O’s begin AL East title defense against Rays

(SportsNetwork.com) – The Baltimore Orioles followed up their first American
League East title since 1997 with an offseason that featured much of nothing.

They’ll start defense of that division title on Monday against the Tampa Bay
Rays at Tropicana Field.

The O’s watched as slugger Nelson Cruz and longtime staple Nick Markakis left
as free agents, while not doing much to replace them.

The loss of Cruz’s 40 home runs will be tough for an Orioles team that hit
more home runs than anyone in 2014. They are hoping that the returns of both
Manny Machado and Matt Wieters will make up for some of the lost production
and that Chris Davis returns from his amphetamine suspension showing some of
the form that saw him swat a league-best 53 home runs in 2013.

Chris Tillman will open the year as the team’s ace, but Orioles fans are
hoping Kevin Gausman assumes the role going forward. Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez,
Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris are all solid options, while prized prospect Dylan
Bundy could also see time this season.

Essentially, minus Ubaldo Jimenez, who despite his high salary has been
relegated to the bullpen, the rotation is the same one that last year ranked
fifth in the American League and was second among AL East teams with a 3.61

It’ll be Tillman on Monday, as he makes his second consecutive Opening Day
start, becoming just the third Orioles pitcher since 2000 to open the season
in back-to-back years, following Jeremy Guthrie (2008, 2009) and Rodrigo Lopez
(2005, 2006).

“It means a lot,” said Tillman, who has won 29 games the last two seasons. “I
think when we’ve got five guys who are capable of doing it, that makes it that
much more special. And I think every guy in here thinks the same way. We
really do have five guys. There’s only Opening Day, the first game, once and
then the rest of the season it’s our best guys going that night. I think as a
group we all feel that way and I’m just excited to get this thing underway.”

After six straight winning seasons the Rays fell back under .500 last season
and now head into the 2015 campaign with a new manager in Kevin Cash and
former head of player personnel, Andrew Friedman, in Los Angeles.

Not long after Friedman left for the Dodgers, manager Joe Maddon opted out of
his deal and took a job with the Cubs.

So, the Rays are starting over, as new general manager Matt Silverman
restocked the farm system and unloaded the likes of Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers and
Matt Joyce.

If Tampa is going to win this season it’s going to be because of the starting
rotation. It may not include a David Price or James Shields anymore, but few
teams would turn away from a top-3 of Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Jake

Cobb was supposed to start this game, but forearm tendinitis forced him to the
shelf. So, Archer will get the start. He was 10-9 last season with a 3.33 ERA.

“I’m excited for sure,” Archer said. “Not excited that Cobb and (Drew) Smyly
and Colome are all out. I know that Cobb was ready to take the ball, and this
is just a temporary thing.”