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Orioles are projected to be one of the worst teams in baseball in 2017

Orioles are projected to be one of the worst teams in baseball in 2017

The Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs last season on the strength of one of the top offenses in baseball and a dominant bullpen, but they lost in heart-breaking fashion in the Wild Card game to the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays.

The Orioles largely have the same roster as they did last year, but according to Baseball Prospectus, Baltimore is projected to finish in last place in the American League East, and have one of the worst records in baseball at 73-89. Only the Royals (91 losses) and the Padres (93 losses) are expected to have more losses than the O's. Additionally, Baseball Prospectus is giving the Orioles a 3.1 percent chance to win the division, and a 7.8 percent chance to make it to the Wild Card game. The 73 wins that are projected for the O's would be the fewest the team has had since 2011 when manager Buck Showalter took over in his first full season as the skipper. The Red Sox are projected to win 90 games and win the AL East in 2017. 

With designated hitter Mark Trumbo back with a new contract, the Orioles offense should still be a juggernaut, but the pitching staff is what is expected to let them down in 2017. Baltimore is projected to allow 816 runs this season, which is the highest projection in all of baseball. The Reds are expected to give up the second most at 803. 

That high projection for the Orioles seems to be a result of a well-below average starting pitching staff which, according to USA Today Sports, ranks as the 24th-best rotation in baseball

Although expectations aren't high for Baltimore in 2017, they shouldn't be counted out entirely. The team is still led by an MVP level player in third baseman Manny Machado, still has the best closer in baseball in Zach Britton and has steady veteran leadership in centerfielder Adam Jones, shortstop JJ Hardy and first baseman Chris Davis. 

If the Orioles are to compete for a playoff spot it will most likely come down to the starting rotation playing above expectations. If Kevin Gausman can continue the roll he was on in the second half of last season, and if Dylan Bundy can blossom into the stud he was drafted to be, the O's could end up pushing the Red Sox and Blue Jays at the top of the division. 

Related: Camden yards named best sports stadium in North America

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Best Orioles of the Century: Versatile defenders define race at third base

Best Orioles of the Century: Versatile defenders define race at third base

With fans stuck inside and no live sports for entertainment, it's time to look to the past. Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports Washington is putting together a Best of the Century team for the Baltimore Orioles. Through the past two decades, there has been a surprising amount of star power to come through Charm City, and now we can determine who has truly been the cream of the crop.

It started with the catcher, then first base and second. Now it's time for the hot corner: third base.

Through the course of Orioles history, third base is loaded. The position has seen both Mr. Oriole (Brook Robinson) and Mr. Oriole 2.0 (Cal Ripken Jr.), and this century's standouts include perhaps the most talented player in franchise history. In fact, the two favorites at third base this century have arguments as the second and third-best at the hot corner in O's history - the question is in which order?

From a star power perspective, this is the strongest position of the century for the Orioles, aided significantly by No. 8's brief tenure there before retiring in 2001.

Every finalist also spent varying amounts of time at other positions, showing off their versatility. Ripken is obviously most famous for his time at shortstop, the same position Manny Machado came through the minors playing. Melvin Mora, one of the most underrated Orioles in the last few decades, was a super utility player before settling in at third.

Any name would be well-deserving as the best of the century. Once again, it will come down to the star of one decade compared to the next. Who wins?

Here are the top contenders at third base, in chronological order.

The Contenders

Cal Ripken Jr. (2000-01)

Obviously, Ripken isn't a serious contender for Best Orioles of the Century, considering he only played in two years, and they were his final two seasons in baseball. This is clearly a more sentimental choice.

For completion's sake, here are the stats this century: 211 games, 29 home runs, 124 RBI, 0.8 WAR, and a 6.87 OPS, not what you'd expect from a normal finalist.

Ripken isn't a normal finalist though. He defined baseball in Baltimore for the previous two decades and is the best player in the franchise's history. He, of course, set the consecutive games played record, perhaps the most unbeatable mark in sports.

You can't leave him off any Orioles list if he's eligible, and yes, he's eligible. So he's on the list. Those are the rules.

Melvin Mora (2000-09)

Mora is the forgotten star of the early Orioles this century. Fans remember him as a good player, but it was easy to first think of Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis before landing on Mora.

Make no mistake, Mora was a star. He was worth 19.3 WAR from 2002-05, fifth-most among third basemen across baseball. He made two All-Star Games and won the Silver Slugger in 2004, thanks to his .340 batting average and AL-leading .419 OBP.

He wasn't a standout in the field, converting to full-time third baseman after spending his first few seasons as a super utility player. He eventually paired with Tejada to form perhaps the best left side of any infield in Orioles history, thanks to his excellent batting skills.

