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Know Your Enemy: Baltimore Orioles

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The Orioles will need to hit well to contend.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona --- The Baltimore Orioles were in the wild-card game last year, a one-and-done affair with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Except someone forgot to tell manager Buck Showalter that it was one-and-done and he shouldn’t have bothered saving his closer Zach Britton, the best reliever in baseball last year, for the next inning or the next day. Britton sat in the bullpen while Ubaldo Jimenez gave up the three-run homer to Edwin Encarnacion that won the game for Toronto.

The O’s, presumably, have learned their lesson from that and if they get to that wild-card game again, Britton will be used in an important situation. After flaming out as a starter, Britton has a 1.38 ERA and 0.909 WHIP over the last three seasons (204 appearances) with 120 saves and only eight home runs allowed in 209 innings.

I’m telling you all this about Britton because the rest of the Orioles team returns pretty much intact from last year. The rotation will be the same, headed by Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman. Yovani Gallardo is gone, traded to the Mariners for Seth Smith. Smith will start many games in right field, and Gallardo is being replaced in the rotation by Dylan Bundy. former No. 1 pick (fourth overall in 2011, five picks ahead of Javier Baez) who has yet to fulfill his promise, largely because of recovery from Tommy John surgery. If Bundy, who is only 24, finally blossoms, the O’s rotation will be very, very good.

After a dalliance with free agency, Mark Trumbo, who led the major leagues in 2016 with 47 home runs, signed a three-year deal to remain Baltimore’s DH. But even with other good hitters like Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Chris Davis, the O’s scored only 744 runs last year, seventh in the American League. They’ll have to do better than that to contend.

Matt Wieters departed for the Nationals as a free agent, and the O’s signed our old friend Welington Castillo to replace him. Castillo has turned into a pretty decent hitter, though it’s hard to believe he’ll be 30 in April.

The Cubs haven’t visited Baltimore since 2003, so I’d expect a lot of Cubs fans to make the trip (especially since it’s on a weekend right after the All-Star break), and the teams last met at Wrigley Field in 2014, when the Cubs swept the Orioles. Overall the Cubs are 6-3 in interleague play against Baltimore.

The dates of this year’s series at Camden Yards: July 14-15-16.