A 60-game season has some Oriole fans dreaming sweetly. They shouldn’t be.
Yes, it’s certainly easier to exceed expectations in 60 games than it is in 162, but the Orioles are still painfully thin in starting pitching. And, as executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias pointed out on Monday, they’ll be playing 2020 without their best player, Trey Mancini, who had surgery for colon cancer in March.
Then there is the fact that just two of the Orioles’ nine opponents in 2020 finished below .500 last season, the Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins.
When Elias was asked about the Orioles’ exceeding expectations, he played along, pointing out that would “be a lot of fun,” but cautioned that the rebuild is a multiyear process, and that the addition of the NL East makes their schedule harder.
Last season, the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals were 27-33 after 60 games and wouldn’t have made the postseason even if the playoffs had been expanded to eight teams per league, which was what the owners proposed for this season.
There’s talk that it could still happen, but the players and Major League Baseball have had a hard time agreeing on anything.
A 60-game season with eight postseason teams per league could mean a .500 team qualifies, and if someone gets hot in October like the Nats did last year, well, you never know.
In the Orioles’ case, you should know.
Last year, the Orioles’ 60-game record was 19-41. They finished 54-108, not much better than their 60-game mark.
The guess here is that they’ll probably win about 20 games. A 20-40 record would equal the .333 winning percentage from 2019.
But if you want to dream, I’ll take you back 15 years. In 2005, the Orioles’ 60-game record was 36-24, the third best record in the majors at that time.
That dysfunctional team, featuring a soon-to-be suspended Rafael Palmeiro, a misbehaving Sidney Ponson and an out-of-place Sammy Sosa, quickly went south.
Less than two months after the strong early record, Palmeiro had been suspended for a positive steroids test and manager Lee Mazzilli was fired.
The Orioles finished 74-88 with a 38-64 record in the final 102 games.
Sad day for the minors: The long expected cancellation of the 2020 minor league season was announced on Tuesday. Though it wasn’t a surprise, it’s still sad.
It’s particularly difficult for Orioles fans, who in search of an inexpensive day or evening out with the family, flock to Aberdeen, Bowie, Delmarva or Frederick.
Now, without the possibility of watching a major league game in person, they’ll be missing minor league ball, too.
Many fans bring their small children to the minor leagues to introduce them to baseball. Because admission is inexpensive, concessions are reasonable, and parking is often free, it makes for a low-cost alternative to the majors, especially for the very small ones.
Kids can run around at minor league parks, which they can’t do at Camden Yards, and if they don’t pay attention, there’s not much of an investment lost.
It’s a way for many parents to teach the kids about baseball in an intimate setting, and adults can watch the future Orioles mature as they climb the affiliate ladder.
A number of fans didn’t get to see catcher Adley Rutschman in the limited games he played in Aberdeen and Delmarva last year, and they were looking forward to seeing him in Frederick and perhaps Bowie this year.
Now, they won’t, and it’s a lost opportunity for adults to bond with their children at the ballpark.
Next year, the minor leagues are bound to look different. It’s likely that an Orioles affiliate might vanish. For other teams who have affiliates in faraway locales, that won’t be a big deal, but it will pain some Oriole fans.
Many of the teams targeted for extinction in the reorganization plan, which will be discussed in the coming weeks, are located hundreds of miles away from major league cities.
Of course, that’s not the case with the Orioles, whose affiliate setup is ideal. But for fans in the Appalachian and Pioneer Leagues, their days of watching future big leaguers might be at an end, and that can’t help grow the game in non-metropolitan areas.
Some of those cities’ whose teams are to be contracted could host independent baseball, but you can’t market seeing the future major leaguers there.
The charm of minor league baseball is its accessibility, and as another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s disappointing that fans of those teams never got a last look at the major leaguers of the future.