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Which of the flO’s Gets the Best Hair BEVy?

Longtime followers of Eutaw Street Report will remember that we always participate in the midseason show put on by our friends over at Bird’s Eye View, The BEVy Awards. Of course, since 2020 was such a crazy season, things are a bit different with the event this year, but, as they say, THE SHOW MUST GO ON!

Jake and Scott are still putting on the BEVy awards, but they are doing it as an end-of-year show this year, instead of the usual midseason version. We thank them for trying to restore any sense of normalcy to the hell that is 2020 – thanks, guys!

Here at ESR, we used the same two categories from 2013-2018, before retiring them last year: The Forgotten Man, and the “Why Are You Breaking My Heart Like This, Just Let Me Love You” award.

Last year, we had a bit of fun with our introduction of “The Rebuild Era” awards, which were Best Football Score, and Bullpen Bum.

2020’s version of The Birds wasn’t nearly as hard on the eyes as 2019’s (though, if they were given 162 games, who knows?), so I don’t think either of those Rebuild Era awards really fit. This was a fun team, that deserves a fun BEVy.

One of the most fun parts of the squad?

That FLOWWWWWWWWWW.

The Birds had some players sporting some amazing hair. As an aging bald dude (who has been sporting the Mr. Clean look since my early 30’s), I am quite jealous of several Orioles.

I mean, you could have just have easily called this team the flO’s.

The Orioles social media account took notice, putting together these hilarious MLB The Show mock covers:

But which one had the locks to earn the 2020 BEVy for Best Hair?

The nominees…

Hunter “Haircut” Harvey

photo: Joy R. Absalon

The obvious favorite, Harvey channels his dad, Brian, and the mullets of the 80’s and 90’s. As a late-inning reliever, he also reminds many of Kenny Powers. Throw in that crust-ache, and the other contenders have their work cut out for them.

Rio “Ri-FLOW” Ruiz

An unexpected entrant after having a clean-cut look throughout the early years of his career, Rio displayed some amazing luscious locks this year.

Asher Flow-ciechowski

Reinhold Matay – USA Today Sports

That’s just…a lotta hair, man. Cousin it would be jealous.

Mean Dean Kremer

An up-and-comer in both the pitching and the hair games.

So which flO had the best hair game in 2020? Voting will be on Twitter (because apparently the latest WordPress update broke our poll widget, fun…) and I’ll put the link RIGHT HERE once the poll is live.

Results on the BEVys show coming up soon!

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Ryan Mountcastle Worth the Wait

After Birdland was initially left disappointed on this front through the first few weeks of the truncated 2020 season, Ryan Mountcastle was finally called up from the alternate site in Bowie to make his much-anticipated MLB debut. The 2015 first-round pick did not disappoint, hitting .333/.386/.492 over 140 plate appearances in 35 games, with five home runs, five doubles, and 23 driven in, good for a 140 OPS+.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Mountcastle’s debut three dozen games was that his walk and strikeout percentages, both concerns during his time rising through the minor leagues, surprisingly improved once he reached the MLB level. He walked in 7.9% of his plate appearances in 2020, compared to just 4.3% last year in AAA Norfolk, and 6.1% in 2018 in Bowie. Likewise, he struck out in 21.4% of his trips to the dish in 2020, an improvement over his 23.5 K% in AAA Norfolk. Of course, we need to include the usual “small sample size” caveat here, as it was only 35 games, but Mountcastle never looked overwhelmed facing MLB pitching for the first time.

Now, is it sustainable? For it to be so, Ryan may need to become just a bit less swing-happy. According to data at FanGraphs, he swung at 58.8% of all pitches he saw, including 42% of pitches outside the strike zone, and 83.1% of pitches inside the zone. To compare to just one other highly-touted Baltimore prospect, Manny Machado swung at 47.8% of pitches during his 51-game 2012 season, including 32.3% of pitches outside the zone and 66.2% of pitches inside it. Even free-swinging Adam Jones swung at just 56% of all pitches he saw and 40.1% of pitches outside the zone in his career (though he eclipsed Mountcastle’s 42% twice, in 2015 and 2016. Still, it’s clear that Mountcastle will continue to see fewer and fewer strikes as long as he keeps hacking so indiscriminately. Something to work on this offseason.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

The good news is that, to use an old Buck-ism, Ryan’s “contact-to-damage” ratio was pretty darn good. Per Statcast data, Mountcastle led the Orioles in hard-hit percentage at 42.7%. That was good for 80th in MLB, ahead of such names as George Springer (42.5%), Carlos Correa (41.8%), J.D Martinez (41.6%), and Cody Bellinger (41.5%).

In the field, Mountcastle was…well, fine. He played left field for each of his first 20 starts, before playing first base on September 15. He then played first in nine of the last 10 games (though he also played in left for a bit in two of those). In total, he lined up in left for 192.1 innings, and at first for 75. He made only one error (at first), and had -3 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at first, and -1 in left. His Ultimate Zone Rating/150 innings (UZR/150) was 2.4 for left, and -0.8 at first. So basically, he was pretty much an average fielder at both positions, though a bit better in the outfield.

