Improved rotation could prove difference-maker

Improved rotation could prove difference-maker

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Orioles squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles plan to be competitive, there's no doubting that. The hope in bringing back largely the same group from a year ago is that the starting pitching can use an improved second half to build on in 2017.

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Imagine a world where Baltimore's rotation can hold its own. That, coupled with the bullpen and offense, could very easily put the O's back atop the American League East for the first time since 2014.

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Should Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy continue to improve, the O's rotation -- which also features Chris Tillman, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez -- may not be a weakness. Keep in mind, most nights a six-inning start will be enough as the O's turn to a bullpen that includes Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day, who missed most of last year.

The offense returns Mark Trumbo, who led the Majors in home runs in 2016, and the lineup should be a threatening presence again. Manny Machado, who finished fifth in AL MVP voting, is coming off a career season and Chris Davis -- when hot -- is capable of carrying the club through stretches.

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The key for the O's -- who jumped out to a fast start in 2016 -- will be health as the pitching depth in the organization remains an issue and a few injuries could really derail things. Late in the game, they figure to be very tough to be beat and the power throughout the lineup means they're never truly out of any game.

 A group eliminated in the AL Wild Card in extra innings against Toronto is hungry to get back to the postseason and advance. And should their pitching cooperate there's no reason to think this Orioles team can't do better than that.

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. 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.