Five observations about the first half of the Orioles' 2020 season - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Five observations about the first half of the Orioles’ 2020 season

It seems implausible that this eventful 60-game season began just a month ago and is nearly halfway over.

On Wednesday, the Orioles will play their 30th game of the season at Tampa Bay, marking the season’s midpoint.

Here are some impressions from what we’ve seen in the season’s first month:

There is reason for optimism

After a surprising 12-8 start in the season’s first 20 games, the Orioles lost six straight before rebounding with two wins against Boston to even their record at 14-14.

Rightfielder Anthony Santander, who didn’t get his first genuine major league opportunity until June 2019, has blossomed. His 18-game hitting streak is the team’s longest since Nick Markakis’ 18-game run in 2014.

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Cedric Mullins, who has been playing center field since Austin Hays went on the injured list because of a fractured rib, is providing speed, energy, exceptional defense and surprising offense.

Friday’s addition of prospect Ryan Mountcastle has placated a restive fan base. In his first three games, Mountcastle has looked comfortable at the plate and in left field.

Hays could return on the team’s next homestand, which begins September 1st. Last week, manager Brandon Hyde said Hays’ rib injury could keep him out another week or two.

Catcher Chance Sisco is looking better offensively and defensively. Hyde said that Sisco has been taking ground balls at first base, as has Pedro Severino, who injured his right hip on Sunday.

The left-handed-hitting Sisco could add that position to his skill set, which would increase his value.

What about the starting pitching?

The Orioles have gotten only three starts of at least six innings, two by Tommy Milone, and one of 6 2/3 innings from Alex Cobb.

In a 162-game season, starts like that would tax an eight-man bullpen. But, with two extra arms, the Orioles have been able to get by with multiple short starts.

However, if the team is going to make a run at the playoffs, they’re going to need longer starts from John Means and Asher Wojciechowski.

Means got a late start because of arm fatigue and then missed time after the death of his father. He hasn’t yet completed five innings. In his most recent start on Friday night, Means completed just three innings. If he can be extended to five innings in his final half-dozen starts this season, that would be progress.

Left-hander Wade LeBlanc’s elbow injury, which forced him out of Sunday’s game after 14 pitches, adds another level of intrigue to the rotation. LeBlanc will have an MRI on Monday. Thomas Eshelman, who didn’t give up a hit and retired 13 in a row in 4 1/3 innings of relief on Sunday, has experience starting.

Trading might be tricky

In his video conference call on Saturday, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias wouldn’t say whether the Orioles would make trades. He said the team would listen.

Cobb and reliever Mychal Givens might draw interest.

Dealing Cobb is going to be difficult because he has another year left on a four-year $57 million contract and teams are wary of adding payroll in a baseball economy wrecked by Covid-19.

Although Cobb hasn’t sparkled this season, he has been effective with a 3.76 ERA and 1.139 WHIP in five starts.

It probably won’t be easier to make deals this offseason and, if the Orioles wait until next July to deal him, they might be left with a package similar to the one they received for Andrew Cashner in July 2019 — two young Dominican Summer League players.

Givens has thrived in a setup role this season, throwing nine scoreless innings until he allowed a run in the ninth inning on Sunday. Actually, he was charged with a run when Tanner Scott gave up a two-run ninth-inning homer to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the ninth.

Givens will enter his final season of arbitration eligibility this winter. If he’s traded before the August 31 deadline, an acquiring team gets Givens for 2021, too, and relieves the Orioles of a salary they might not want to carry next season.

Givens probably wouldn’t fetch a huge haul, either, but the Orioles have a decent bullpen with the emergence of Shawn Armstrong and the improvement of Dillon Tate, who could slide into Givens’ role.

2020 has presented some interesting baseball

The Orioles have won three of four extra-inning games played under the rule that places a runner at second base to begin the 10th inning and beyond.

They’ve already pulled off Major League Baseball’s first leadoff double play and first leadoff inside-the-park home run in two of their wins.

A 28-man roster with 15 pitchers has helped make up for some of those short starts.

Other sports have added players to their roster in recent years, but it took until this year for baseball to add an extra man and have 26 on their rosters. When the shortened season began, teams were able to play with 30 for the first two weeks.

Rosters were supposed to be cut from 28 to 26 on August 20th but because of injuries and illness, Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed to keep them at 28.

The Orioles have already played — and lost — a doubleheader with two seven-inning games and have another scheduled for September 4th against the New York Yankees.

Next season, it’s likely that the dreaded day/night doubleheaders will return. Teams aren’t likely to give up revenues from another gate with paying fans returning.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde likes the three-batter minimum. Relief pitchers must pitch to three batters or conclude an inning. While that’s a new rule for 2020, it’s not a one-off like the others. Hyde would like the ability to switch pitchers if pinch-hitters are used for the second or third batters of a relief stint.

There’s still work to be done in the infield

Since Trey Mancini isn’t playing this season because of surgery for colon cancer, the Orioles don’t have a single homegrown infielder.

Going back to Jonathan Schoop’s arrival in 2013, they’ve had only one starting infielder at second base, third base or shortstop developed in their farm system — Stevie Wilkerson, who isn’t playing because of a broken left ring finger.

The Orioles have tried to make up for the lack of team-developed infielders by signing inexpensive free agents or claiming them on waivers.

Shortstop José Iglesias, who should return this week from the 10-day injured list because of a sore left quadriceps muscle, is an exception. Iglesias was signed to a one-year contract for $2.5 million with a $3.5 million option for next season.

Iglesias could be traded, but he’s been a valued stabilizer when he’s been able to play.

The Orioles don’t have any major league-ready infielders in the high minors.

They have plenty of young outfielders, the best catching prospect in baseball, Adley Rutschman, and a number of promising pitchers at various levels.

The loss of Richie Martin with a season-ending wrist injury during summer training has hurt their infield play. Martin could have been a valuable piece with Iglesias out.

Gunnar Henderson is the only infield prospect there, and he’d likely be playing at Delmarva this season.

Elias has tried to rectify this shortfall in his first two drafts, adding three infielders (Henderson, Joey Ortiz, Darell Hernaiz) in the first six picks in 2019, and drafting three more (Jordan Westburg, Anthony Servideo and Coby Mayo) in the six-player draft this season.

However, none will be playing with the Orioles any time soon.

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