As this four-game set between the Mariners and Orioles begins, Baltimore sits in second place in the AL East, two games back of division-leading Boston. That's quite possibly going to be the Orioles' high-water mark for the season, because this team is, well, not good. They aren't without talent; the birds have a few rather interesting players in their flock, and at some point this storied franchise will turn things around. But for now they're a bit of a mess. The rumor mill suggests that the club is in serious cost-cutting mode as ownership awaits the opportunity to sell, a goal complicated by the failing health of longtime CEO Peter Angelos, an ongoing financial battle with the Washington Nationals over regional TV rights, and, of course, the looming expiration of the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players' union—no one wants to buy a team on the eve of a potential work stoppage.
What that means for the O's on the field for 2021 is another year of playing out the string. At least they have one of the finer ballparks in the game to do it in.
The best story the Orioles have going for them right now is the return of first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini, who did not play last year because he was receiving treatment for stage three colon cancer. Baltimore's best player in 2019, the hometown crowd him a standing ovation when he was introduced at this year's home opener last Thursday and he responded by hitting his first home run of the year in that game. He's otherwise off to a slow start in ’21, but he's likely still the best player on the team.
Aside from Mancini, notable Orioles include center fielder Cedric Mullins, off to a fantastic start to his season, and still-technically-rookie outfielder Ryan Mountcastle, who not only has one of the greatest names in baseball but also an MVP Award to his credit (from the Triple-A International League in 2019). Pitching-wise, Baltimore features 2019 AL All-Star John Means as its ace; a four-pitch left-hander known mostly for his changeup, Means went to a curveball last season as his out pitch. He's joined in the starting rotation by veteran righties Matt Harvey and Jorge López and rookies Dean Kremer and southpaw Bruce Zimmerman, none of whom strike fear in the hearts of big-league batters. The bullpen is, like Seattle's, a kind of mix-and-match hodgepodge of injury reclamations, journeymen, and youngsters that includes two former Mariners in Wade LeBlanc and Shawn Armstrong.
|vs. AL West||0-0|
Who’s Hot & Not
Since Opening Day
.459/.512/.676, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 SB
1-0, 0.77 ERA, 9 Ks, 0.857 WHIP, 2 starts
.125/.200/.219, 12 Ks
.184/.225/.316, 17 Ks
.156/.229/.188, 13 Ks
Last 3 series vs. Seattle
|9/22/19||BAL 2, SEA 1|
|9/21/19||SEA 7, BAL 6|
|9/20/19||BAL 5, SEA 3|
|6/23/19||SEA 13, BAL 3|
|6/22/19||BAL 8, SEA 4|
|6/21/19||SEA 10, BAL 9|
|6/20/19||SEA 5, BAL 2|
|9/5/18||SEA 5, BAL 2|
|9/4/18||BAL 5, SEA 3|
|9/3/18||SEA 2, BAL 1|
Brandon Hyde: Now in his third year as Baltimore's manager, Hyde would make Earl Weaver proud in that Hyde uses small-ball tactics even less than the late Oriole legend did. On the other hand, he's won a lot fewer games. He did manage the Southern League (Class-AA) Jacksonville Suns to a championship in 2009, but in the bigs he's had nothing but losers (unless you count his year as Cubs first-base coach in 2018).
When asked if he saw an end point for the Orioles' rebuilding effort, he declined to give any kind of timeline. "I know that it takes a while," he said. "It takes time, and it takes drafts, and it takes international signings, and it takes trades for younger players who then have to get there. I’m fully aware of that." It also takes at least some kind of stability in the upper management area, and with Baltimore's in a kind of minimalist holding pattern, "a while" might continue for years to come for Hyde and the O's.
Shawn Armstrong: A Mariner in 2018, Armstrong was DFA'd by the M's in early 2019 and claimed on waivers by the Orioles about the same time the Mariners traded a low-level minor leaguer to Baltimore for Mike Wright, making a non-trade near-real-time exchange of ineffective relievers. Armstrong has stuck with the Orioles while Wright was cut loose by the M's within weeks; in last year's mini-season, Armstrong was about the best the Baltimore ’pen had to offer, though the innings were few (just 15). In ’19 he was not the same guy, posting and ERA over 5.00 and a WHIP of 1.546. It remains to be seen which version will materialize in 2021.
|Baltimore Orioles||(1954 - present)|
|World Champions:||1966, 1970, 1983|
|League Champions:||1944, 1969, 1971, 1979|
|Division Titles:||1973, 1974, 1997, 2014|
Chris Davis: Of the American League's Chris/Khris Davises, Baltimore's version has seen the highest highs and the lowest lows, from All-Star and MVP candidate with league-leading homer and RBI totals to arguably the worst hitter in baseball. Chris-Davis-With-a-C, or White Chris Davis, signed a mammoth contract extension after the 2015 season that continues through next year. Since signing him to that extension, the Orioles have paid him over $115 million for an aggregate batting line of .196/.291/.379. (For contrast's sake, Khris-Davis-With-a-K, or Black Khris Davis, has been a little better at .240/.316/.495 for Oakland during that time.) Davis injured his back in spring training and will be on the injured list through next month most likely. Whether that's good or bad depends on your particular brand of Oriole fandom, I suppose.
On the air: The Orioles have replaced their entire broadcast crew this season, jettisoning one of the two best play-by-play announcers baseball had to offer in Gary Thorne. Why? Who knows, even Thorne isn't sure, but it has to be money. Thorne is top-level, he commands coin, and the O's are all about pinching pennies right now. With Thorne out of a big-league booth, at least for now, San Francisco's Jon Miller can lay sole claim to the title of best play-by-play broadcaster in the Majors all by himself.