Overall, it was a very successful debut mini-season for Mountcastle. If he can work on reining in his free-swinging ways just a bit this winter, he should be able to keep it going in 2021, and Birdland can continue to count on him as being a key cog in the rebuild.

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Orioles 2020 Recap

After the final game of MLB’s regular season on Sunday, the Orioles’ wacky 2020 campaign came to an end. It was certainly a shortened span full of highs and lows, but in the end, we all should just be happy that the season was completed, despite COVID’s presence.

Actually, having said that just now, I think there’s a lot more to be happy about. For a great deal of the year, the Orioles were quite successful. A number of players surprised and the team outperformed expectations. Keeping that in mind, let’s revisit my season predictions to see how they stand against individual performances in 2020.

Orioles Cy Young: Tanner Scott

I predicted Hunter Harvey would take this award, but he ultimately saw much off his season derailed due to injury. Across the entire campaign, however, Scott was phenomenal. He pitched to a 1.31 ERA in 25 games, and it really seems the Orioles have something in the flame throwing lefty.

When all was said and done, Scott actually finished 3rd on the team in WAR, and that’s impressive for a reliever. For me, he was the clear choice.

Orioles Rookie of the Year: Ryan Mountcastle

Yeah, I’d say I nailed this one (though it wasn’t a difficult one). Mountcastle burst onto the scene and hit the cover off the ball the whole summer. Fans were begging for his arrival, and it seems that he’s here to stay, with a .333/,386/.492 slash line in 35 games.

Aside from his bat, which we knew would be good, Mountcastle impressed with his glove, too. That really makes the difference when you look toward the future, as he played a competent left field and looks primed to play every day in 2021.

Orioles MVP: Anthony Santander

This is probably the toughest selection. Jose Iglesias, Pat Valaika, Hanser Alberto and hell, even Mountcastle are all valid choices. That being said, Santander was simply electric when on the field. He had some of the most clutch hits, homers, and defensive plays during the hot start the O’s enjoyed , and that’s worth something even in an injury-shortened year.

I can’t wait to see Tony Taters back out there next Spring.

Final Record: 25-35

Well, well, well, not bad at all. How much more could we really ask for this year? I had the Orioles winning 18 games this season, and I’m ecstatic to report that I was way off. Baltimore was in the playoff hunt for the majority of the season, shocking literally everyone. But that’s a testament to the fight these players had, and they really made this weird season a ton of fun.

Main Takeaway:

I didn’t expect much of anything this year, and I thought the rebuild was still in its infancy. That said, Baltimore may have uncovered some cornerstones in Mountcastle, Santander, Scott, and Iglesias. That’s to go with guys they already had in John Means, Renato Nunez, Pedro Severino and Alberto. The Orioles may not win for a few years, but they might not be that bad until they get there.

And in my eyes, that’s fun.

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Orioles Deal Miguel Castro to Mets

Miguel Castro throws in Sarasota.

Mike Elias pulled off another trade just ahead of today’s 4 PM deadline, dealing Miguel Castro to the New York Mets for Kevin Smith.

It marks the end of Castro’s frustrating time in Baltimore, a tenure during which the lanky right-hander flashed plenty of promise, but could never put it all together. His best year as an Oriole was actually his first, in 2017 when he had a 3.53 ERA in 66 IP. His ERA climbed to 3.96 and 4.66 over the next two seasons. This year, he sports a 4.02 ERA over 15.2 IP. His BB/9 ratio has made a nice improvement though, at 2.9 this year compared to his 4.6 career mark, perhaps making now the perfect time to trade him.

In return, the Orioles get Mets prospect Smith, the Mets’ 12th-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline. The 23-year-old was drafted 200th overall (7th round) out of the University of Georgia in 2018. Over six starts in AA last year, the lefty had a 3.45 ERA and allowed 25 hits with 28 strikeouts and 15 walks over 31.1 innings after being promoted.

This is the third 23-year-old Elias has traded for at the deadline, after dealing Mychal Givens to the Rockies yesterday.

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O’s Deal Givens & Millone Ahead of Trade Deadline

It’s apparent that Mike Elias has been busy in the days leading up to this year’s late MLB trade deadline. On Sunday morning, the team announced that they had traded pitchers Tommy Millone and Mychal Givens, to the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies, respectively.

For Millone, who was a reliable starter over his month with the Birds – in six starts, he threw 29.1 innings with a 3.99 ERA and 31 strikeouts to only four walks – the O’s received the always exciting players to be named later (two, to be specific).

Givens is a bit tougher for Birdland to bid adieu, adieu, as Gary Thorne would put it. The former shortstop, drafted in the second-round in 2009, is still only 25, and has become a bit of a fan favorite after making the successful switch to dominant reliever. He was a very reliable late-inning fireman from 2015-17, then had nine saves in 2018 and 11 in 2019 in what was a bit of a rockier role for him. Still, for his career, he has thrown 336 innings, with a 3.32 ERA, 406 strikeouts to just 129 walks, 253 hits, and 33 home runs. His overall ERA+, per Baseball Reference, is 132, meaning he has been 32% better than the average pitcher during his time in MLB.

Still, this was pretty much an expected move. Just the other day at ESR, Aidan speculated that Givens would be on the move.

So what did they get for him?

