Power, strong 'pen can't push O's into postseason

Power, strong 'pen can't push O's into postseason

BALTIMORE -- What a difference a year makes.

Roughly 12 months after capturing their first American League East title since 1997, the Orioles found themselves on the other end of things in late September: eliminated from postseason play. This year -- unlike the previous three -- Baltimore also came up short of a winning record in a disappointing and oftentimes maddeningly inconsistent second half.

"It's painful," manager Buck Showalter said of watching postseason races swirl around his club, which played the Blue Jays and Yankees in its final week. "Not painful, that's wrong. But jealousy is a horrible emotion. I try to not let it get the best of me. People at this level are participators, not watchers."

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The O's will certainly need to augment their roster to return to the mix in 2016. While the team's offense was capable of big power, it went missing in stretches and a strikeout-prone group made for some serious lulls. On the pitching side, the rotation took a step back as Bud Norris was released and the rest of the group each had their share of bumps along the way. Baltimore's starters ranked among the league's highest in ERA, and even a stellar bullpen -- led by closer Zach Britton and setup man Darren O'Day -- couldn't overcome that.

Britton notches the save

Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who worked together to masterfully construct the club's roster the past three years, didn't have the same flexibility in 2015. And Duquette's smaller offseason acquisitions -- most notably outfielder Travis Snider -- were unable to make up for the free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

"You talk about needs. I like the way this clubhouse is right now," center fielder Adam Jones said. "Obviously you can add a few pieces, so if we bring this team back and add a few pieces, I'd like that.

"But the reality is, this clubhouse is going to be very different, especially with the number of free agents. Bring back who you really, really want and you really think is going to be the most effective for the next five years, at least three of four years, until I'm up, Manny [Machado is] a free agent. There's a lot of things. I think the next three years are going to be very important to this organization."

Record: 81-81, third place in AL East.

Defining moment: At 62-57, the Orioles were swept in a four-game home series against the Twins in late August. The losses set up a rough stretch for Baltimore, which went on to drop 16 of 20 games, including two season-high six-game losing streaks.

The O's went on a five-series losing streak that started with the Twins set and didn't end until they took two of three Sept. 7-9 in New York. Though Baltimore had an outside shot at the second AL Wild Card spot until it was swept in Boston in its final road series, those four games against Minnesota set up a stretch that the Orioles never could recover from.

What went right: The bullpen, particularly O'Day and Britton, kept the relief corps as Baltimore's strong suit all year. Chaz Roe was a nice addition and gave the O's a lift before hitting the disabled list.

Machado, coming off season-ending knee surgery, had a career year in all offensive categories. Despite missing a solid chunk of time with a right knee injury, Jonathan Schoop showed flashes of what he could become as an everyday guy. Chris Davis posted another 40-plus homer season and went on a ridiculous tear in August. Caleb Joseph had a solid sophomore season and continued to grow as a catcher. Steve Clevenger, a local product, added a nice boost for the Orioles' lineup late in the season.

Machado crushes two home runs

Mychal Givens proved to be a solid addition to the bullpen, with fellow rookies Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson also making their first Major League start each. Ubaldo Jimenez was electric in the first half of the season. Non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisition Gerardo Parra arrived and provided a brief spark for the team. Jimmy Paredes was one of baseball's hottest hitters for two months.

What went wrong: Norris, a 15-game winner last year, was removed from the rotation and later released. The O's went through a carousel of outfielders in trying to replace Cruz and Markakis, ending with them designating Delmon Young, Nolan Reimold, Alejandro De Aza, David Lough and Snider. Snider was their biggest move of the offseason.

J.J. Hardy had a down year offensively, as the shortstop struggled to stay healthy and on the field. As a lineup, the Orioles' strikeouts reached an alarming number, more than last year and double digits nearly every night during their late-August swoon. Chris Tillman, the team's Opening Day starter, struggled mightily in the first half.

Miguel Gonzalez hit the disabled list and wasn't able to go deep upon his return, landing him on the DL again. Matt Wieters returned from Tommy John surgery, but was worked in slowly and rarely caught back-to-back games. Steve Pearce was unable to follow up on a breakout season. Paredes went into a massive slump.

Biggest surprise: Givens. A converted shortstop, the pitching prospect gave hitters a tough time with an unusual arm angle and a fastball in the upper 90s.

Givens fans Napoli in debut

Hitter of the Year: Machado. You can certainly make the case for Davis and his power, but no one was as consistent from Opening Day until season's end than Machado. His 30-plus homers aren't too shabby, either.

Pitcher of the Year: Britton. O'Day is another good option here, as the duo combined to form a formidable back end of the 'pen. Britton continues to establish himself as one of the game's best closers.

Rookie of the Year: Has to be Givens, who figures to be a nice piece of the bullpen in 2016.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.