Baltimore Orioles 2021 Season Previewby Johnnie Black March 28, 2021 0 comments
The Baltimore Orioles avoided the basement last year by finishing 25-35, one game ahead of the Boston Red Sox. Heading into manager Brandon Hyde’s third year as skipper, the Orioles have what could be a solid lineup after finishing third in the American League with a .258 batting average. Let’s see if Baltimore can build on last season’s improvement.
The aforementioned Orioles have a solid lineup filled with younger players. With the exceptions of Chris Davis and Freddy Galvis, the rest of their projected position players are under 30. While they’ve made some solid additions including Galvis and Maikel Franco, their biggest addition is a current player returning. Trey Mancini battled cancer last year and has done well on his comeback trail this spring. Easily the best hitter on the team, the return of Mancini adds much-needed thump to the middle of that lineup.
On the pitching side, they didn’t have much last year and now they will be without Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski, and Tommy Milone who combined to start 23 games for the O’s in 2020. Their production, or lack thereof, won’t be missed but Baltimore will need a few starters to step up after John Means.
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Severino and Sisco will split time behind the plate as they have over the past two years. How they split up the time will be interesting. While neither of them are great defensively, Severino has the edge there. Sisco has a better bat but not by much. His .325 wOBA and 103 wRC+ edges out Severino’s .314 and 96 over the past two seasons. Sisco could get a bit more time simply because he is the strong side of a platoon but the timeshare won’t be more than 60/40 in either direction.
Mountcastle put his best foot forward with his opportunity last year slashing .333/.386/.492. He hit well at all of his stops in the minors and although the .398 BABIP from last year screams regression, you can probably still expect Mountcastle to hit around .300. While Urias only has 10 major league games under his belt, he could see the bulk of the time at the keystone. Valaika is more experienced but is also more versatile as he can play all over the infield.
Franco is still only 28 years old and has improved defensively. What his bat will bring is still a question mark. In his 60-game season in Kansas City last year, he hit well with a .329 wOBA and 106 wRC+. Franco has teased us before though having up and down seasons with the Phillies. Camden Yards could be the cure for some of his offensive issues. Galvis has been fairly consistent the past few years and the Orioles can pretty much count on the veteran to continue that production. He is a very good defensive shortstop, has some pop, and will play just about every day.
The three outfielders might not be household names, but they are all in their mid-20s and could be hitting their primes over the next couple of years. Hays has had three seasons of small sample sizes so far. In total, he’s played in 74 games and has a perfectly average OPS+ of 100. Hays is a very good defender especially in left field where he will slot in this season. Mullins has improved defensively and has the speed to cover centerfield. He is also giving up switch-hitting and will be batting strictly from the left side of the plate which is probably a good idea due to his .439 OPS batting righty. Santander is the veteran of the group having played in 176 MLB games. He is the power hitter of the group as well banging out 31 HRs in 570 PAs over his last 130 games.
It’s hard not to root for Mancini to return to form this season after battling cancer last year. Let’s also not forget that he put it all together in 2019 with an OPS of .899 along with 38 doubles, 35 HRs, and a career-best 9.1 percent walk rate. Mancini has looked good this spring batting .333 despite striking out 16 times in 44 PAs. The timing will be there once the season gets going and the 29-year-old will be back to raking.
Starting Rotation Projections:
Here is where Baltimore is in trouble. The starting staff is downright ugly. Means got batted around last season and saw his HR/FB rate spike to 21.8 percent. In fact, everything about Means’ 2020 was harder. The balls that were hit as well as his velocity. It is usually a good thing when your fastball ticks up two mph. It isn’t necessarily good when the rest of your pitches do the same. Means is a strike-thrower and doesn’t walk many at all, but he may have to start getting batters to chase if he can’t avoid the rockets he is giving up. Kremer has some potential and honestly probably has the best stuff in the rotation right now. His velocity difference between his fastball and curve is excellent at 18 mph. If he can throw strikes, Kremer could be the ace by year’s end.
The Dark Knight is back. What we will see from him is anyone’s guess. His decline and repeated comebacks have been well documented. Plutko was just acquired from the Cleveland Indians and should slot in as the team’s fourth or fifth starter. He fits right in with the rest of the staff as someone who doesn’t miss bats but throws strikes. The Orioles are hoping LeBlanc can eat some innings. If he can get to 20 starts, something he’s only done twice, without getting completely blown out, the Orioles should call it a victory.
Hyde will likely look at matchups to decide who will close games. There isn’t anyone among this group that is a clear-cut favorite. If I had to narrow it down Tate and Lakins would be my guess to close the bulk of the games until Harvey comes back. Valdez is a soft-tossing journeyman and Scott is best suited for lower-leverage work as a lefty. Harvey should return by June and would give the Orioles a boost if he comes back strong. With Baltimore rebuilding, this gives Hyde a chance to evaluate some of the arms moving forward.
Players to Watch for:
Matt Harvey – The former first-round pick is on his last legs. Now 32 years old, Harvey has to prove he can still get major league hitters out. Since his thoracic outlet surgery in 2016 and an ensuing stress fracture in his scapula Harvey has bounced around trying to find the stuff he had in his first few years with the Mets. If he can pitch at least decently and stay on the field, the Orioles could easily flip him at the deadline.
Adley Rutschman – The first overall pick a couple of years ago out of Oregon State will start the year in the minors. With a good few weeks, Rutschman should be up at the end of April especially if Sisco and/or Severino struggle at all. The switch-hitting catcher hasn’t looked overmatched in spring training and should rake in Double-A. If he does wind up at Camden Yards within a month, expect him to be in the mix for Rookie of the Year consideration.
While the Orioles should score some runs this season, their pitching is downright ugly. They are rebuilding and will likely move whatever pitchers have value by the deadline. The pitching in general in the AL East isn’t great and the ballparks, aside from Tropicana Field, favor hitting. Another thing the Orioles have going for them which could win them a couple of games is their defense. Overall, it should be solid around the diamond and help get their groundball pitchers out of plenty of jams. All in all, Birdland can expect their team to finish last at worst and third if everything goes right.
2021 Record: 71-91, Last in the AL East
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