Today, finally, is Opening Day.
Look, I’ve been an Orioles fan for my entire life. I went to my first Orioles game in 1984. For most of my existence, the Orioles have not been very good. Sure, there was the Why Not? season of 1989 that remains my favorite Orioles season ever. There were back-to-back ALCS trips in 1996 and 1997. There was this, the loudest and most exciting moment I have ever experienced at a sporting event.
For fun, I’m including this second video which almost (but not quite) replicates the experience of having been there.
I still get goosebumps watching that today.
Unfortunately, that was the zenith of the Orioles for the decade. A four-game sweep by Kansas City, the Zack Britton debacle in Toronto, and the 2018 disaster.
Here we are, at the dawn of the new decade, in the middle of a global pandemic, in a shortened season. And the Orioles are…probably not going to be good.
Fangraphs predicts that the Orioles will go 22-38 this year, and finish 12 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. That would extrapolate to a 59-103 record in a full season, and a 33 game deficit in a full season.
We knew the team was not going to be any good this year. When you deal your best player (Jonathan Villar), in a salary dump for a guy who has never pitched above Short-Season A-ball, you know the team isn’t going to be all that good.
Still, the team seems to have been cursed from the start of this year. Trey Mancini’s colon cancer of course is the most serious of these issues. But it’s gone beyond that. Dwight Smith, Jr. and Anthony Santander got COVID-19. John Means has a dead arm. Stevie Wilkerson broke his finger. Ty Blach and Richie Martin are out for the year. Tommy Milone, who hasn’t started 20 games in five years and came into camp as a non-roster invitee, is starting Opening Day in Boston. The Orioles efforts to sign international free agents, one of the ways that General Manager Mike Elias has worked to improve, has been hampered by the pandemic.
So yeah, the plan so much as it was isn’t even going to plan.
Further complicating things this year is the schedule. When a team like the Orioles, who aren’t particularly good, have to play the majority of their games against teams that are expected to make playoff runs, it doesn’t help much.
By every conceivable metric, the Orioles are doomed this year. But that’s why they play the games right? As many have pointed out, Walgreens……..er, the Nationals were left for dead after 60 games last year. It’s just as conceivable that the Orioles could run off a 45-15 season and make the playoffs, right?
There are many reasons to watch the Orioles this year, despite the fact that I’m guessing they finish worse than projections. I say they finish 17-43. But here are some things to look out for this year:
Can Hanser Alberto put together another season hitting over .300? Can he make a run at .400?
Can Chris Davis make a run at hitting .200?
Can John Means (once he gets on the mound) build upon the success of his 2019 rookie season?
Can Alex Cobb avoid the Injured List?
With the shortened season and a tighter playoff race, will Mike Elias be able to extract more value for potential trade chips like Alberto, Mychal Givens, Pedro Severino, or Wade LeBlanc at the August 31st deadline?
How much playing time will Ryan Mountcastle get this season, if at all? If he does see the field, will he see more time and DH, 1st base, or left field? And if he does play left field, how much of an adventure will he be out there?
But look, anybody can get hot for 60 games. Maybe John Means posts a sub 1.50 ERA. Maybe Chris Davis hits .300 with 24 home runs. Maybe Renato Núñez leads the AL in home runs. Maybe Hanser Alberto wins the batting title. Maybe Gerrit Cole doesn’t work out the way the Yankees thought he would. Maybe three extra American League playoff spots this year give the Orioles an opening into the playoffs, when anything can happen in a short series. Maybe, based on the fact that this will be the first time since 1983 I haven’t attended an Orioles game in person, this will be the year the Orioles win it all.
After all, why not?