In addition to yet another Player to be Named later, infielders Tyler Nevin and Terrin Vavra, both 23 years old, are on their way to Birdland.

You remember Phil Nevin, right? Yup, Tyler is his son. Drafted 38th overall in 2015, he has played all of the corner infield and outfield spots, while racking up a .286/.362/.441 line with 36 dingers. In his last season, 2019, in AA Hartford, he hit .251/.345/.399 with 13 homers , 26 doubles, and 61 driven in over 530 PA.

As Roch Kubatko reports, Nevin was ranked as the Rockies’ #13 or #14 prospect, depending on where you look.

Vavra is an interesting case, as he was ranked as Colorado’s #7 prospect on one of those lists, but 17th on the other.

Drafted in the third round in 2018, Vavra hit .318/.409/.489 for High-A Asheville.

I feel like you’d prefer 23-year-olds to have risen a bit higher than these two have, but we have to remember that Givens is a free agent after next season, and that there is still another player coming. Hopefully Nevin & Vavra end up being important pieces in the current rebuild.

Here, let former ESR contributor and current scout-in-training Ryan Blake ease your mind:

The deadline isn’t until Monday at 4 PM, so Elias may not be done yet.

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Get Your Tony Taters Shirt Now!

One of the most pleasant surprises here during this truncated Orioles 2020 season has been the play of Anthony Santander. The former Rule V pick just had his 18-game hitting streak snapped, but came right back with a clutch RBI that tied the game late in last night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Santander has posted a .279/.328/.631 line, with 10 home runs and 21 driven in, good for a 148 wRC+.

Even though most of Birdland (though not Mike Bordick…) has now learned how to properly pronounce Santander (Sahn-tan-dare), we’ve still been throwing a bunch of ideas against the wall for a new nickname. It seems that “Tony Taters” has been the one to stick. Now, thanks to our friends at Breaking T, you can rep Tony Taters with this great new shirt.

CLICK HERE TO GET IT

We’ve partnered with Breaking T a bunch of times over the past few years, most recently on our Ain’t the Beer Cold shirt. I can tell you personally that the shirts are high-quality, comfortable, and most importantly, damn good looking.

So don’t wait…head on over to Breaking T for your Tony Taters shirt, Birdland!

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Orioles Sweep Phils, Win 14th* Straight Game

Hanser Alberto slides into home.

*stay with me here

The Birds completed a three-game sweep over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday night, on the back of another 15-hit performance. The 11-4 win was the Orioles’ fifth straight win. Remember, MLB is only playing 60 games here in this truncated 2020 season, so each game is the equivalent of 2.7 games. Winning five straight in a 60-game season is therefore the equivalent of winning (2.7 x 5 = 13.5) 14 games in a regular year.

That’s nothing to sneeze at. Thanks to my friend Rob (@oriolesfactoids) we know that 46 teams have won 14 or more straight in an MLB season. Of those, 37 have made the playoffs (80%).

And of course, those occurred in years where far fewer than 16 teams appeared in the postseason, as is set to be the case in 2020.

As of this morning, Baseball-Reference gives the Orioles a 60.6% chance of making the playoffs (up 44% over the last seven days). FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus are a bit more bearish, at 15.9% and 26.4%, respectively.

This most recent sweep comes on the heels of their near-sweep of the Washington Nationals, a sweep they can complete by the time Friday’s regularly-scheduled game begins (they will continue Sunday’s postponed contest at 5:05, which the O’s are currently winning 5-2 in the top of the sixth). That win would give them six straight, or 16 straight (16.2) using our earlier math. Of course, THAT near sweep followed getting swept in four straight by the barely-manned Miami Marlins, which in turn came right after sweeping three from the Tampa Bay Rays.

This is a team that many were saying might not win ten games TOTAL all season, now sitting at 10-7. The o/u on most betting sites for the 2020 O’s was 20.5 wins. They’re already halfway there. Feel free to let the goofs at ESPN know about it.

https://twitter.com/MarkWJZ/status/1294079669030002688

How are they doing it?

In short…these O’s are putting the “O” in offense. During the three-game series in Philly, the Birds put up the following:

26 runs, 42 hits, 6 HR, 11 2B, 12-for-38 RISP (.315)

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

The Orioles lead the AL in batting average at .269. They are seventh in MLB in OBP at .337, and trail only the powerhouse Yankees in wRC+ at 119. There are currently NINE Orioles hitting above league average according to wRC+. They are:

Chance Sisco (245)

Pedro Severino (179)

Renato Nunez (178)

Jose Iglesias (158)

Hanser Alberto (153)

Rio Ruiz (142)

Dwight Smith Jr. (137)

Anthony Santander (118)

Pat Valaika (101)

Of course, none of us know if the O’s can keep up this surprising pace. Many fans may not even *want* them to, as they have Kumar Rocker in their sights with next year’s #1 overall draft pick. At this point, the playoffs seem at least as likely, if not more likely than earning the top draft choice would be.

