Britton leading the way, the Orioles also had the third-best bullpen in baseball last season. The starting rotation, though, that’s another story.

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If Baltimore hopes to get back to the postseason and be better than a middle-of-the-pack team in the AL East, then the key is its younger pitchers. By now, the O’s know what they’re going to get of healthy versions of Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez. But what about Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy?

After slow starts, they each showed a glimmer of hope in 2016. With Tillman battling a shoulder injury and out for opening day, Gausman and Bundy will be needed more than ever. If this is the year they take a step forward, the O’s could be challenging for the division crown. If not, they’re going to need to a hit *a lot* more homers. (Mike Oz)

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions
: Seth Smith, Welington Castillo, Vidal Nuno
Subtractions: Yovani Gallardo, Matt Wieters

The Orioles biggest move of the offseason was retaining Trumbo. Since he was on the club last year, we’re not counting him as an addition. Outside of him, the team made modest upgrades where they could. Smith is a useful platoon player, and should give the Orioles adequate production when called upon. Castillo fits the same mold. He was some flaws, but provides plenty of pop at his position, which is a somewhat common theme for the Orioles. He’ll take over for Wieters, who left in free agency.

As for the other loss: No one is clamoring to have Gallardo back, even though injuries wrecked much of last season. Smith is a better player, so the Orioles did well to find a taker for Gallardo and actually receive something of value in return. (Chris Cwik)

Mark Trumbo and Manny Machado are among the most powerful Orioles. (AP)
Mark Trumbo and Manny Machado are among the most powerful Orioles. (AP)

KEY PLAYER
With their pitching not quite on the same level as their fellow AL East foes, and their base-stealing ability still, well, pretty bad (only 19 in 2016, last in the majors), the Orioles just need to keep hitting the ball out of the park. And Trumbo has to lead the way. He hit an MLB-leading 47 dingers last year, four more than anyone else. He won’t be alone in his dinger quest, with a lineup full of power threats like Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Manny Machado, but Trumbo is the guy who the O’s gave nearly $40 million this winter. So he needs to set the tone and start thumping ’em out of the park early and often. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup

1. Adam Jones, CF (.265/.310/.436, 29 HR, 83 RBI, 86 R)
2. Seth Smith, RF (.249/.342/.415, 16 HR, 63 RBI)
3. Manny Machado, 3B (.294/.343/.533, 37 HR, 96 RBI, 105 R)
4. Chris Davis, 1B (.221/.332/.459, 38 HR, 84 RBI, 99 R)
5. Mark Trumbo, DH (.256/.316/.533, 47 HR, 108 RBI, 94 R)
6. Jonathan Schoop, 2B (.267/.298/.454, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 82 R)
7. Welington Castillo, C (.264/.322/.423, 14 HR, 68 RBI)
8. J.J. Hardy, SS (.269/.309/.407, 9 HR, 48 RBI)
9. Hyun Soo Kim, LF (.302/.382/.420, 6 HR, 36 RBI)

Rotation
1. Kevin Gausman (9-12, 3.61 ERA, 179.2 IP, 174 K)
2. Dylan Bundy (10-6, 4.02 ERA, 109.2 IP, 104 K)
3. Chris Tillman (16-6, 3.77 ERA, 172 IP, 140 K)
4. Wade Miley (9-13, 5.37 ERA, 166 IP, 137 K)
5. Ubaldo Jimenez (8-12, 5.44 ERA, 142.1 IP, 125 K)

A lot of the Orioles' success will depend on their young pitchers taking a step forward. (AP)
A lot of the Orioles' success will depend on their young pitchers taking a step forward. (AP)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
The Orioles still look like a better-than-average team on paper, but also remain in the AL East, where the competition never gets any easier. There’s no reason to think they’ll fall apart coming off last season’s wild-card appearance, but given the expected improvement in Boston, New York and perhaps even Tampa Bay, 84-86 wins might be their upside. (Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
A lot of what the Orioles accomplish this season will be based on the starting rotation. If there’s little to no improvement there — Tillman’s injury certainly doesn’t help — then the division could pass them by leading to their first losing season since 2010. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Will Kevin Gausman take another step forward this year?
Gausman is going to need that step forward to justify his current ADP. He’s being priced as a Top-40 starting pitcher in both Yahoo and NFBC leagues. He wasn’t quite at that level last year (3.61 ERA, 1.28 WHIP), though he was one of the AL’s best pitchers in the second half (3.10 ERA). Overall, it was a notable growth season for Gausman, in his age-25 year — he struck out almost a batter per inning, and his walk rate remained excellent (2.4/9).

[Elsewhere: Get the answers to other pressing fantasy questions about the Orioles]

If the arrow is going to keep pointing up, Gausman needs to get a better handle on the gopher ball. He gave up 28 taters last year (15.4 percent HR/FB), and was also homer-prone in 2015. Given the realities of Camden Yards — it’s been a 10-percent power float the last three years, per the Bill James Handbook — I view Gausman’s current ADP with a skeptical light. Maybe the AL East doesn’t have quite the offensive teeth as it used to — though Boston led the majors in runs last year — but in a mixed league, it’s still safer to pitcher-shop in the National League. I’m not dismissing Gausman out of hand, but I’m not going to outjump the entire room for him, either. A lot of smart fantasy players still remember Gausman’s prospect status a earlier this decade, and I suspect that latent optimism is behind the current price. (Scott Pianowski)

BEST FOLLOW
Does Adam Jones have a cooking show in his future?

Cooking Class with @revive.world

A post shared by 10 (@simplyaj10) on Jan 24, 2017 at 9:13am PST

He might! He could also be a crackerjack sneaker pitchman. Even when he’s intentionally advertising something, he’s delightful and personable. (Plus, his family is adorable.) Literally everything he posts is entertaining and fun, so if you’re not already following him, get to it! (Roscher)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
Everyone knows Maryland has one of the best state flags. Don’t try to argue, because it’s the truth. Well, the Orioles are capitalizing on this during a May 20 game against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles are giving away replica jerseys with Maryland Flag Script.

The Orioles logo and the number on the front of the jersey will be filled with that Maryland state flag pattern. And if you’re one of the strange people who don’t like the Maryland flag, well, you’re getting a free jersey. Don’t complain about it. (Cwik)

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs
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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!