Powerful Orioles lineup could be hit or miss this season

At 6-4, 225 pounds, first baseman Mark Trumbo is a new Oriole who measures up to his large teammates. Rob Carr/Getty Images

BALTIMORE -- Chris Davis lived up to the nickname "Crush'' and laid the groundwork for a $161 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles by launching a major league-high 159 home runs from 2012 through 2015. He's accustomed to eliciting gasps and other emotional reactions with his rare ability to send balls to previously unexplored regions of stadiums.

In early March in balmy Sarasota, Florida, it dawned on Davis that he has a lot of company in the confines of his own clubhouse.

The Orioles were playing Atlanta in their Grapefruit League home opener, and one Bunyan-esque figure after another came out of the dugout and tipped his cap to the home crowd at Ed Smith Stadium. Very quickly, Davis found himself standing in a row with Mark Trumbo, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones, the runt of the litter at 6-2, 215 pounds.

"I started looking around and I was like, 'Good grief, man. It looks like we have a pro wrestling team,''' Davis said.

Instead of suplexes and figure-four leg locks, the Orioles will rely upon other dramatic means to make pitching staffs cry uncle in 2016.

A year after the Kansas City Royals won a title with a low-strikeout, low-walk, contact-first offensive model, the Orioles are built more along the lines of the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. They're a contact-impaired group that should make plenty of noise when the barrel meets the ball.

Baltimore has five players (Davis, Trumbo, Jones, Pedro Alvarez and Manny Machado) who hit 20 or more home runs while striking out 100-plus times last season. If all five players reach that threshold this season, the Orioles will become only the fifth quintet in MLB history to achieve the feat. And second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who hit 15 homers and struck out 79 times in 86 games last season, has a legitimate chance to make it six.

Short of luring Adam Dunn out of retirement, the Orioles couldn't have done more to assemble a more high-stakes, hit-or-miss lineup.

The best part of the show might come during batting practice. At parks throughout the American League this summer, scouts will gather in the stands three hours before game time and watch Baltimore's bashers dent seats.

"I've never seen a lineup with that kind of raw power, top to bottom,'' said an AL scout. "They're going to feast on bottom-of-the-rotation guys. When they play the Blue Jays, it's going to be home run derby.''

Baltimore closer Zach Britton jokes that the team's pregame shagging routine is more enjoyable than ever this season. So many balls land on the opposite side of the fence, the Orioles' pitchers have to do significantly less running.

"I'd like to see the batting practice ball budget for the year,'' setup man Darren O'Day said.

The Orioles ranked fourth in baseball with 217 homers in 2015 while amassing the game's fifth-highest strikeout total (1,331) and seventh fewest walks (418), and their most noteworthy lineup additions fit the profile. In December, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette acquired Trumbo and pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser from Seattle for catcher Steve Clevenger as part of a salary dump by the Mariners. On March 10, the Orioles spent a guaranteed $5.75 million to sign Alvarez, who became a free agent when the Pittsburgh Pirates non-tendered him in December.

Baltimore's two new sluggers have combined for four 30-home run seasons, but they've endured some stumbles over the past two years. Trumbo's production slipped after he suffered a stress fracture in his foot in 2014. Alvarez has a .600 career OPS against lefties, with a staggering 224 strikeouts in 568 at-bats.

Still, they can be scary when they make contact. According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, Alvarez ranked third in the majors behind Joc Pederson and Giancarlo Stanton with an average home run distance of 416.5 feet in 2015. Trumbo was tied for 15th at 407.8 feet.

Davis, in comparison, was 33rd with an average distance of 404.5 feet. He ranked fourth in baseball behind the Toronto threesome of Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista with 13 "no doubt'' homers, and 12 of his 47 big flies went to the opposite field.

Scouts like to talk about "easy power,'' and Trumbo wowed his new Baltimore teammates with one light-tower-caliber shot after another in spring training. The Orioles might have unwittingly put a crimp in Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim's self-esteem when they placed him in a batting practice group with Trumbo, Davis and Jones in the Grapefruit League.

"It's hard for us wee little guys to compete,'' said Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph. "Pedro is up there flicking balls into the visitor's bullpen in left field, and I'm muscling as hard as I can, hitting fly balls to right that a guy has to run in to catch.''

One noticeable downside to all that power is the lack of contact accompanying it. Take the three highest single-season home run totals for Davis, Trumbo and Alvarez, and it adds up to 123. Combine their highest strikeout totals, and you get a staggering 578. On paper, the Orioles look like a threat to challenge the record 1,535 strikeouts in a season held by the 2013 Astros.

Baltimore's boppers aren't oblivious to their weaknesses. Davis has gotten progressively better at hanging in the box against left-handed pitching, and he has a creditable .742 career OPS vs. lefties to show for it. Along with his career-high 208 strikeouts a year ago, he drew 84 walks and logged a .361 on-base percentage.

Pitchers are conditioned to working Davis carefully because of the potential adverse consequences of challenging him, but his career ratio of 4.02 pitches per plate appearance suggests he's willing to wait for a ball he can drive. He is determined not to be typecast at the plate.

"Every year, I come into spring training wanting to cut down on the strikeouts -- whether it's having more quality at-bats or being a little more aggressive early in the at-bat or taking a little bit off with two strikes,'' Davis said. "I've been proud of the way I've made adjustments over the past few years.''

Trumbo, similarly, is taking steps to amend his all-or-nothing reputation. In spring training, his teammates routinely saw him shorten up and try to hit the ball to the opposite field with two strikes.

In the final analysis, the Orioles will significantly enhance their chances of being competitive in the AL East if they can figure out a way to score runs and win games without the benefit of home runs. But they are what they are, and from a fan's perspective, it should make for an entertaining show.

"There's that old saying, 'Chicks dig the long ball,''' Joseph said. "I think all fans in general dig the long ball. It's like a shootout in hockey or a long TD pass in the NFL or a half-court shot in basketball. It's an exciting play that doesn't happen as often as a base hit.''

In theory, anyway. A few Baltimore hitters might test that proposition this summer.

It's frightening to think of the carnage the Orioles might inflict with more charitable atmospheric conditions at Camden Yards. In a season-opening 3-2 victory over Minnesota on Monday, Davis and shortstop J.J. Hardy flied out to the warning track and Jones lined a double off the right-center field fence. All three balls probably would have been gone on a warmer day in June, July or August.

The Orioles scored their winning run off Kevin Jepsen in the ninth inning when Davis walked, advanced to third on a Trumbo single and came home on a base hit by Wieters. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, 6-4, 225 pounds and 6-5, 230, respectively, they might have formed the biggest relay team in baseball history.

Trumbo completed his Baltimore debut with a 4-for-5 performance and a batting average of .800.

"Four hits and four singles, and he stole a base,'' Davis said, in mock disappointment. "I thought we traded for a power hitter.''