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Orioles off-season of uncertainty begins now

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Orioles off-season of uncertainty begins now

At the dawn of the Buck Showalter era five years ago, a breakeven season would have cause for celebration in Baltimore.

Now, it just feels empty.

After 14 losing seasons, shouldn’t four consecutive non-losing seasons—for the first time in 30 years—feel better?

No.

That’s because Showalter has succeeded in one of his most important tasks — raising expectations — and after an unlikely wild card team in 2012, a competitive one in 2013, and an AL East winner a year ago, a .500 team just doesn’t make it.

The Orioles had to win five straight games against Toronto and New York to close at the break-even point, just the second time in team history it finished there.

But, the fans who attended Sunday’s windy farewell knew all too well that big changes are in store.

After the first two winning seasons, the Orioles were able to keep their core of Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters together and had a young budding star in Manny Machado.

Markakis is gone, and now Davis and Wieters are expected to go, and fans aren’t pleased about it.

Davis is in an enviable position. Not yet 30, he’s a free agent in a year where there aren’t many quality first basemen available, let alone ones with two home run titles.

The Orioles are faced with an awful decision. If they do everything in their power to sign Davis, they’ll likely sacrifice the ability to add other stars and complementary pieces. They may also lose the chance to extend Machado, who’s still three years away from free agency, but may be worth more than Davis.

After Markakis and Nelson Cruz left, fans wondered how the Orioles would be able to replace them. A popular retort was that Davis, Machado and Wieters would all be back, happy and healthy.

That was mostly true. Davis nearly doubled his home run output of 2014. Machado hit 35 and became a much more selective hitter, but Wieters, due to a limited schedule in what was essentially a rehab year, didn’t produce what was expected.

While the losses of Cruz and Markakis were crucial, they also pointed to a lineup much too dependent on power. Machado is now a dangerous all-around hitter, and Jonathan Schoop is showing signs that he could be, too.

But, there were too many times when the team seemingly waited on the home run.

MORE ORIOLES: Showalter noncommital about coaches returning

The players that Dan Duquette and Showalter hoped would adequately fill in for Cruz and Markakis—Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider and Delmon Young—failed, and were all gone long before season’s end.

Steve Pearce failed to follow up on his surprising 2015, though he showed some late power, and Duquette was forced to try and replace Markakis at the trading deadline with Gerardo Parra, another pending free agent.

Davis, Parra, Pearce, Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day are all free agents, and if even two of those return, it would be a major victory.

While the club continued to hit home runs, it continued to strike out at an alarming rate, and the on-base percentage, which has been a concern of Duquette ever since he arrived four years ago, dropped yet again—to .307.

Those issues all could have been forgotten had the starting pitching maintained its 2014 excellence.

It didn’t.

While Chen continued to almost always provide creditable starts, and Ubaldo Jimenez rebounded to somewhat justify their investment in him, the others fell back.

None fell farther than Bud Norris, who led the team in wins with 15 in 2014, and won just two before his July 31 jettisoning.

Chris Tillman, who was the team’s best pitcher in 2013 and 2014, had a middling year, and Miguel Gonzalez stumbled, too.

The Orioles are hoping for more from Tillman, Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman, who turned in a few excellent late season starts.

All will have to be much better in 2016.

Of all the free agents, Chen is the least likely to return. The Orioles are betting, and I think they’re right, that they got a four-year bargain with Chen, and that re-upping him isn’t wise. He earned $15.47 million for the past four years, and in his next contract, he could average that on a four-year deal.

Even if O’Day leaves, which will probably happen, the Orioles may be somewhat protected with the emergence of Brad Brach and Mychal Givens to set up for Zach Britton.

Duquette and Showalter will address the 2015 season and what they think lies ahead for the next few months this afternoon.

One area that must be immediately addressed is the uncertainty surrounding the coaching staff, which Showalter has repeatedly said, is the best he’s had. None are under contract for 2016.

The off-season begins now.

MORE ORIOLES: Mancini wins Orioles top minor league player award

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Machado hits 2-run HR in 15th as Orioles beat Braves 10-7

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USA TODAY Sports

Machado hits 2-run HR in 15th as Orioles beat Braves 10-7

ATLANTA -- For Braves manager Brian Snitker, playing the matchups meant pitching to Manny Machado with first base open and a marathon game on the line.

The Orioles slugger made that strategy look foolish.

Machado hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the 15th inning, lifting Baltimore to a 10-7 win over Atlanta on Friday night after each team staged dramatic ninth-inning rallies.

The Braves surrendered six runs in the ninth, and then scored four times in the bottom of the inning.

Peter Moylan, Atlanta's eighth pitcher, hit Craig Gentry to open the 15th. Gentry moved to second on Austin Wynns' sacrifice.

With first base open, the Braves pitched to Machado and he responded with his 19th homer, a drive into the Orioles' bullpen in left.

