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Orioles 2018: A Season of Optimism or Pessimism?

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We’re just a few days away from the launch of a new baseball season.

Across the area, from Woodbine in the west, to Whiteford in the east, from the Hereford zone up north all the way to Harwood in the south, there’s no consensus about how to approach this Orioles campaign.

Opening Day is, almost upon us, Thursday, in fact. And when Dylan Bundy throws the first pitch against Minnesota, it will be difficult to know exactly how to feel about Orioles baseball 2018. The optimists will point out that the Birds return a potent batting attack. The middle of the order looks as fierce as anyone’s in the American League, even mighty Houston or the Yankees. Manager Buck Showalter will have at his disposal five players who have all hit 20 home runs in a season, from shortstop Manny Machado to second baseman Jonathan Schoop to first baseman Chris Davis to centerfielder Adam Jones to designated hitter Mark Trumbo.

Schoop is coming off a season in 2017 in which he hit 32 home runs, 105 RBI with a batting average of .293, all career highs. He’s a budding superstar and, at age 26, could be an anchor of the club’s lineup for years to come. And the Orioles have a bonafide leadoff hitter for the first time in years, in third baseman Tim Beckham, who was borderline brilliant after he was traded to Baltimore in midseason from Tampa Bay. Beckham gives the Birds speed at the top of the attack, which should bring a badly needed dimension to the Baltimore offense.

And now for the other side, the pessimists’ view. While the Orioles shed two-fifths of a starting pitching rotation that had the highest ERA in baseball in 2017 with the welcome departures of Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez, they didn’t exactly replace them with the modern versions of Jim Palmer and Dave McNally.

General manager Dan Duquette signed Andrew Cashner, who was a .500 pitcher last year with Texas. That 11-11 record was the second-best of his career and he had shoulder issues last year. Duquette then made a late signing last week getting former Tampa Bay pitcher Alex Cobb to sign a four-year, nearly $60 million contract. Cobb threw a career-high in innings last year, which was his first full season after missing all of 2015 and most of 2016 with reconstructive elbow surgery.

The Orioles will be counting on Bundy and Kevin Gausman to continue to grow, while hoping that former ace Chris Tillman returns to form. They’ll also have to wait for All-Star closer Zach Britton to come back from an Achilles tendon tear, sometime in June. So, removing optimism and pessimism, what’s the takeaway?

Well, with Machado and Jones, among others, in their final contractual year with the Orioles, there’s reason for fans to hope that they will play with motivation to get big 2019 contracts and that that fire will drag the rest of the club along. There’s also reason to question if there’s enough pitching to make this work. Separate the optimism and pessimism, and you get the reality of what feels like a .500 season. And that’s how I see it for this week.

You can reach us via e-mail with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.
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