As the countdown to the 2020 baseball season begins in earnest, let’s look at some questions and possible answers.
How many games will the Orioles win? According to BetOnline, the Orioles will win 21 ½ games, tied with the Detroit Tigers for fewest in the major leagues.
Giving the Orioles the “over,” would make them 22-38 or better. If they exceeded the online oddsmaker’s prediction, 22 wins would give them a winning percentage of .367.
Projected for a full 162-game season, that would be a 60-102 record, six games better than last year.
In January, BetOnline forecast that the Orioles and Tigers would have the fewest wins in the majors—55 ½, so the oddsmaker is thinking they’ll have a slightly better record, percentage-wise, in the shorter season.
Could the Orioles upset the experts? Of course, but keep in mind they’d probably need a hot streak to do it.
Last year, the Orioles’ longest winning streak was just four games, and that came from the second to fifth games of the season.
They had a 10-game losing streak in June, and should they or another team have a streak that long, it would badly hurt their playoff chances. In a 162-game season, there’s plenty of time to recover.
In 1984, the Detroit Tigers had the best 40-game start in baseball history, 35-5. They went on to win the World Series. If another team had a start like that, it would secure a playoff spot.
Four years later, the Orioles lost their first 21 games on their way to a 54-107 record. It wouldn’t be a good idea for the Orioles or any team to duplicate that start.
How much will star players play? It’s tempting to say that many players will play all 60 games, but we don’t know what kind of shape they’ll be in after this long layoff.
Because there are no cross-country trips or any out of the Eastern time zone, the best players should be able to play a complete schedule.
But the Orioles will want to get a look at some of their younger players, and it’s likely that many players will see playing time.
Wouldn’t this be a good time to look at Adley Rutschman, Yusniel Diaz, Michael Baumann or DL Hall? It seems unlikely that the team would want to rush valuable young players to the major leagues.
Rutschman would most likely have started the season at High-A Frederick and moved on to Double-A Bowie. Hall was probably going to start with the Baysox while Baumann and Diaz would likely have begun with Triple-A Norfolk.
The Orioles don’t want to start the service clock on young players ahead of where they were going to, but Diaz could get some playing time later in the season. It’s possible you’ll see Baumann, too, but that seems like a longer shot.
Do the Orioles have enough starting pitching? As long as John Means, Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone are healthy, they’ll be in decent shape.
In the normal length season, you’d expect some of the starters to be switched out so that Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann could get big league exposure.
That will probably be the case, but 60 games works out to a 12-start maximum.
Do Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde have innovative ideas? We don’t know yet, but because of a short camp before the July 24 start, perhaps there will be a piggyback approach where one of the starters throws three or four innings with a long reliever following with two or three.
For the first two weeks of the season, teams get to carry 30 players, and then 28 for two more weeks, and finally 26 for the final weeks of the season.
Elias says he’s trying to develop an elite talent pipeline. Will the shorter season help or hurt? I think the Orioles are at a disadvantage because they have many young players with short track records.
It’s hard enough making judgments on 162-game seasons. Making them on 60 games is liable to be fraught with danger.
Can the Orioles make trades? Yes, they’ll have the first five weeks of the season to make trades but since few games will have been played, many teams might think they’ll have a reasonable chance for the postseason.
That could shrink the market for Cobb and reliever Mychal Givens, two of the Orioles’ trade chips.
Will the short season help any players? It could help a veteran pitcher like Wojciechowski, LeBlanc or Milone. LeBlanc and Milone are still on minor league deals and need to be added to the 40-man roster. If they have several good starts, that could make them attractive and inexpensive free agents in a market that’s likely to be flooded with a large number of veterans.
It could also help some of the many relief pitchers who performed well during the early part of spring training — Cody Carroll, Eric Hanhold, Branden Kline and Cole Sulser.
In a normal year, they might not have been part of the eight-man bullpen but with the team likely to carry a few more pitchers, they might get big league exposure that they wouldn’t have in a normal year.