Five Orioles storylines to watch in the season's final five weeks - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Paul Folkemer

Five Orioles storylines to watch in the season’s final five weeks

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Five weeks and 31 games remain in the Orioles’ 2019 schedule. And while the rebuilding club is plodding toward another 100-loss campaign, there are still interesting storylines to watch as the season winds to a close.

  1. Does Chris Davis have a role anymore?

When the Orioles signed Davis to a club-record, seven-year, $161 million deal in January 2016, they probably didn’t expect he’d be reduced to a benchwarmer halfway through the contract. During the just-completed homestand, though, Davis spent more time delivering the lineup cards to the umpires than being listed on them. He started only two of the seven games, going 0-for-7, and also had a hitless pinch-hit appearance.

Manager Brandon Hyde said Thursday that Davis’ playing time will be limited for the rest of the season. It’s a decision the Orioles had little choice but to make. Their new analytics-oriented administration this season has had no more success fixing Davis than the previous regime did. Davis is hitting .173 with a .566 OPS this year, coming off a historically bad .168/.539 performance in 2018. Since July 22, he’s 6-for-57 (.105).

It’s clear that Davis is a poor fit for a rebuilding club, and he’ll likely continue to be pushed further toward the periphery. This offseason, they’ll need to contemplate his future with the organization. But with three years and more than $90 million remaining on the 33-year-old’s contract (including deferred payments through 2037), will Orioles ownership be willing to part ways with Davis and eat the money?

  1. Will any young players step up in September?

The first year of the Orioles’ rebuild has offered plenty of opportunities, as the Mike Elias regime evaluates which players could be part of the future and which won’t. So far, several have stepped up to cement a place for themselves in the club’s plans. Rookie left-hander John Means, 26, transformed from a long shot Opening Day roster survivor into an All-Star starter. Fellow 26-year-old Hanser Alberto, who was waived four times this past offseason, holds the best batting average in the majors against left-handed pitchers, graduating from utility infielder to a frequent starter. Former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander, 24, has emerged as a middle-of-the-order slugger while improving his outfield defense.

During the final five weeks, other young players will have the chance to make a good impression. Some, including former first-round picks Hunter Harvey and DJ Stewart, have gotten a head start. The 24-year-old Harvey overcame years of injuries to finally make his MLB debut earlier this month, and he’s impressed with his 100-mph gas as a reliever. Stewart, 25, who’s suffered fluky injuries of his own this season, is heating up at the plate with 11 hits in his last seven games.

They could be joined by possible September call-ups such as 24-year-old Austin Hays, the Orioles’ No. 6 prospect, who is still looking to realize the potential he showed during a fantastic 2017 season, and enigmatic lefty Tanner Scott, who flashes excellent stuff but has had trouble commanding it. A strong late-season showing could help them make an early bid for a 2020 roster spot.

  1. What other records for pitching futility will the Orioles break?

On Thursday, the Orioles broke the record they’d been barreling toward for months, serving up their 259th home run of the season, the most in major league history. They’ve surrendered three more blasts since then and have another 31 games to extend the record.

It’s not the only ignominious pitching record the Orioles will set this season, at least for the franchise. The club owns a 5.93 ERA, and will almost certainly finish the season with the worst mark in Baltimore history unless it can shave off nearly 60 points in the final five weeks (the record is 5.37 by the 2000 Orioles). Assuming the Orioles pitch roughly 279 more innings this year — nine for every game remaining — they’d have to pitch to a 3.39 ERA for the rest of the season to avoid the record. That seems a tall order for a team that has posted an ERA of 5.28 or worse in every month of 2019. (For what it’s worth, the Orioles aren’t in much danger of setting a modern MLB record for worst ERA. That distinction belongs to the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies, who had a 6.71 mark.)

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Assuming the Orioles allow more than 105 earned runs, they’d also break the 2000 Orioles’ franchise record in that category (855). And it’s not out of the question they could set an Orioles record for hits allowed. With 1,258 this year, they’re 376 away from the high mark of 1,633, set by the 2009 Orioles. To break that record, the Orioles would need to allow an average of 12.1 hits per game for the rest of the season. They’re averaging 9.6 per game, so it’s unlikely, but not impossible.

  1. Can John Means make a bid for the AL Rookie of the Year award?

It’s been a tale of two halves for Means, the Orioles’ de facto ace. Before the All-Star break, Means went 7-4 with a 2.50 ERA, a 1.077 WHIP and 3.14 strikeouts for every walk. In his 14 starts, only once did he allow more than three earned runs. He held his opponents to one or fewer in nine of those starts. Buoyed by an All-Star selection, Means was a front-runner for Rookie of the Year honors.

