BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles entered the 2017 season hoping that their heavy hitters would produce enough offense to compensate for an undistinguished starting rotation.
They don’t intend to make the same mistake next year.
The Orioles were 71-68 before a 4-19 finish left them at 75-87 and in last place in the AL East. Coming off an appearance in the 2016 Wild-Card Game, Baltimore staggered to its first losing season since 2011.
Dylan Bundy (13-9) was the only starting pitcher with a winning record. That wasn’t enough to make up for the rest of staff that manager Buck Showalter was forced to choose from every fifth day: Wade Miley (8-15, 5.61 ERA), Ubaldo Jimenez (6-11, 6.81), Kevin Gausman (11-12, 4.68) and Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.84).
“Obviously we have got to improve the starting pitching,” Showalter said.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is in complete agreement.
“Any competitive baseball team, if it’s going to be consistent, needs good starting pitching. And our starting pitching wasn’t up to the standard we set for ourselves,” Duquette said.
Jimenez has finally reached the end of a four-year, $50 million contract and likely is done in Baltimore. Miley has a $12 million team option that probably won’t be exercised, and Tillman becomes a free agent.
“We need to build a rotation,” Duquette said. “There are some other things we can do, but if we’re going to compete against the big boys in the AL East, we’re going to have to have better starting pitching.”
The bullpen was a letdown, too. Closer Zach Britton missed much of the season with arm and knee injuries and finished with 15 saves after going 47 for 47 in 2016.
“When you assemble your team, you try to build your pitching staff around your No. 1 starter and your closer,” Duquette said. “Our No. 1 starter coming into the season was Chris Tillman and Zach Britton was one of the best pitchers in the league.”
And so, when asked to sum up the Orioles’ season, Britton said succinctly: “Disappointing for myself and for the team.”
Some things to know as Baltimore heads into the offseason:
Not all the Orioles’ problems were related to their pitching staff. Though Jonathan Schoop hit .293 with 32 homers and 105 RBIs, Manny Machado finished with a lackluster .259 batting average, and sluggers Chris Davis (.215, 26 HRs, 195 strikeouts) and Mark Trumbo (.234, 23 HRs, 149 Ks) had down seasons.
“You have a certain expectation of what people will be able to do for you, and those weren’t up to what our expectations were,” Duquette said.
Said Davis: “I’ve already started entertaining what it will take to make some key adjustments to where I can be more productive, a more consistent player.”
Trey Mancini had one of the best rookie seasons in team history, batting .293 with 24 HRs and 78 RBIs.
“Mancini proved that he’s a bona fide major leaguer,” catcher Caleb Joseph said.
One of the differences between this team and the 2016 version was not as evident as bad pitching or inconsistent hitting.
“We’ve taken a step back defensively,” Showalter said. “We need to get that back into order, especially with a pitching staff that doesn’t strike out that many people. And that’s not going to change overnight.”
GOOD START, BAD FINISH
The Orioles were 22-10 on May 9, but went 36-46 from May through July and followed a winning August with a brutal September.
“When we really needed to rack up some wins, we pitched well and didn’t hit, or we scored eight runs and gave up 10,” Davis said. “That was kind of the way our season went. For whatever reason, we couldn’t fire on all cylinders.”
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