He is also a member of the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame.

Manny Machado (2012-18)

Machado is likely the most purely talented player the Orioles have ever had. He's a five-tool talent, with power, batting skills, decent speed, a cannon for an arm and one of the best gloves in baseball.

He came up a shortstop, but he joined the 2012 Orioles at the hot corner as a 20-year-old to help them make their first postseason in more than a decade.

From his electric debut - hitting two home runs in his second career game - to the literally countless jaw-dropping plays in the field, Machado was one of the faces of the O's resurgence from 2012-16. His unbelievable glove earned unsurprising comparisons to none other than Brooks Robinson himself, and he did it all with a smile on his face.

He hit at least 32 home runs in five straight seasons, finished top-five in MVP voting twice and won a Platinum Glove. His trade to Los Angeles at the 2018 trade deadline is the only reason he isn't a shoo-in for this spot.

The Winner

This is a tough call. Mora is really, really deserving as his career in Baltimore went underappreciated during the lowest points of the 14-year losing streak. But the correct answer is probably Machado.

In nearly 400 fewer games, FanGraphs gives Machado a 0.1 WAR edge in their careers in Baltimore. The gap on Baseball Reference is even wider. On offense, their outputs were remarkably similar. Machado hit four more home runs. His batting average was .003 higher.

Longevity has mattered in past debates, but in this case, Machado's counting stats hold up to Mora's and that doesn't mention the fielding. Mora was serviceable, while Machado set the gold standard at the position and is in the short conversation for best fielding third basemen ever. 

He also had the better peak, with multiple MVP-caliber seasons of 7.3 and 7.4 WAR. Mora was consistent, but never topped out above 5.6

When it's this close, it's also worth weighing the winning. Machado was the difference-maker on the 2012 team, the most fun season for a generation of fans, and his addition turned the team into the winningest in the AL for half a decade. Mora was terrific, and it's no fault of his that he never made the playoffs, but for a franchise like Baltimore winning is a worthy tiebreaker.

By a slimmer margin than expected, Manny Machado is the best Oriole third baseman of the century.

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Jeffrey Maier opens up about life after robbing the Orioles in 1996 ALCS

Jeffrey Maier opens up about life after robbing the Orioles in 1996 ALCS

Do you feel old yet? Baltimore's most hated 12-year-old, Jeffrey Maier, is now 36 with three kids and lives in the New England area. 

Maier etched his name in baseball lore when he notoriously reached over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium and snatched Derek Jeter's fly ball from the playing field and into the stands, resulting in a historically controversial home run in the 1996 American League Championship Series. 

It didn't matter that the replay clearly showed evidence of fan interference or that umpire Rich Garcia admitted after the fact that Jeter should have been called out. There was no replay review back then. The umpire called it a home run, so the initial call stood.

His actions helped the Yankees tie Game 1 of that infamous series against the Orioles, and eventually, win the game in 11 innings. New York would go on to win the series in five games and beat the Braves in the World Series. 

Maier joined WFAN's Sweeny Murti to talk about the play and the two types of reactions he dealt with in the aftermath. 

First, there's the obvious backlash that comes with robbing a team and an entire fan base of an important game. Maier said he understands Orioles fans' feelings on the subject, but that didn't stop the hate mail and unpleasant calls from pouring in. 

The vitriol continued into his baseball career at Wesleyan, where Maier would routinely get thrown at whether he was in the batter's box or out in the field. 

"It stuck with me throughout my baseball career," Maier said. "I've been hit several times when I played competitively, certainly with intent. Things were certainly thrown at me at one point in my freshman year at Wesleyan."

For the most part though, people haven't made Maier suffer for something he did as a pre-teen. But then there's the other side of this. The side where he was lauded as a Yankee hero, was given free tickets to games and showered with fan mail from fellow fans across the country. 

Maier even got to meet and spend time with Jeter ahead of sring training the following season. 

"[Jeter] signed a ball for me that said, 'To Jeff, thanks a lot. - Derek Jeter,'" he said. "And he signed a glove that Mizuno had sent me, because Mizuno had gotten a lot of attention because the glove I used [during Game 1] was a Mizuno glove. He signed that and that still sits and resides in our basement as well as a picture I have with him."

For some, like Tony Tarasco, the Orioles' right fielder during the incident, they've been able to put the event behind them in a way. Maier detailed how he met Tarasco years later and how positive the interaction was. 

But for others, this is one of, if not the darkest moment in Orioles history and every detail still stings. There was nothing the Orioles could really do. A 12-year-old cost them the game, and it was against the Yankees to put a cherry on top of it all. 

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