The second half has been a different story. In his first six starts after the break — interrupted by a stint on the injured list with a left bicep strain — Means threw just one quality start, and three times was tagged for four or more earned runs. He was chased before four innings in three straight outings, something he hadn’t done since his first major league start. All told, Means is 2-5 with a 6.23 ERA in seven second-half starts. Still, he flashed his first-half form in his most recent outing, a seven-inning gem against the Rays on Saturday, before being placed on the family medical emergency list.

Does Means — who is 9-9 with a 3.61 ERA overall — still have a shot at Rookie of the Year? It’s possible. According to Baseball Reference, Means’ 3.3 Wins Above Replacement is the best mark among American League rookies, leading Rays infielder Brandon Lowe (2.8), who will miss the rest of the season with a left quadriceps strain. Houston Astros designated hitter Yordan Alvarez ranks third at 2.6. FanGraphs’ version of WAR, however, places Means third among AL rookies with 2.2, behind Alvarez (2.6) and Lowe (2.5).

A return to form in the second half would help Means make a strong case for the award. However, the bet here is that he’ll finish behind Alvarez, who has already collected 19 homers, 58 RBIs, a .322 average and 1.090 OPS in 59 games for the first-place Astros.

  1. Will the Orioles finish with the worst record in baseball — and the 2020 No. 1 draft pick?

For much of the season, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that the Orioles would end up with baseball’s worst record in 2019, earning them the top overall pick in the 2020 amateur draft. On July 2, the Orioles had 61 losses — four more than any other team — and were 4 1/2 games worse in the standings than the next worst club.

Since then, though, another team has fallen into the league’s basement: the Detroit Tigers, who won only five games apiece in June and July and are 39-89. They’re 2 1/2 games worse than the 43-88 Orioles. Also within spitting distance are the Kansas City Royals (46-85), who are three games better than Baltimore.

Examining the clubs’ remaining schedules, the Tigers won’t have many opportunities to rip off a winning streak. Twenty of their last 34 games are against teams above .500, including the resumption of a suspended game against Oakland that they were trailing 5-3 in the seventh inning. The Royals, too, have a tough schedule, with 19 of 31 remaining games coming against winning opponents. The Orioles, by contrast, will face above-.500 clubs in only 11 of their last 31 games.

The Orioles, Tigers and Royals each have one remaining series against each other, so there could still be some jockeying between them (not that they’ll be trying to lose, of course). Right now, Detroit seems to have the upper hand for next year’s No. 1 pick, but the Orioles surely wouldn’t be too upset to settle for No. 2 or 3.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    August 26, 2019 at 7:39 am

    “not that they’ll be trying to lose, of course” ….. bwaaahahahhhaaaaahahahhaaaa … of course they’re not Paul! How could anyone think such a thing?

    • Phil770

      August 26, 2019 at 8:26 am

      The players are not trying to lose. If Hyde is managing to lose, I’d be surprised, but as you say, it is possible. If the O’s really wanted to tank, they would play Davis, Martin, Sisco and pitch openers most games. I think that they are going to play the call-ups and will be outplayed by teams clearly better and hold their own against everyone else. The Tigers are worse than O’s.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        August 26, 2019 at 9:18 am

        Don’t get me wrong .. the only people tanking are upper management. And I have no problem with Chance Sisco. The man will hit in this league, he’s just learning.

        • Jbigle1

          August 26, 2019 at 12:27 pm

          Maybe but i highly doubt his catching defense will ever be up to par. Dont see Sisco being enough of an offensive force to make up for that. Though we should’ve already known this. Everyone who was dying for a sisco call up got what they should’ve expected. Severino is a better long term backup to Rutschman in my opinion. I’d probably look to move Sisco off the plate this offseason if they truly believe there’s a chance for an above average bat there. Don’t know what that position would be though. Maybe he can handle 2B but he’d obviously need a lot of work and reps there. It’s not as if we have a long term solution there either.

          • Zoey Dog Says Throw Strikes

            August 26, 2019 at 1:17 pm

            I’m with you, Jbingle. Cisco does not look like an MLB caliber catcher. Heck, he’s barely a passable AAA player from purely a defensive perspective, though has shown he can hit in MiLB.

            Will that translate to MLB, and can he be consistent? Those questions are still unanswered.

            The problem with Cisco as you noted is that it looks like he’ll always be compromised defensively, and at the most critical position on the field. His bat has to be well above average to make up for that deficiency, but so far he hasn’t been able to approach being an average MLB hitter, never mind above average.

            I’ve been saying for two years now to put him at 2B. He could have already had two complete seasons there, and possibly been ready to play next year to replace Villar.

