After everything came together for a division title in 2014 -- their first since 1997 -- the Orioles slipped to .500 last year and appear to be stuck in the same no man's land where the Blue Jays resided for two decades.
Their lineup is so good that they pretty much have to go for it, but their pitching is ultimately too much to overcome.
Granted, it wasn't in 2014, when they had more or less the same cast of characters, apart from the Miami-bound Wei-Yin Chen. But his mid-threes ERA and 185 innings shouldn't be too hard to replace, right?
Maybe if it was just the one opening, but after Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were exposed last year, the Orioles no longer have any starting pitchers they can trust. It seems so obvious in retrospect: A bunch of mediocre pitchers just happened to peak at the right time two years ago. Bud Norris won 15 games for those Orioles, and he might not even crack the rebuilding Braves' rotation this year.
And there's a chance 2016 ends up being an even ruder awakening than 2015. The addition of Mark Trumbo gives the Orioles possibly the most monochromatic lineup in the game. Between Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop, they already had their share of all-or-nothing sluggers, and the man Trumbo is replacing, Gerardo Parra, was a welcome departure from that, at least in theory. Maybe 28-year-old "rookie" Hyun Soo Kim provides the lineup all the variety it needs. He made plenty of contact in Korea and knows how to work the count. You just shouldn't expect more than Nori Aoki-type production from him when you account for the inflated power numbers over there.
Of course, harping on the lineup is kind of a stretch when it's obviously the team's strength. Manny Machado emerged as the franchise player he was always going to be -- and at only 23, no less -- and is now a first-rounder in Fantasy. Davis has been an MVP-caliber player two of the last three years, and Jones, while perhaps entering his decline, has been too steady to regard as anything less. The Orioles are one of just a handful of teams, the Blue Jays included, with three hitters projected to go in the first four rounds of Fantasy drafts.
But will it matter if they're always playing from behind? The good news is that whenever their starting rotation does give them the lead, they have the bullpen to preserve it, with Mychal Givens joining Darren O'Day and Zach Britton to give the Orioles three closer-caliber relievers.
2016 projected lineup
1. Hyun Soo Kim, LF
2. Manny Machado, 3B
3. Adam Jones, CF
4. Chris Davis, 1B
5. Mark Trumbo, RF
6. Matt Wieters, C
7. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
8. Jimmy Paredes, DH
9. J.J. Hardy, SS
Bench: Caleb Joseph, C
Bench: Nolan Reimold, OF
2016 projected rotation
2016 projected bullpen
Trumbo is a player who was consistently overrated during his prime, which tells you just how much his stock has fallen over the last couple years. It also reaffirms the thin margin for error for all-or-nothing hitters -- and perhaps nothing more. The Trumbo who hit 22 home runs last year had about the same hard-contact and fly-ball percentages as the one who averaged 33 in 2012 and 2013, according the FanGraphs.com. If anything, he was a better overall hitter, striking out less and going to the opposite field more, so perhaps his 10 home runs in his final 167 at-bats last year were an overdue course correction. From Chris Davis to Nelson Cruz, the Orioles have a history of resuscitating fallen power hitters, and they wouldn't have far to go with Trumbo, making him the most likely 30-homer guy you'll find in the late rounds.
In the post-steroids era, you won't find too many second basemen with the capacity for 30 home runs. In fact, no one has hit that many at the position since 2012. But Schoop has a chance to this year, at least judging by his injury-shortened 2015. In 305 at-bats, he hit 15 home runs, which translates to about 30 over a full season. His ISO, which is like slugging percentage without the singles, ranked third among second basemen and up there with Adam Jones and Justin Upton across all positions. With those kinds of numbers at age 23, you get a sense of just what kind of just what kind of power potential Schoop has. Judging by his walk rate, it's about all he has, so even with 30 homers, he may not outperform Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler in points leagues. He meets a different need, though, in Rotisserie leagues.
We've been down this road before with Gausman -- just last year, in fact, when the Orioles talked like he had a rotation spot sewn up only to confine him to the bullpen early in the season. But with the departure of Wei-Yin Chen, the Orioles are so thin at starting pitcher that they have almost no choice but to start Gausman this time. And it's about time. The fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft boasts a 99-mph fastball and has never had significant control issues. The one knock on him -- and probably why the Orioles have been reluctant to start him to this point -- is that he doesn't have the most fleshed-out arsenal, leaning heavily on his fastball, but the stuff is so good that it may not matter. With the hype at an all-time low given the past fakeouts, Gausman is a perfect Hail Mary pick.
The Orioles aren't exactly loaded with prospects right now, which may be for the best. They tend to get burned by them, the pitchers especially. Unfortunately, the pride of their system is another who, to this point, hasn't lived up to the hype.
• Dylan Bundy was supposed to be the answer at the top of the rotation -- even before Gausman, actually -- but injuries have cost him more or less three years. And now, he's out of options, so he'll have to continue his development as part of the big-league bullpen, desperately needing to build up his innings.
• Trey Mancini looked like he'd get a shot at first base before Chris Davis re-signed and may still be a dark horse for the DH job, but he was a nobody before hitting .341 with 21 homers and a .938 OPS between two stops last year.
• Hunter Harvey was looking like yet another dominant pitching prospect before missing all of 2015 with an elbow injury. Oh, but he hasn't had Tommy John surgery yet, so watch out for that.
• Chance Sisco's main appeal is that he plays catcher, but that may not be true by the time he reaches the big leagues. He makes contact and works the count but may have only gap power.