This feels a lot like 2012 here in Birdland, as we continue to wait for the other shoe to drop, while the team just keeps inexplicably winning games. Still, even that 2012 squad had a mix of future studs (Manny Machado), solid veterans (Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Jim Johnson, Darren O’Day), and emerging All-Stars (Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis) to somewhat explain their success. This current Birds squad is a thrown-together mix of castoffs and nobodies – the Island of Misfit Toys of baseball teams. Not only does nobody expect them to compete this year, but the thinking is that very very few of them will be a part of the next Baltimore Orioles team that is expected to contend.

Yet, somehow, it’s working.

It’s a huge bummer that we can’t pack the Yard to let this group of players know how much we appreciate them, and to get behind them in the way that Baltimore can. Still, we watch at home, chatting, texting, or Zooming with our friends and family, enjoying the 2020 Baltimore Orioles experience more than any of us thought we would thus far. We’ll continue to do so, even if they come back to earth.

Over the next three games, this surprising offense may do just that. The O’s will face three pitchers with a combined contract value of over $600 million (Stephen Strasburg – 7y/$245M, Patrick Corbin – 6y/$140M, Max Scherzer – 7y/$210M).

If they can somehow manage to keep the bats rolling and pass THAT test? Start printing the playoff tickets…er…start planning the socially distanced Zoom playoff watch parties?

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Rio Ruiz Did WHAT?!

Rio Ruiz has really come into his own in his second season in Baltimore. The 26-year-old has put up an .885 OPS (141 OPS+), with four home runs, a double, and nine RBI through 49 plate appearances. He was out with an injury for a few games last week, during which time the Birds lost four of the seven games they’ve lost all season.

That prompted the following light bulb over my head:

I mean, they are 8-3 when he plays, and 1-4 when he doesn’t. That’s just math.

Throw in his gorgeous flowing mullet, and Rio is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Baltimore.

Now, if only Scott Garceau could pronounce his name…

Last night, Ruiz made one of the more ridiculous plays at third base that you’ll ever see. We won’t quite say it would make Brooks Robinson or Manny Machado proud, because it wasn’t pretty, but it darn sure got the job done, and that’s what matters.

The kid is fun to watch.

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Young Birds Could Make O’s Even More Exciting

It would be foolish to consider the Orioles “contenders” after their hot start—they’re simply not. At the same time, it would also be foolish to overlook the clean, new-look style of baseball they’re playing thus far this season, as it has propelled them to one of the more surprising starts in the league.

Sitting at .500 with a 7-7 record as I write this, Baltimore has outperformed expectations through the first few series due to timely hitting, solid power, and shockingly strong pitching. In fact, had they avoided a clunker of a series against the Marlins, they would likely have an even better record. They’re playing very well, and that’s made the return of baseball unexpectedly exciting in Charm City.

As the beginning of this shortened season unfolds, it’s apparent that the forward-thinking mindset GM Mike Elias has brought to the table is being adopted. Even better, it’s paying dividends. First, we’ve seen aggressive, smarter approaches at the plate, which has led to a fairly explosive offense.

On the other side, the Orioles pitching staff is getting ahead in counts, throwing more strikes, and sporting an impressive strikeout/walk ratio. Altogether, it’s making the team easier to watch and more successful than past years.

Given that, many are wondering if the team will end up fighting for a playoff spot. I don’t think it’s out of the question, despite Baltimore’s roster being devoid of the talent you’d expect of a playoff clubhouse.

Surely, the performances we’ve seen from players like Tommy Milone or Pat Valaika will become less common, but there’s more to consider than just that.

I look at this roster and see a number of holes that could see improvement in short time. First, there’s first base/DH, where Chris Davis is a pile of dead weight. Enter one of the organization’s best young talents, Ryan Mountcastle. Now, Davis’ spot in the lineup is replaced by a bat that could be impactful from the get go.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

Next, there’s left field, where Dwight Smith Jr., Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart have platooned thus far. Smith has been alright, but nothing special. Mountcastle is likely to get looks there, as well, but I’m intrigued by Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna. Both are young prospects who could flash if given the opportunity.

Finally, I look at the starting pitching, which I don’t expect to continue being as strong. Even if the likes of Milone or LeBlanc remain serviceable, the Orioles are likely to deal Alex Cobb if his impressive start is sustained. At the same time, the 60-man player pool has young arms such as Keegan Akin, who was called up this weekend, Dean Kremer, and Bruce Zimmermann. It wouldn’t shock me if at least one of those names were called up and impressed halfway through the season.

The Orioles aren’t one of the best teams in baseball, but they’re playing well, which makes their season stomachable. With young players like those mentioned above likely to see the big leagues in this weird season, however, Birdland has reason to be even more excited. Hell, the O’s might not even yet be playing the best we’ll see from them year.

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O’s Sweep of Gnats Delayed by Grounds Crew Fail

Nationals grounds crew fail

The Orioles were in position to pull off an unlikely sweep of the reigning World Series Champions down in Washington D.C. yesterday afternoon, leading 5-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning on the strength of RBI by Bryan Holaday, Hanser Alberto, and Anthony Santander. This after 11-0 and 5-3 wins in the first two games of the series, on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Then, despite clear skies over the large majority of the DC-Baltimore area, a stray storm popped up over Gnats Park. The deluge wasn’t expected to last for more than a few minutes, so no big deal, right? After all, grounds crews across the major and minor leagues have been perfecting the high-tech task of rolling out a tarp for decades. Cover up the infield, wait for the rain to stop, then continue play.