          • Bancells Moustache

            August 26, 2019 at 2:33 pm

            You’re right, the arm and the pop time just aren’t there. Contending teams need to be prepared to stop the Dave Roberts moment, when everyone in the ballpark knows he’s going on the next pitch, and Sisco doesn’t provide that. With an elite catcher working his way through the system, and a lack of rising infield prospects, I don’t see why they wouldn’t try Sisco at 2B or 3B next spring. to take advantage of the bat, which could be big league level.

    • CalsPals

      August 26, 2019 at 5:50 pm

      I’ve been saying that ad nauseam for the last two yrs…go O’s…

      • Jbigle1

        August 26, 2019 at 9:43 pm

        I don’t think Sisco’s arm really plays at 3rd base either. This is no surprise considering he threw out 2/21 in AAA and has long had these questions. He’s not a major league catcher; the question for me is how long do we play pretend that he is? I think he’s a 2B or bust. Well obviously 1B/DH also but I dont think we need to groom any more of those guys. Tough position. His star is definitely dimmed. I hope he can handle 2B because I see no future here if he cannot.

  2. willmiranda

    August 26, 2019 at 10:02 am

    I think they should try to convert Davis’s contract into a personal services contract and find ways to keep him busy with PR work (he seems like a likable chap) or something else outside the lines. Maybe he could be an assistant to Brady Anderson, doing whatever he does.

    • DevoTion

      August 26, 2019 at 10:23 am

      What does Brady do anyway?
      They can lift weights together!

  3. Borg

    August 26, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    I don’t know how anyone can make the argument that the Orioles would be “eating” Davis’ salary if they let him go any more than what is happening already. You have to pay him anyway and he isn’t producing so why clog up a roster spot as well as waste money? Cut him loose already.

  4. Jacobs1928

    August 26, 2019 at 8:33 pm

    I think it is about time to rid the O’s of Davis…and in doing so I would not abide by his
    Existing contract because he did not maintain the skills and talent he had to get the
    Existing contract. Let us assumed we signed a singer based on a great voice.. then the
    Voice left….no singer …..we would not honor the contract. I would give Davis a buyout
    Of 10% of his contract $6 million and say good buy. If he did not accept I would bring a suite in Baltimore with a jury and argue that his performance showed a lackluster
    Manner in which his skills were minimized…

    • Raymo

      August 26, 2019 at 10:14 pm

      And unfortunately you would lose your case. MLB contracts are not performance based. They’re guaranteed. Period.

  5. garyintheloo

    August 27, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    We are reminded that the rebuild will be long and painful with no guarantee of ultimate success however that is defined. The highly touted 2012 to 2016 teams did not bring home flags or rings. Next year might give us a chance to see which home roster products are worth the wait but one thing we have to do is move on from Chris Davis. The story that we can’t move on because of the 90 million plus he is owed doesn’t make sense as you are not going to reap any suitable return so get a player with a better upside. This is like holding on to a house washed away in a flood because you still have a mortgage. This hasn’t middled well and it won’t end well. Let’s change the dialogue.

  6. Jacobs1928

    August 27, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    The O’s are owned by lawyers…so, there would be no legal expense if they did what
    I suggest…pay him $6 million and go to court in Baltimore….each contract can be
    Brought to court …For $54 million I would do everything to avoid paying that
    With the O’s ordering by a court order to pay the Nats $100 million I would
    Either declare bankruptcy or offer to sell the O’s so that I would not be responsible
    For 154 million $$$’s …can u imagine a business like the O’s to owe $154 million?

    • Jbigle1

      August 27, 2019 at 5:27 pm

      You realize how much income they generate each year? And the fact that Angelos owns MASN. He knew this ruling was coming. Theyre going to do everything they can to shave off dollars but he was well aware that whatever decision reached was going to be costly.

      And Davis’ contract is guaranteed. That’s a shut and dry case so that’s absolutely ridiculous to suggest that there’s any legal repercussions to go get some money back there. Nor is it “free” for the orioles to litigate anything. Assuming they don’t hire outside counsel to do whatever you’re suggesting here they’d still have to pay the lawyers of the Angelos owned firm.

  7. Jacobs1928

    August 27, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    How much income each year? And based on my experience of 35 years in business
    And as a Area Vice President for Verizon there is no contract or business that is notable to be changed.

  8. cb

    August 30, 2019 at 10:19 am

    If they did that to Davis, free agents might be reluctant to sign with Baltimore.

  9. Jacobs1928

    August 30, 2019 at 10:34 am

    Not if they set up contracts that reward high level production that are stated in the
    Contract e.g. the number of home runs like 25_30 pitching like 15 wins like batting
    Average 280 -300. And stating the low ends for lower compensation.

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