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Know Your Enemy: Baltimore Orioles

A week for the birds

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Whoever planned the schedule for this week has some kind of sense of humor, with the White Sox hitting the bird teams. All we needed was the Blue Jays to complete the trifecta.

Bringing this back up because the story is always good for a laugh:

2020 Orioles: 25-35 (fourth in AL East)

For one of the first times in a very long time, the Orioles did not end the season dead last in baseball (that honor was reserved for Pittsburgh). Also, due to the truncated schedule the Orioles did not lose more than 100 games, and their 25-35 record was their best 60-game stretch since 2017. The only thing that didn’t happen for Baltimore in 2020 was a trip to the postseason, which they missed for the fourth season in a row.

The Orioles were also without Trey Mancini for the season. He left during spring training to get a malignant tumor removed from his colon, and took the season off to undergo treatment for stage 3 colon cancer. He was declared cancer-free in November and has returned for the 2021 season (happy news all around!)

Orioles fans had a lot to be happy about last season. In spite of their patented ability to field Some Guys™, there were quite a few players that outperformed expectations. José Iglesias spent his season as the shortstop-DH (?) and lead the offense, slashing .373/.400/.556. Ryan Mountcastle followed up with a .333/.386/.492 line. Overall, the team ranked third in batting average (.258) in the AL, which isn’t too shabby for a team that only a season earlier had lost 108 games. Despite this pretty decent offense, the Orioles attempted sac bunts at a higher rate than any other team (2.8%).

Pitching was a bit of a weak point for the Orioles in 2020. Team ERA was 4.51 (ninth in the AL) and only one starter had an ERA below 4.00 (Tommy Milone, at 3.99!). The bullpen managed 11 saves, which could definitely be better.

2021 Manager: Brandon Hyde

Brandon Hyde came to Baltimore after spending time as a bench coach and interim manager for the Marlins and as the bench coach, director of player development, and first base coach for the Cubs. He briefly coached under Ricky Renteria before the Cubs brought in Joe Maddon. Hyde took over for Buck Showalter, after Showalter’s contract was not renewed after losing 115 games in 2018.

Hyde is 95-165 in his career with the Orioles. He’s been ejected a grand total of five times since taking over managerial duties in 2019. It’s pretty tough to evaluate a manager’s performance when his organization has no expectations to win, so I’m thinking losing fewer than 100 games should be considered successful for Hyde.

2021 so far ...

Times are tough in Baltimore. They’re currently dead-last in the AL East, 13 games back from first and 11 12 out of the Wild Card. The only series they’ve won to date has been against the equally-painful-to-watch Texas Rangers. They’ve lost nine in a row and look to be on track for another 100+ loss season.

Pitching for the Orioles can still be described gently as “not great.” Their team ERA is 5.02, currently 14th in the AL. But it’s not all bad!

Matt Harvey has returned to a starting rotation after bouncing around the league since leaving the Mets. Sure, his ERA is 6.31 but only one member of the Orioles rotation has an ERA of less than 5.00 (John Means, who has also thrown a no-hitter). Mancini is back and hitting .278 with 11 home runs and a league-leading 42 RBIs. Means has had quality starts each time he’s come out, holding a 4-0 record with his 1.79 ERA. Cedric Mullins is leading the team in batting average (.298), hits (56) and OBP (.370).

Hyde may want to figure out quick how he can right the ship before he finds himself without a job come October, though.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that the Orioles very briefly had Yolmer Sánchez, but released him after acquiring Adam Plutko, which has totally helped their bullpen.

Series Pitching: One bright spot and three duds

Today we’re going to see Dylan Cease face off against Bruce Zimmerman. Zimmerman has a 5.59 ERA and 2-3 record with 30 strikeouts this season. He had his shortest start last Saturday against the Nationals, going three innings and allowing five runs. Zimmerman is a lefty and a rookie, so do with that what you will. Cease had been solid in his last eight starts, allowing three earned runs or fewer, before facing the Yankees (ugh) and giving up five runs over 4 13 . This will be the first time Cease faces Baltimore, so hopefully it goes better than his first visit to Yankee Stadium.

Friday is going to be Matt Harvey vs. Dallas Keuchel. Harvey won three of his first six but has since lost four in a row. He’s posting a 6.31 ERA with a 3-5 record and 36 strikeouts. Harvey allowed six runs in 4 23 against the Nationals on Sunday and has an 8.85 ERA for May. Meanwhile, Yankee Stadium was not kind to Keuchel. He committed his first error since 2017, leading to two unearned runs (out of the three allowed). Keuchel has a 4.28 ERA and 28 strikeouts with his 3-1 record. He threw 100 pitches vs. the Yankees in four innings, so hopefully he’s recovered enough from that to face the limping Orioles.

Saturday is going to be John Means facing off against Lance Lynn. Means is the one good part of the Orioles rotation, leading the AL with a 1.79 ERA and 4-0 record. His past three outings have ended in no-decisions. Lynn had a no-hitter through six during Monday’s win against the Cardinals. He’s 2-1 lifetime against the Orioles and his 1.51 ERA means we may be shaping up for a pitcher’s duel on Saturday.

Sunday’s close is going to have Keegan Akin facing off against Lucas Giolito. Akin has a 0-0 record and a 6.10 ERA with 10 strikeouts, and will be getting his first start of the season. Giolito had some right-side tightness on Tuesday against the Cardinals, still managing six innings during the win. He’s had 23 strikeouts over his last 20 innings and 66 so far this season.

Why Do We Hate the Orioles?

A lot of people hate the Orioles because of Cal Ripken Jr. and the stadium. We’re not punching down here, as White Sox fans are all-too-familiar with painful rebuilds.