Alas, the Washington grounds crew had some other ideas…

The commentary from Scott Garceau and Ben McDonald really added to the ridiculousness of the entire situation.

Of course, nothing like this is complete without Yakkety Sax.

After the rain stopped, the grounds crew (who we do absolutely feel for in this instance…it’s fun to laugh at them, but they are mostly just kids trying to do a job) tried to get things playable again.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Although the Orioles have already been on the wrong side of a rain-shortened game this year, the fact that they were leading this one after five and a half isn’t enough to chalk it up in the win category. Due to the fact that there was some mechanical/human error, this game will need to be finished.

The Nationals are already scheduled to come to Baltimore this weekend, so the game will be finished prior to Friday’s game.

Just one more ridiculous thing to add to the 2020 list.

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O’s, MLB Navigating Rough COVID Waters Already

sun setting over camden yards

I’d avoided writing about the COVID19 pandemic here on Eutaw Street Report for months. The news has dominated all of our lives for nearly five months now, and it seemed somehow inappropriate to opine on it as it related to baseball. Others here at ESR have filled the void at various times, including Andrew Stetka and Aidan Griesser, and for that I’m thankful.

Speaking of being thankful, I was just that – apprehensively, but completely – when MLB play resumed last weekend. The Birds putting a spanking on the Boston Red Sox in Fenway was just icing on the cake.

Of course though, like seemingly everything else in 2020, no good news could exist without being immediately overshadowed by bad.

The bad reared its ugly head in the form of the Miami Marlins having a sudden outbreak of COVID19 among their team and coaches. In a nasty little twist of fate, the Marlins are of course the team that the O’s were scheduled to play following their series victory in Boston – two games in Miami followed by two games in Baltimore.

The team initially noticed this outbreak over the weekend, at which point the Marlins apparently took it upon themselves to play their game against the Phillies Sunday in Philadelphia, despite knowing that some of their teammates had already tested positive. This incredibly shortsighted and irresponsible decision on the part of the Marlins has not unexpectedly resulted in the situation spiraling out of control in subsequent days.

Monday’s game in Miami was postponed/cancelled. Tonight’s was as well, and the Orioles have returned to Baltimore. The scheduled games in Baltimore look unlikely to happen as well.

This is good news in a way, as last night it looked like Miami had still planned to travel to Baltimore in the coming days, bringing their outbreak with them. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan must be breathing a sigh of relief that this is no longer the plan; like all politicians around the world, he never signed up for any of this type of crisis, but many would have pointed the finger directly at him should he had allowed Miami’s team to bring their SARScoV2 outbreak into the Old Line State.

So, what now?

One of our ESR staff, Paul Valle, had a potential creative solution, which he posted to Twitter.

Lo and behold, it looks like such a scenario may come to fruition.

We’ll all continue to watch with bated breath as the situation continues to unfold. We all want the MLB season to continue, but the league and players need to prove that they can navigate these rough and uncharted waters astutely and intelligently. That is to say, no more of this:

Other leagues are also watching closely. Hopefully we won’t all be relegated to betting on virtual sports for the balance of 2020.

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Thursday Thoughts: Here We Go…I Guess?

sunset view of oriole park at camden yards

1. With the Orioles set to embark on what is sure to be the weirdest of their 65+ seasons in Baltimore, things are still extremely weird and uncomfortable in the world around them. It’s not even really a world around them, it’s the world they’re directly living in. It’s the same one we’re all living in, and it hasn’t seemed to get much better since mid-March, when sports as a whole were put on hold.

But now baseball’s back, for better or potentially worse. I’m still not convinced it’s the right thing to do. I haven’t heard a good argument from anyone that playing baseball games right now across the country, even with no fans, is the morally right thing to be doing. It’s about the almighty dollar, still. We know that. But putting all of that aside, fans will have baseball to watch, and have had it for the last week or so in the form of exhibition games.

Things are about to get even weirder.

2. I wrote about a month ago, when baseball first announced it had come to an agreement to return, how skeptical I was about it all. I’m still about as skeptical as I was, but there’s no use in my mentally trying to stop a boulder from rolling down a hill. Baseball’s here, and I’m going to watch.

As weird as it’s going to be, I’m going to watch.

As bad as the Orioles are going to be, I’m going to watch.

Even though they are going to inexplicably pump fake crowd noise into the broadcasts, I’m going to watch.

Even when FOX Sports places fake digital fans in the stands during games they air, I’m going to watch.

None of it will be as good as baseball is if there wasn’t a global pandemic, but life in general isn’t as good when there wasn’t a global pandemic.

We’re just doing baseball in the middle of it now.

3. Much of my time spent in quarantine has been spent catching up with family and friends via Zoom calls. This isn’t uncommon, as I know many people have discovered Zoom or any other type of video conference app in order to connect with those who you can’t connect with in person.

