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Last season, the Orioles won 101 games, the team’s most since 1979. It was the sixth time in team history that it won at least 100, and the Orioles will try for consecutive 100-win seasons. In 1980, the Orioles followed their 102-win season with an even 100.
“From a personal standpoint, and you hit .300 one year and then you hit .295 the next, you didn’t exceed what you did the year before, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good year, right?” catcher James McCann said at Bowlero in Timonium during last month’s Birdland Caravan. “It’s a similar concept with the team. I think going into the season, I don’t necessarily think we’re sitting there saying we need to win 102 games to have a better year than we did last year. If you get caught up with that kind of stuff, it actually affects you negatively.”
McCann, who will again back up Adley Rutschman behind the plate, has his team’s goals in mind.
“As far as exceeding what we did last year, I think the concept needs to be more exceeding the process and making sure that we’re diving into the process even more than we did last year,” McCann said. “Last year, there was such a focus on doing things the right way and playing the game the right way and competing, and the next thing you look up, and you win 101 games. I think that we take that to the nth degree, and you’re going to look up at the end of the season, it’s going to be just as good as it was last year.”
McCann believes that despite the loss of closer Félix Bautista to Tommy John surgery, the Orioles’ bullpen can again be dominant.
“I like our bullpen. I think that was one of our strengths last year,” he said. “Even after losing Félix, you saw guys step up into roles they hadn’t been accustomed to from early in the season.”
McCann lives near newly signed closer Craig Kimbrel in Tennessee, and he’s eager to catch him and Dillon Tate, who missed last year because of an elbow injury.
“Kimbrel, I actually catch some bullpens for him in the offseason,” McCann said. “[Tyler] Wells was talking about this. We had veterans last year on the position player side, a veteran in [Kyle] Gibson on the starting pitcher side. There wasn’t really that established veteran guy in the bullpen. I think Craig is going to be a nice little piece down there obviously for what he does on the field, but also kind of be the mentor to some of those young guys in the bullpen. Just being around those guys down there, I think that’s going to be really neat.
“I’m excited to see Tate throw. I didn’t really get to see it last year. I got to see it from afar the year before. I think that’s going to be a huge piece coming back to our bullpen.”
Bench coach Fredi González led the Atlanta Braves to consecutive playoff spots in 2012 and 2013 and knows how hard it is to make the postseason in back-to-back seasons.
“Last year is in the books. We had a hell of a season,” González said. “When spring training starts this year, you go back to zero, and you have to prove yourself again. Those teams that do it every single year, it’s not easy. Everybody knows around the league what we’re capable of doing. Everybody in our division has gotten better. The experience that these guys had last year in the playoffs, winning the division, making the playoffs, you can build on that.”
González managed Kimbrel in Atlanta from 2011-2014 when he was selected for four consecutive National League All-Star teams and saved 185 games.
“I think he’s going to be good,” González said. “I saw him rattle off [four] years in Atlanta that were unbelievable.”
Third base coach Tony Mansolino thinks that despite winning 101 games, the disappointment of the Orioles’ three-game sweep by Texas in the Division Series will serve as a powerful motivator.
“I think the way it ended is going to help that,” Mansolino said. “It didn’t end good for us. I know we had a great year and we won 101 games, but boat-raced out of the playoffs, even by the eventual world champions, that felt terrible. That’s how I feel. I can imagine the players feel even worse.
“I have to imagine that that feeling combined with the fact that even though we have a lot of established players, we’ve got some really good young players coming up. There’s going to be a lot of competition and a lot of guys pushing each other in spring training.”
Ryan Fuller, one of the team’s co-hitting coaches, knows that series’ loss will stay with the players. In those three games, the Orioles were outscored, 21-11, and outhit, .283 to .243. After a competitive Game 1, they were overmatched.
“When you’re looking at the playoffs, you’re only looking at three games,” Fuller said. “We definitely want to rely on what we did the entire year, 162 games. We’re really proud of that body of work, but when we get in there, I think it’s a young team that was really excited to be in the playoffs and it was our first taste of it.
“Going into this year, the following year is when we go into the playoffs [that]we know what to expect. We’re not just happy to be there. We’re there to win and make it further and further. Looking at the big picture and knowing what we did to get there, and just continuing to do that instead of maybe pressing a little bit and enjoying the experience.”
Mansolino doesn’t think anyone will be satisfied with last year’s success.
“I think we have really good veterans to go with these young players,” he said. “I think if it was just the young players by themselves, maybe there’d be a little bit of concern of not understanding that we’re back to being 0-0, and we’ve got to fight for every win that we’re going to get, but I think with the McCanns and [John] Means, all the veteran-type guys who have been there and done that are in that building, I have 100 percent faith that they’re going to make sure that that doesn’t happen. “
Call for questions: In the next few days, I’ll be answering Orioles questions. Please email yours to: [email protected].
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