Pandemic blog 37: the short season

We are heading for a World Series and while the rest of the world has been turned awry, one thing is as usual: the Baltimore Orioles are not in it.

But!

I have been high on the Orioles in the past. I thought the team had much more talent than their awful record in 2018 suggested, and indeed they were not quite as bad in 2019. But last year, I think their still-terrible 54-108 record was roughly in line with who was on that team. Now you take that team, which already traded Andrew Cashner at the deadline, and you also trade Dylan Bundy, Miguel Castro, Richard Bleier, and Mychal Givens, so you’re now down two starters and three of the guys who threw the most bullpen innings, and oh yeah, the best hitter on the 2019 Orioles, Trey Mancini, is getting cancer treatment and is gone for the year, and Jonathan Villar, probably the best all-around position player, is traded away too, and oh yeah, Anthony Santander gets injured halfway through the season, what are you looking at?

People were saying this team could be worse than the awful 2018 team. They were saying this team could lose 50 out of 60.

They didn’t! Instead, they took another step up towards respectability, going 25-35, with a Pythagorean record of 28-32. They didn’t even finish last in the AL East this year (sorry, Red Sox.)

How did it happen?

Well, first of all, everybody hit. Pedro Severino hit. Renato Nuñez hit. Rio Ruiz hit. Anthony Santander hit until he got hurt. Ryan Mountcastle, whose star as a prospect seemed to have dimmed, finally came to the majors and did nothing but hit. A joy to watch. Players who in previous years seemed to have clearly established that not even a lick could they hit, like Cedric Mullins and Chance Sisco, hit. They hit in weird ways. DJ Stewart hit .193 but walked and homered a ton and ended up with a solid .809 OPS, the best ever by a player hitting below the Mendoza line in 100 or more PAs. (He edged out old 2001 Mark McGwire at .808.) On the other side, Jose Iglesias had one of the strangest batting seasons ever, hitting .373 (36 PAs short of qualifying for the batting title, which no Oriole has won since Frank Robinson’s tricoronation in 1966) but walking and homering just 3 times each. It’s hard to walk and homer that rarely and still be a good hitter! But this guy doubles off the wall like mid-2000s Brian Roberts. His .956 OPS was by far the best ever for hitters with 100 PA, at most 3 homers and at most 3 walks. Jerald Clark of the Twins in 1995, a player I have no memory of at all, comes closest, and it’s not that close.

What remained of the bullpen was pretty good, too, making up for an expectedly spotty starting rotation.

What’s the future? The hitters, let’s be honest, are probably not as good as they looked this short season. On the other hand, by 2021 the first of the prospects should start to show up. Dean Kremer, who came in the Machado trade, is already here and showed signs of real promise. Yusniel Diaz should be up. Mountcastle is here to stay. And maybe, just maybe, it’s Adley Rutschman time.

I don’t think the 2021 Orioles are a .500 team but I think there’s reason to think the absolute wretchedness is past — if ownership wants it to be.

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