Part of my Zoom diet has been taking place each Sunday in calls set up by my father, who has worked for the O’s since 1995. He’s been gathering a small group of his friends, some season ticket holders, as well as former players, coaches and umpires to talk baseball. We’ve had regular appearances from Don Buford, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian and journalist Roy Firestone. We’ve even been graced by the presence of folks like Rick Dempsey and Jim Palmer at one time or another during the last few months. Everyone gets together and spends a few hours telling stories and sharing laughs about the game and life during a pandemic. These calls have beautifully bridged a gap between a time when spring training was taking place in Florida and Arizona until now, when baseball is returning in the weirdest way possible.

The Zoom meetings may even continue, because it’s not like anyone is going to the games. We’ll all just be watching them from home. Truthfully, the one thing I’ve learned over these last few months is that baseball can endure such weird times. Baseball creates opportunity for weird even in times that are more normal. Baseball’s stories last decades, as I’ve heard about from many of these people who have been part of the game for that long. Baseball stories, especially ones told by the types of people on these weekly calls, can endure anything.

They are what keep me coming back to the game even during tough times for my own team.

4. Those tough times are sure to be front and center for the Orioles this season. Sixty games will not be a saving grace for many, but not having to endure 162 games of the Orioles’ predicted futility this season might be a small blessing in disguise. Not that it matters much these days, but the Birds have already had to push their Opening Day starter John Means back due to arm soreness (he was placed on the 10-day IL today). The one guy who showed something last season and was named an All-Star won’t get to be featured in their first game. Instead, Tommy Milone gets to be the answer to an obscure trivia question that will be asked in 15 years at a local pub trivia night.

I don’t particularly care how many games the Orioles win this season, which is a weird thing to even imagine. I’m not openly placing bets on Powerplay for them to secure the top pick in next year’s draft, but I’m not rooting against that either. I also imagine we’re going to see some really bad, but also really surprising performances in a 60-game sprint. I’ll be interested and delighted by whoever might want to stand out and entertain for two months.

5. I’m going to watch every minute of every Orioles game I get a chance to this season, because there’s only so much baseball that will be out there to be had. The weirdness of 2020 has robbed us of a marathon season and given us a sprint. Even if the Orioles go out and only win 15-20 games, I’ll embrace watching baseball because it’s what we have right now. I expect to have to regularly Google the names of players who are brought onto the roster from the taxi squad or the extended player pool, because that’s part of what this season is going to bring.

All the weirdness and awkwardness of a fan of a team trying to learn who the members of the team actually are. It’s part of a rebuild and part of a season that will be heavy on transactions and trips to the injured list that aren’t actually for injuries, but instead illness.

6. The completion of a full 60-game spring still seems like a pipedream to some. But it’s at least going to start, it would appear. It’s going to start in Boston, too, for the first time since 1966. That was a pretty good year in Orioles history, if my record books are to be believed.

But damn the record books for this season. I’m watching it for some entertainment and not expecting anything – good, bad or otherwise – to come of it.

That’s probably the only way I’ll get through it.

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2020 Orioles Predictions

With the Orioles’ season opener under a week away, it’s time to unveil my 2020 predictions, which of course I was hoping to release around mid-March. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in my – and everyone’s – plans, and here we are.

The MLB will have a 60-game season now, which should make for an extremely intriguing year, even for a Baltimore squad that appears unlikely to make any waves. However, given the shortened campaign, if the Birds get off to a hot start, you never know!

I’ll save the suspense, though – my predictions won’t see the O’s anywhere near the postseason. In this article I’ll predict the Opening Day starting lineup and rotation, the team MVP, CY Young, and Rookie of the Year, as well as its final record, with explanations for each. Without further ado, here’s how the 2020 shortened MLB season will look for Baltimore.

Opening Day Starting Lineup

  1. CF – Austin Hays
  2. 2B – Hanser Alberto
  3. LF – Anthony Santander
  4. DH – Renato Nunez
  5. 1B – Chris Davis
  6. SS – Jose Iglesias
  7. 3B – Rio Ruiz
  8. C – Pedro Severino
  9. RF – DJ Stewart

I don’t see this being too contentious, though the main differences could lie at catcher, where Chance Sisco will surely see a good deal of time, and at right field, where Dwight Smith Jr. could push Stewart. In the end, though, I believe Severino gets the nod to guide the rotation and Stewart gets the RF position due to his youth.

Opening Day Starting Rotation

  1. John Means
  2. Alex Cobb
  3. Asher Wojciechowski
  4. Wade LeBlanc
  5. Kohl Stewart

The first three names here are pretty surefire, though there is a lot of question around how they’ll perform. The Orioles will likely see a lot of change throughout the rotation, especially behind Means, as pitchers like Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, and even Bruce Zimmermann could get a crack on the mound.

Hunter Harvey pitching.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

Orioles Cy Young: Hunter Harvey

I know, usually this award goes to a starting pitcher, but in my opinion, the shortened season and weird offseason will make things difficult for guys such as Means. Though he would have been the favorite, Means may struggle at the beginning of the year. Harvey may, too, but I see him as a breakout star in the bullpen this year.

Craig Landfeld/GulfBird Sports

Orioles Rookie of the Year: Ryan Mountcastle

Mountcastle has been on the cusp of the majors for a while now, and it is all-but-guaranteed that he gets a chance to shine in Baltimore this year. His bat is incredible and MLB-ready, but it’s the glove that could hold him back. I expect him to play some outfield from the get-go but ultimately find a home at 1B or DH. Regardless, once an everyday player, Mountcastle may end up being the O’s best hitter – that’s enough to get him this award.