Snitker said the right-handed Moylan is tough on right-handed hitters but acknowledged "you hate like hell (Machado) is one of them."

Machado said an intentional walk "crossed my mind at first. I thought they were. In that situation they probably had faith in Moylan out there that he could get some ground balls to the left side of the infield."

Machado hit a 0-2 slider Moylan said was "supposed to be middle in." Moylan said the pitch "slipped out of my hand and ended up middle middle."

Moylan (0-1) gave up another run on singles by Colby Rasmus and Jonathan Schoop.

Mike Wright Jr. (1-0), Baltimore's seventh pitcher, threw two scoreless innings.

The game lasted 5 hours, 21 minutes.

The Orioles trailed 3-1 heading into the ninth, and the Braves rallied against closer Zach Britton in the bottom of the inning. Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino was not used while Dan Winkler allowed four runs while recording only one out.

Snitker said he rested Vizcaino because of shoulder soreness and he might be available on Saturday.

Chris Davis hit a drought-breaking homer and drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly as Baltimore opened a 7-3 lead.

Britton got one out and was charged with four runs and five hits. He gave up a single to Johan Camargo and a double to Danny Santana before hitting Ender Inciarte to load the bases.

Ozzie Albies' bases-loaded single drove in Camargo. Freddie Freeman's two-run single cut the lead to one before Nick Markakis tied the game with a double to right field.

Atlanta had jumped in front on Charlie Culberson's tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth.

Davis, making his first start since June 11, hit his first homer since May 9 in the fifth. Camargo tied the game with his run-scoring double in the seventh.

Braves left-hander Sean Newcomb allowed five hits in seven innings.

Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb permitted four hits in seven innings

The start of the game was delayed 11 minutes by rain.

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American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

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USA Today Sports Images

American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

The 2018 Major League All-Star Game is less than a month away. Fan votes are well underway and early frontrunners are close to locking their position in the Midsummer Classic.

Yesterday, we projected how the National League roster will play out. Today it is time to look at the American League roster projection.

For five straight seasons, the AL has had the upper hand in the MLB All-Star Game. In 2018, it does not appear that will change as the American League roster will be loaded from top to bottom.

As a reminder, here is how the process shakes out, first with the fan vote, players’ ballots, and the MLB Commissioner’s Office:

  • Fan vote: nine position players in AL (DH)/ eight in NL; plus final vote for each league
  • Player’s ballots: next 17 players in AL/ 16 players in NL; (five starting pitchers, three relievers must be chosen)
  • MLB Commissioner’s Office: five AL players (four pitchers, one position player) and seven NL players (four pitchers, three position players)

One player from each team must make the initial roster (before injury withdraws, etc.). Below is how it looks the American League roster will play out, considering the latest fan vote returns:

American League All-Star Roster Projection:

C – Wilson Ramos, Rays (Fan Vote), Gary Sánchez, Yankees (Player Ballot)
1B – José Abreu, White Sox (Fan Vote), Joey Gallo, Rangers (Player Ballot)
2B – Jose Altuve, Astros (Fan Vote), Jed Lowrie, Athletics (Player Ballot)
3B – José Ramírez, Indians (Fan Vote), Yangervis Solarte, Blue Jays (Player Ballot), Mike Moustakas, Royals (Commissioner’s Office)
SS – Manny Machado, Orioles (Fan Vote), Jean Segura, Mariners (Player Ballot),
OF – Mookie Betts, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Mike Trout, Angels (Fan Vote), Aaron Judge, Yankees (Fan Vote), Michael Brantley, Indians (Player Ballot), Eddie Rosario, Twins (Player Ballot), Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees (Player Ballot),
DH – J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Shohei Ohtani, Angels (Player Ballot)

SP – Justin Verlander, Astros (Player Ballot), Luis Severino, Yankees (Player Ballot), Corey Kluber, Indians (Player Ballot), Chris Sale, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Gerrit Cole, Astros (Player Ballot), Blake Snell, Tampa Bay (Commissioner’s Office)

RP – Edwin Díaz, Mariners (Player Ballot), Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Aroldis Chapman, Yankees (Player Ballot), Joe Jiménez, Tigers (Commissioner’s Office), Delin Betances, Yankees (Commissioner’s Office), Chris Devenski, Astros (Commissioner’s Office)

Manager: Jeff Luhnow, Astros

Based on this projection, the New York Yankees will have the most representatives with six. The Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox will both have four.

Ensuring no snubs, there will be five players selected for the final fan vote to get one more All-Star into the game for a total of 32 for the American League. As you can see, no matter how the AL roster plays out, it will be a dominant team once again as they look for six straight All-Star wins.

Four of those five wins were inside a National League stadium and that will not change as the Washington Nationals will host this season.

MORE ALL-STAR NEWS: