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Clock ticking on Orioles division title hopes

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Clock ticking on Orioles division title hopes

The Orioles are in trouble. The Orioles can still win the American League East.

Both of those are correct.

Nearly one-third into the season, the Orioles are four games under .500 for the second time. Not since 2011 have they been that far below the breakeven point.

They’re only three games out of first place in the East. A year ago, they were 3 ½ games out through 50 games and won the division going away.

The Orioles haven’t yet played with their projected roster on the field, and J.J. Hardy may have another serious injury.

Last year, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters never played together, and they still went to the American League Championship Series.

There are many more worrisome signs this year than there were a year ago. Machado and Wieters were the key players on the disabled list. Bud Norris was on it briefly. This year, Wieters, Hardy, Norris, Kevin Gausman, and Jonathan Schoop gave been on the DL.

Last year’s team had Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. It also had a surprising breakout season from Steve Pearce. This year, Cruz and Markakis are gone, and Pearce is batting .186.

Hardy missed the first 25 games of the season with a shoulder injury. If the injury that caused him to miss Monday night’s game turns out to be an oblique injury (manager Buck Showalter didn’t want to use that term when talking with reporters in Houston), then it could cost him another month.

Everth Cabrera, who was supposed to be insurance for Hardy has played well defensively, but horribly offensively. He’s 2-for-26 in May, and batting just .202 with no power.

If Hardy is sidelined for any length of time, they could call Paul Janish up from Norfolk. His defense is excellent, but has a lifetime .214 average in the majors, and is hitting just .234 for the Tides.

The Orioles clearly need some offense.

Last year, they scored two or fewer runs 45 times, but won 11 of them. This year, they’ve lost 18 of 19 games in which they’ve scored two or fewer.

The offense is probably going to have to come from within. Other than Chris Parmelee or Nolan Reimold there doesn’t appear to be any help from Norfolk. The team’s two best Triple-A position prospects Dariel Alvarez and Christian Walker are batting .239 and .243.

Only four teams (Miami, Milwaukee, Oakland and Philadelphia) seem to be out of playoff contention, and there’s likely to be lots of competition for players they might want to deal.

Some of the Orioles with the best track records are stumbling. Chris Tillman has a six-game losing streak. Adam Jones has hit just one home run in his last 36 games. Chris Davis has struck out 70 times in 49 games.

There are some good signs. Three starters, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez all have ERAs under 3.50. Mike Wright, who’s starting tonight has looked strong in his first three starts, and the back end of the bullpen, Zach Britton and Darren O’Day have been solid.

In order for the team to contend, the starters must keep pitching at least as well as they have, and Tillman must join them. And, they must get through Brian Matusz’s suspension.

Matusz’s appeal of his eight-game suspension for having a foreign substance on his arm is scheduled to be heard Wednesday, and if it’s upheld, that makes for a tricky several days.

When Machado was suspended for five games a year ago, the Orioles played with a three-man bench and won four of five.

Showalter hasn’t said definitively what he will do, but the odds are he’ll play with a three-man bench and keep seven relievers though it’s likely he’ll change the roster during the suspension’s duration.

If there’s an injury during that time that’s thought to be relatively minor, the Orioles might have to disable that player. A two-man bench won’t work. The possible addition of Reimold might also have to wait until the suspension is completed.

A suspension of eight games that might start, say, Friday wouldn’t conclude until June 14. Even though Matusz might not appear to be terribly valuable, and generally appears in games where they trail (the Orioles are 3-14 in games he pitches), his absence makes both in-game and roster maneuvering tricky.

There is precedent on the Orioles side. While their best shot may be at winning a mediocre AL East, last year, the Kansas City Royals were 24-28 and came within an eyelash of winning the World Series.

But, if the Orioles don’t start playing better and soon, all those precedents won’t mean much.

MORE ORIOLES: ORIOLES HOPE HARDY ISN'T GONE FOR LONG

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Orioles agree to one-year deal with pitcher Chris Tillman, according to reports

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USA Today Sports

Orioles agree to one-year deal with pitcher Chris Tillman, according to reports

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A person familiar with the negotiations says pitcher Chris Tillman and the Baltimore Orioles have agreed to a $3 million, one-year contract.

The deal includes performance bonuses, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because the deal had not yet been announced.

Tillman was 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 19 starts and five relief appearances last year. He would be the second starter added by the Orioles in the past week after right-hander Andrew Cashner.

Tillman likely would join right-handers Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Cashner in the rotation.

The 29-year-old right-hander lives in Sarasota and had been working out at the Orioles' facility before spring training. Manager Buck Showalter watched Tillman throw and was impressed.

Tillman began last season on the disabled list with right shoulder stiffness.

"Better than he did last year at this time. I think he's got the chance to pitch well for somebody this year," Showalter said. "A lot of the challenges he had last year -- this time last year -- aren't there. Somebody's going to reap the benefits."

Tillman's is 73-55 with a 4.43 ERA in nine major league seasons, all with the Orioles. He won 16 games in both 2013 and 2016.

"He's a guy when he's healthy you can bank on him giving you 200 innings and keeping his ERA between a 3 and a 4," Gausman said. "That in the AL East is always going to be very valuable."

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

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Orioles Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Orioles Spring Training Schedule 2018

Live baseball is close to gracing our television screens again. The Orioles haven't had the most active offseason, to put it mildly. Fans are still wondering who will make up more than half the spots in this year's rotation, and Manny Machado's upcoming free agency is looming over every decision the organization makes.

Still, it's exciting to be able to follow the team again. Not every game is televised, so get ready to constantly refresh your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll be comforting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Jonathan Schoop is building on his breakout season, or if top-prospect Austin Hays is all he's cracked up to be (spoiler: he is).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing in the next few weeks. The O's haven't yet made a big splash this offseason, but with the sheer volume of capable players still on the market, you have to wonder if they'll try to sign some impact players at bargain values.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the lineup or rotation has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be taking place while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for thier seasons, so bookmark this page to check on on the Orioles spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Orioles 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 (SS) - Rays at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 (SS) - Orioles at Phillies, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Feb. 24 (SS) - Twins at Orioles, 6:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Orioles at Red Sox, 1:05 pm 
Monday, Feb. 26 - Tigers at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Orioles at Rays, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Cardinals at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 1 - Orioles at Rays, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 - Pirates at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 (SS) - Orioles at Phillies, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 - Red Sox at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Tuesday, Mar. 6 - Orioles at Twins, 1:05 pm 
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Orioles at Rays, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Blue Jays at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 9 - Orioles at Blue Jays, 1:07 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 (SS) - Pirates at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 (SS) - Orioles at Red Sox, 1:05 pm 
Sunday, Mar. 11 (SS) - Phillies at Orioles, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Orioles at Pirates, 1:05 pm 
Tuesday, Mar. 13 - Orioles at Twins, 1:05 pm 
Wednesday, Mar. 14 - Yankees at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Orioles at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 - Orioles at Mets, 1:10 pm 
Saturday, Mar. 17 (SS) - Blue Jays at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Mets at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Orioles at Tigers, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Rays at Orioles, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Orioles at Yankees, 6:35 pm 
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Red Sox at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Rays at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Twins at Orioles, 6:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Orioles at Phillies, 1:05 pm 
Monday, Mar. 27 (in Norfolk, VA) - Orioles at Tides (AAA), 3:05 pm