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Kirk Van Houten: “Can I borrow a feeling?
Could you send me a jar of love?
Hurtin’ hearts need some healin’
Take my hand with your glove of love!
Wow. The Orioles? Really? I just got done talking about how the Tigers are screwed and don’t have much going for them and now the schedule-makers hand me the Orioles? This has to be some kind of sick joke.
I thought I used fairly strong language to describe the bleak situation in Detroit, but I guess I’ll have to find something stronger here. From a competing perspective, the Baltimore Orioles are probably in the worst situation of any team in any of the major professional sports. They have arguably the weakest farm system in the major leagues. They also have arguably the worst team in the major leagues, though the clowns in Miami might ultimately have something to say about that. At 47-115, they just endured the second-worst season of any team since 1962. They play a sport in which tanking for picks is considerably less likely to land you a franchise-altering superstar than other sports. Finally, they play in the AL East, where even a strong team doesn’t guarantee you success.
That said, the Orioles enjoyed a somewhat improbable five-year run of success earlier in this decade, and “Orioles Magic” was a phrase that existed, so maybe this fanbase has experienced happiness recently enough to survive the tribulations that lie ahead (in addition to those that have already happened). Let’s take a look at just how brutal this is going to be in 2019.
Back in 2016, I recapped the sad recent history of Baltimore Orioles starting rotations. Things have actually gotten worse since then. The Orioles have one of the worst offenses in the game, but they definitely have the worst pitching staff. Alex Cobb is probably the best pitcher Baltimore has, but he’s also a data point showing that some pitchers come back from Tommy John surgery all messed up. Look at the vertical movement on Cobb’s splitter before and after 2015. It was once a strong pitch, but there’s not as much of a dip difference between that and his two-seam. He doesn’t strike many guys out anymore and because all of his pitches sink more than a standard fourseam, he’s looking for hitters to beat the ball into the ground.
Dylan Bundy is the one guy on the staff that can rack up whiffs, but his dinger problems could probably cure even the Orioles’ offense. He led the major leagues in home runs allowed in 2018 and is well on his way to doing so again this year. It surprised me to learn that Dan Straily has actually made 86 major league starts over the last three seasons, many of them perfectly competent. He’s been getting shelled in a small sample so far this year, as his slider hasn’t been fooling anyone. Many will recognize David Hess as the pitcher that Brandon Hyde pulled out of the game in the seventh inning of a no-hitter earlier this year. Hess responded by allowing seven home runs in his next three starts. 32-year-old Andrew Cashner is a waste of everyone’s time.
You’re probably familiar with at least a few of those names, so let’s turn to the position players, where this preview will undoubtedly introduce you to some guys you’ve never encountered before. Kicking off the parade of randos is Dwight Smith Jr., who has been Baltimore’s second-best hitter on the young season. The 26-year-old used to be a fill-in Quad-A slugger in the Blue Jays system, and is now getting his chance to start on a team with no better use of plate appearances. He’s a good contact hitter with some pop, and stands a chance at sticking.
Renato Nunez was thrown overboard by a couple different organizations and he washed ashore in Baltimore, where he has a chance to exercise his good-not-great power. The Orioles tried Nunez at third last season with results better than his defensive reputation might suggest, but he’s been relegated to DH this season for some reason. Whatever the reason for said relegation, the current third baseman, Rio Ruiz, hasn’t provided a valid one. Yet another Quad-A type, Ruiz has shown an affinity in the majors for the base on balls, but he contributes little else. If this is the competition, one wonders why Nunez can’t just have the third base job, as his bat could play there.
As you might expect, a few Orioles are off to absolutely dreadful starts at the plate. Jesus Sucre used to be a roster-able catcher for his blocking and framing abilities. Last season, the framing started to decline and without a bat to speak of, it’s unclear what purpose he serves. Cedric Mullins is a fun player who’s bursting with personality, makes highlight-reel diving catches in center, and won the Minor League Player of the Year award last season for Baltimore. However, his OPS+ is currently negative. Richie Martin‘s development had stalled until he began livin’ la vida loca last season at Double-A Midland. The breakout campaign prompted Baltimore to aggressively install Martin as the team’s opening day shortstop. He’s regarded as a good defender, but he’s been absolutely overwhelmed at the plate.
Joey Rickard is a 28-year-old utility outfielder who can sock lefties a bit, but not enough for it to be a carrying talent. He would have washed out of most other organizations by now, but hey, Orioles! Probably the most famous Oriole, Chris Davis is baseball’s biggest $161 million paperweight. He recently snapped an 0-for-54 streak with a single and asked for the ball. Despite that nice moment, and the three-hit day that ensued, Davis is one of baseball’s worst players and one of its most highly compensated. Get paid when you can, kids.
We’ll try to end on a happy note. Jonathan Villar is a perfectly competent major league second baseman with a balanced offensive profile. Where he really shines is on the basepaths; he swiped 35 bags last year while only getting caught five times. Notre Dame product Trey Mancini has been absolutely clobbering the ball, and as of this writing leads the American League in total bases. Mancini’s shown flashes of this before that haven’t typically lasted, but we’ll see if his age-27 season takes a turn for the magical.
If there’s one good thing that can be said about the Orioles and where they’re headed, it’s that the 47-115 season represented a catastrophic enough failure to make long-needed changes to their management team, which is apparently something every team except the White Sox has in their toolkit. Former executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter both got the axe. The new general manager, Mike Elias, was a key part of the Astros’ front office while they were getting a leg up on everyone else, and he’s going to try to give the Orioles a much-needed update. The change should help, but Baltimore’s starting from rock bottom, and the Orioles faithful have some hurtin’ hearts that need some healin’.
Probable Starting Pitchers
- Monday, April 22: Manny Banuelos vs. David Hess
- Tuesday, April 23: Ivan Nova vs. Andrew Cashner
- Wednesday, April 24: Ervin Santana vs. John Means
- Jonathan Villar – 2B
- Trey Mancini – RF
- Dwight Smith Jr. – LF
- Renato Nunez – DH
- Rio Ruiz – 3B
- Chris Davis – 1B
- Jesus Sucre – C
- Richie Martin – SS
- Cedric Mullins – CF
- SP1: Alex Cobb – RHP
- SP2: Dylan Bundy – RHP
- SP3: David Hess – RHP
- SP4: Dan Straily – RHP
- SP5: Andrew Cashner – RHP
- CL: Mychal Givens – RHP
- RP1: Paul Fry – LHP
- RP2: Mike Wright – RHP
- RP3: Evan Phillips – RHP