HEISER: Baltimore Orioles could defy gloomy outlook from folks in York County and beyond

  • The Baltimore Orioles open the 2018 season on Thursday at home vs. the Minnesota Twins.
  • The Orioles are coming off a last-place finish in 2017, when they won 75 games.
  • Baltimore did make the AL playoffs three times since 2012.

It’s become an annual rite of spring.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter has led Baltimore into the American League playoffs three times since 2012. AP FILE PHOTO

Each year, folks from all across York County leave work a little early to take in the Baltimore Orioles’ regular-season opener at Camden Yards.

This year’s debut is set for 3:05 p.m. Thursday against the Minnesota Twins.

The forecast, when Dylan Bundy delivers the first pitch, is a little iffy — 65 degrees, but cloudy with a 50 percent chance of rain.

Sounds just about like the season forecast for York County’s favorite major league team.

Most of the national experts don’t have much faith in the O’s, predicting a finish toward the bottom of the ultra-competitive American League East Division, behind the superpowers to the northeast, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and probably behind the Toronto Blue Jays.

Even with opening day looming — normally a time of unabashed optimism for baseball fans — many of the Bird lovers here in the county seem unusually skeptical about their team’s prospects.

There’s just not a lot of positive buzz about the Birds. Many area O's fans, in fact, are already prepared for a major fire sale of veteran players come July.

Frankly, that pessimism is a bit of a mystery.

Manny Machado is the centerpiece of a Baltimore Orioles lineup that could be downright scary. AP FILE PHOTO

Scary lineup: Yes, the Orioles did finish last in the AL East a season ago with 75 wins, but they made the playoffs in 2016 for the third time in five years.

And when slugger Mark Trumbo returns from a quad strain in mid-April, the O’s will boast a 2018 lineup that could be downright scary.

It should look something like this: Tim Beckham (third base), Jonathan Schoop (second base), Manny Machado (shortstop), Adam Jones (outfield), Mark Trumbo (designated hitter), Chris Davis (first base), Trey Mancini (outfield), Colby Rasmus (outfield) and Caleb Joseph (catcher).

That’s a group capable of doing some serious damage. Just the starters alone could produce 200-plus homers.

Alex Cobb has been added to a Baltimore Orioles starting rotation that also includes Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman. AP FILE PHOTO

Pitching looks decent: The starting rotation won’t remind anyone of the 1971 O’s rotation (Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson) that produced four 20-game winners. Still, each of the O’s five slated starters for 2018 (Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb and Chris Tillman) have the potential to earn a dozen or more victories.

Yes, there’s certainly no No. 1 hammer in that group, but the recent additions of Cashner, Cobb and Tillman have the rotation looking considerably better than it did at the start of spring training.

The bullpen will certainly miss Zach Britton, who is likely out until at least June with an Achilles injury. Still, Brad Brach appears capable of assuming the closer’s role on an interim basis and Darren O’Day has long been a valuable set-up man. If a few of the other relievers can step up, Baltimore’s bullpen should be adequate until Britton’s potential return.

The Baltimore bench is a concern. There appears to be a lack of quality backups, which could limit the moves that manager Buck Showalter loves to make. It also means that injuries could be a real problem.

Playoff run possible: Still, heading into opening day, this veteran group of Birds boasts a strong lineup, a solid rotation and a decent bullpen.

The ingredients appear there for a postseason run. With the Yanks and Red Sox in the same division, an AL East title is highly unlikely, but a wild-card berth is at least possible.

So O’s fans, enough with the negative vibes. Your club is not terrible — far from it. The O’s actually look pretty decent.

Besides, opening day is almost here.

It’s the time of year when optimism is supposed to reign supreme.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.