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Schmuck: Orioles fans are restless, and they still have reason to be a month before Opening Day

Perhaps you’ve noticed over the past several months that the Orioles have developed a credibility problem.

It started with their horrible collapse at the end of the 2017 season and was aggravated by the lack of any meaningful front-office activity throughout the offseason.

So, the fans are convinced that the Orioles won’t extend the soon-to-expire contracts of star infielders Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop, and they’re probably right.

They don’t think the Orioles have a legitimate chance to compete for a playoff berth this year, and they might be right about that, too.

They have no idea whether the Orioles are on the verge of a multiyear rebuild or are just in a short-term rough spot, and they have every right to wonder.

How do we know this? Because you see it all over social media — and when I say you, I really mean me — and you hear it every day from the fans and tourists in Florida, as well as your friends at home.

Yes, the Orioles have a credibility problem that hasn’t been solved by one new starting pitcher and a couple of free-agent non-full-time outfielders.

In short, why should the Orioles expect their fan base to have confidence in them when they’ve done so little to build any?

That’s why it suddenly seems to matter that the Orioles arrived at Charlotte Sports Park on Tuesday morning without a victory (0-4-1) in their first five spring games before they earned their first win that afternoon.

It shouldn’t matter, of course. The early games during the exhibition season feature more minor league players than major leaguers, so the outcomes generally are not representative of anything important unless something bad happens like the freak collision that left Orioles starter Kevin Gausman bruised and bleeding Monday.

To keep things in perspective, the Orioles started the 2017 Grapefruit League season with a 6-5-1 record through their first 12 games and went on to finish last during the regular season. The previous spring, they were 0-10-2 through 12 games and made the playoffs.

The games become progressively more significant as the pitchers stretch out their appearances, but the starters are going no more than two innings right now and a couple of major league relievers haven’t even made their preseason debuts.

Still, who can blame anyone who watched the team collapse at the end of last season while featuring a historically bad starting rotation and not think the Orioles are in for another long year?

Maybe executive vice president Dan Duquette should get more slack because of the club’s solid performance the previous five seasons, but it just doesn’t work that way. He owned last year’s rotation and now we’re going to find out if he did enough to fix it.

Duquette has a reputation for slow-playing the offseason and has been known to find some bargain free-agent help as the Orioles settle in at spring training. Veteran starter Andrew Cashner (3.80 career ERA) was a solid acquisition earlier this month, but there still are myriad questions facing the team and they aren’t going to be answered in the first few weeks of spring training.

Returning starter Chris Tillman could be a huge key to the club’s ability to get off the floor in the American League East and compete with the improved divisional behemoths in New York and Boston, but he signed late and isn’t yet scheduled for his first exhibition start.

The Orioles are hopeful that Tillman is positioned to bounce back after a 2017 season that was undermined from the start by an offseason shoulder injury. They’ll be a much better team if he can channel 2016, when he was one of the league’s best pitchers, but that will remain an open question until the real games start.

The rest of the questions that need to be answered over the next month are already well-documented.

Tim Beckham has to show he can adapt well enough to a new full-time role at third base to keep him at the top of the lineup every day. He hasn’t been severely tested in game action yet, but had a nice game at third Monday, and by all accounts is committed to getting the most out of his sessions with infield coach Bobby Dickerson.

Chris Davis is coming off two years of declining power and run production numbers, and acknowledges that he needs to bring a different mindset to the plate this year. The fortunes of this team will depend heavily on the support provided by the power-laden offensive lineup, and Davis needs to figure some things out to get back to the center of it.

Less critical is the way the outfield defense shakes out. Adam Jones and Trey Mancini are set in center and left, but the Orioles need to find out what free agent Colby Rasmus has left after walking away from the game at midseason last year.

In the meantime, the fans have every right to be restless.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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