Austin Hays running bases.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

Orioles MVP: Austin Hays

In the leadoff and CF role, Hays will be a cornerstone of the Orioles team and hopefully its rebuild. He has a great blend of speed, fielding ability, contact and power that should make him a consistent player – something I expect to be a rare sight in Baltimore this year. I actually think Mountcastle could make a push for this honor but because Hays will be consistently solid from Opening Day, it’s his to lose.

Orioles Final Record: 18-42

Oof. I hope I’m happily surprised with a few more wins here and there, but the Orioles are not going to be good this season. They’ll be giving young players a chance and likely losing some toss-up games because of it, and they’ll be dramatically worse than other opponents like the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Nationals, and Braves. In the end, it’s a poor season in Baltimore, but at least we’ll get to watch some baseball.

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Paul’s Payoff Pitch Farewell

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Anthony Santander has finally joined the Orioles (it was revealed that he had tested positive for Covid19), but Dwight Smith Jr. is still nowhere to be found. Richie Martin suffered an injury requiring surgery and will be out for a few months. In the finale of The Payoff Pitch, Paul runs down those stories and more as we are now just over a week from our delayed MLB Opening Day.

Plus, a personal note…

Thanks for listening to The Payoff Pitch, and see you…somewhere else (listen!)…soon!

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The Payoff Pitch: Baseball is…Back?!

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Two weeks, two installments of The Payoff Pitch! It seems Major League Baseball and the Players Union got their heads out of their own posteriors long enough to reach an agreement on a 60 game season to be played in 66 days beginning July 23/24. And while excitement for the first live American team sports since March abounds, the future of the game of baseball, with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the horizon, is cloudier than ever.

I delve into the details of the new season, while also looking at the gloom-and-doom that will inevitably be the 2021/22 offseason. Plus, a look at some Hall of Famers that are, and some that never were. Why is Derek Jeter treated like Babe Ruth when he’s nothing more than Paul Molitor?

Just hit play and find out on The Payoff Pitch.

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Baseball’s Back…But At What Cost?

game at camden yards with no one in stands

It’s been a hell of a few months for all of us, not just as Orioles fans or even as baseball fans, but as humanity. The world has been turned upside down by a global pandemic, and the baseball world is no exception to that. You’ll quickly notice that there is more to all of this than meets the eye. It’s not about the game or the Orioles. It’s not about their rebuild, their draft, or their draft position next year. Baseball just went through something horrific. It was a long and arduous process that hurt a lot of people. It’s also important to continue reiterating that in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly half a million people worldwide, hurt feelings don’t really matter. None of this really matters. We’ve had more than 120,000 Americans die during a pandemic and Major League Baseball just spent months arguing with the players about how to best proceed playing the game.

And while it appears they have figured it out – setting a date and everything – we all know they don’t REALLY have it figured out.

If we don’t have a new way of life figured out as a society quite yet, I can’t be mad at baseball for not having itself figured out. I don’t even have myself figured out. I would normally be writing in this space just about every week, but haven’t in months. It felt trite. It felt pointless. I honestly didn’t think baseball was coming back this year, and I was perfectly okay with that. Now that it is (supposedly) coming back, I don’t know how to feel.

Excitement? I don’t really have that.

Anticipation? There isn’t much of that either.

Trepidation is what I’d call it to this point. It feels daunting that MLB is going to squeeze 60 games into 2020 in the midst of a pandemic and think that they’ve accomplished something. Baseball’s owners (and to a much smaller extent, the players) have done some damage here. Not just with their bickering over money, but also with their feeling of importance.

I get that baseball is important to a lot of people. It’s important to me, too. But in this environment, and in this new world we all find ourselves in, “important” takes on a new meaning.

When we all sit back and take off our sunglasses and get the smell of fresh-cut grass out of our noses, we realize that this return is about one thing – the almighty dollar. It isn’t about giving fans something to watch or rally around. It was never about that for MLB or the players, and was never going to be about that. It’s about money. How much the owners can save, how much the players can make, and how much you are ultimately willing to spend on your cable package or streaming service to view it. That’s all it’s about and all it ever was about. That’s frustrating and there’s a larger conversation to be had about our society when it comes to these things.

It’s not a conversation that needs to be had here, because it gets political and messy. But it’s real and heartbreaking all at once.

Baseball’s return is also going to give us a very bastardized version of the game. Among the new rules that will need to be enforced to have a season play out is adopting the recently-used minor league rule of starting an inning with a runner at second base once the game goes to extra innings. This is to prevent games from going too long in a condensed schedule. If we are going to those extremes, why wouldn’t we just have tie games?

We’re also going to apparently see a rule enforced against spitting. While I agree that it’s a rule that is necessary in the world right now, if we have to go to those extremes to play the game, is the game even worth it?

We’re also going to see different rules when it comes to roster size, scheduling and extreme social distancing. All of this to play a game and entertain while making money for folks who already have a lot of it.

