Baseball analysts expect the Orioles to finish just above .500 in 2017, in spite of continued great hitting and a bullpen that is second to none. Baltimore relievers led the American League with a 3.40 ERA last year. The pen should be even better with the return of Darren O’Day.

The problems will be defense on the corner outfield slots and a thin starting rotation. The ace, Chris Tillman, is expected to miss opening day for the third straight year. He is still suffering from a shoulder ailment that put the right-hander on the disabled list last August.

Opening Day starter

That leaves Kevin Gausman, with his 4.2 Wins Above Replacement value, according to Baseball-Reference.com, as the leader of a less than average group.

After Gausman, the staff looks like Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley. Of the finals three, only Bundy had a WAR of more than 1 last year (1.7).

Manager Buck Showalter doesn’t think the Birds will need a fifth starter until April 15, so Tillman will avoid the disabled list and stay on the roster as he recovers. If Tillman can’t go, recently acquired Gabriel Ynoa, a starter in the minors, may get an early look.

New pitching coaches are in Sarasota this year, but they are more of the Dave Wallace lets-see-what-we-have-mold than Rick Adair’s tweak, tweak, tweak. In fact, Wallace mentored the new pitching coach, Roger McDowell. “I learned everything I know about being a pitching coach probably from Dave Wallace,” McDowell said in a teleconference upon being hired.

Allan Mills moves up from Bowie to coach the bullpen.

Who is responsible?

After five years of ineffectiveness Rick Peterson was fired as the director of pitching development last year. His use of biomechanical research and psychological principles weren’t working as team ERA reached 4.22 last year. The pitching and minor league collapse extends far beyond one man.

Three honchos who have witnessed the decline of prospects include Dan Daquette, executive vice president of baseball operations, Scouting Director Gary Rajsich and Brian Graham, the farm director. Chance Sisco is the Birds only top 100 prospect and he barely made the list at No. 99.

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