What will hopefully be a full, 162-games Major League Baseball season gets underway tomorrow, with the Yankees hosting Florida’s third Major League team the Blue Jays. The Orioles season gets underway an hour later in Boston with the Orioles taking on the Red Sox.
Last summer I speculated that maybe the Orioles wouldn’t be as bad as everybody predicted and they could make a push. I was right, and I was wrong. The Orioles were not eliminated from playoff contention until late September, a function of the expanded playoffs for the weird pandemic season, finishing four games behind the 8th seeded Astros. I predicted they would only win 17 games; they finished 25-35, but 15 games behind Tampa Bay.
At least they finished last.
Either way, my optimism for last year does not carry over to this year:
The club is carrying only 12 position players north from Spring Training. Of those players, the only ones who could be considered young players you can build around long-term are Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, and Cedric Mullins;
Stop-gap free agents like Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco are here and starting, bringing back memories of guys like Juan Castro, Jay Payton, Derek Lee, Julio Lugo, and others;
Guys like Anthony Santander and Trey Mancini are likely to be dealt before the trading deadline;
The starting rotation will likely feature John Means and an ever-changing cast of characters of veterans and rookies;
There’s no closer. At all.
Could things happen in what will likely be another weird season? Of course. Nobody has any idea how the combination of a short season last year and no 2020 Minor League season at all will impact pitch counts and innings limits for pitchers across the league. Nor do we understand what the changes made to the baseball will have on pitchers and hitters alike.
(Regarding the impact on pitchers; don’t forget that changes to the baseball impact pitchers in just about every way. It changes spin rates, it changes velocities, it changes the amount of friction on the pitchers’ fingers. Keep an eye on the number of pitchers who develop blisters during the season).
If my doom has not soured you on the excitement of baseball returning, here are some things to keep an eye on this year for the Orioles;
What effect will younger pitchers like Keegin Akin, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and Isaac Mattson have on the roster this year?
Will the two-rule five picks, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, stay on the team the entire season;
How will Ryan Mountcastle fare in a full big-league season?
What players will get traded by July? Will it be Santander and Mancini? Will others get dealt?
What other prospects will get playing time this year?
Will Chris Davis play at all this season?
Fans need to remember this one thing; this team is in transition. This is the third season in the Mike Elias era, and there are still hundreds of miles to go before this franchise is in the position to compete consistently. Guys like Adley Rutschman, and Grayson Rodriguez, and DL Hall are on the way. The new Dominican Academy looks awesome and finally gives the club a strong foothold in the country. Change is coming. Better days are ahead. But before this team walks toward credibility, they will need to crawl through some rough years like this one.
Regardless of my lack of optimism, I will be there on Thursday, April 8th in person for the home opener against the Red Sox. For the first time in two years, we’ll get to see this team live and in the flesh. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.