Chris Davis looks swings and hits a pitch, but he has dollar signs and dollar bills on his jersey on top of the various Orioles logos.

Original photo credit: International Business Times

Speaking of those folks who already have a lot of money – it’s important to point out that owners just spent months arguing about the fact that they aren’t going to make as much money as they would under normal circumstances. There’s no risk for them. Not to their health, or their bottom line. It’s all about them not making as much money as they normally would. Sure, there are projections that they had in a pre-pandemic world that they won’t meet. But it’s not like they are losing money hand over fist in order to make baseball happen this year. And even if they were losing money, there is no rule – as an owner of a sports team or any other business – that states your company can’t lose money.

These owners have acted over the last few months as if it is their God-given right as businessmen who run baseball franchises to make money – and lots of it – every year. Not every business is a money-maker every year. That’s not how it works for the hardware store down the street from you or the bakery across town. None of them automatically work, especially in a pandemic where the world shuts down around you. It’s that smug attitude from owners that really set in stone what this whole argument was about over these last few months. It’s why blaming “both sides” or not backing the arguments of the players doesn’t work for me.

They had every right to fight for what they wanted, and baseball still ended up having its way by getting as few games as it possibly could. Baseball doesn’t care what you want out of all these, either. They aren’t even going to lift the years-long blackout restrictions on streaming that have been in place. If you live in Iowa, so sorry, but you won’t get to watch much baseball even in a 60-game sprint season.

MLB loves nothing more than to make sure more people can’t even watch its product. It’s this kind of ancient attitude toward the game that baseball needs to shed. They haven’t done it over the last few months, and it with Rob Manfred at the helm, it doesn’t appear that anything like that is on the horizon.

When baseball eventually does return – and I’m still just going to count myself as hopeful that it is indeed in a month – I’ll be happy about it. I’ll make dumb jokes on Twitter and enjoy watching the Orioles and other more talented teams play. But right now I’m not in any kind of a celebratory mood about baseball’s return. It doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t fit the moment. Between a global pandemic (which is a completely valid reason to cancel a season) and the battle we just witnessed between owners and players, nothing that has just happened should be celebrated.

Baseball’s the game I first fell in love with, and I’m sure I’ll fall in love all over again. But I don’t have to be happy about it in the current state of things. It doesn’t quite fit the moment.

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The Payoff Pitch: 2020 MLB Draft Recap

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We’re back! Hopefully MLB will follow shortly…why don’t they already have a plan in place? Well, let’s spend a few minutes talking about why Rob Manfred is the worst thing to happen to Major League Baseball in my lifetime. Maybe we’ll have a shortened season and can talk about some real baseball soon…or maybe not, because Rob sucks.

For now, let’s talk about the guys the Orioles drafted in the 2020 Amateur Draft.

See the ESR recaps of the picks here:

Round 1: Heston Kjerstad

Comp Round A: Jordan Westburg

Round 2: Hudson Haskin

Round 3: Anthony Servideo

Round 4: Coby Mayo

Round 5: Carter Baumler

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O’s Look to Get Armed in Undrafted Signing Period

While the fact that the 2020 MLB Draft was a shortened version of normal certainly isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team such as the Orioles, it does afford them a unique opportunity in the undrafted free agent signing portion of the offseason. With a larger pool of players to snag, GM Mike Elias may be able to bring in prospects that might otherwise have been drafted by other clubs. Of course, these prospects will have to want to come to Baltimore and the Orioles will have to be able to afford them, but if ends meet, the Birds could have a nice crop of players in this area.

Last week, leading up to the draft, I wrote that the Orioles may want to draft under-slot in order to attract highly-touted high school prospects later. That proved to be the route Elias took, with the team selecting two prep prospects in the later rounds after passing on the likes of Austin Martin and Asa Lacy early. There’s certainly some risk involved in doing that, as high schoolers are harder to project, but I like the decision.

At the same time, I expect the risk-taking to continue with undrafted signees. When plucking players from the college ranks, however, the far greater gambles are made on pitchers; that reality is reflected in the Orioles’ clear preference of position players early in the most recent two drafts. With that being said, they should be willing to take risks on the best arms left after last week.

There always seems to be more success with late-round pitchers than one might expect, and the predictability based on each pitcher’s respective draft position is low. At the same time, the Orioles should feel good about the new regime’s ability to grow arms through analytics. For some – such as Michael Baumann and Cody Sedlock – in the minor league system, Baltimore’s revamped approach on the mound led to immediate improvement. Knowing that, they may have a decent shot at finding gems – or at least developing them – in the undrafted pool.

In fact, the Orioles have already shown confidence in their ability to do this, as two of their first three undrafted signees (as I’m writing this) are right-handed pitchers. That’s already more than the Birds drafted last week. Without a doubt, the number of players Baltimore brings in after this year’s draft will dwarf their selections, but the point remains: the Orioles opened the undrafted period by prioritizing pitching.

You know what’s even more exciting about this? Baltimore has agreed to pay stipends to their minor leaguers, which many other teams have not committed to. This, paired with the potential to quickly rise up the ranks of a rebuilding system, makes the organization an intriguing one for undrafted prospects.

If handled well, Elias and the Orioles will take advantage of that by nabbing the best remaining arms.

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