The good and bad in the Orioles' first quarter of 2021 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

The good and bad in the Orioles’ first quarter of 2021

The first quarter of the Orioles’ schedule is complete. Let’s look at the stats and see which offer hope and which bring concern.

The Orioles’ record isn’t horrible. At 17-23, it’s tied for the fourth worst in the majors entering Monday’s games. In last season’s 60-game schedule, the Orioles’ 25-35 mark was tied for the fifth worst in baseball.

If it seems as if the Orioles have played the Red Sox and Yankees often, it’s because they have. Half of the Orioles’ games, 20, have been against Boston and New York. They’re 4-6 against both teams.

They won’t see the Red Sox or Yankees again until early August.

The Orioles have yet to play the Tampa Bay Rays or Toronto Blue Jays. They’ll play three games against the Rays at Oriole Park beginning Tuesday but won’t see the Blue Jays until June 18th, their 69th scheduled game.

The Orioles also haven’t  played any of the five American League Central teams. Their first AL Central game is next Monday in Minnesota.

Punchless positions

At the beginning of the season, there was thought that the Orioles might have to outslug opponents to win games because of concerns about the starting pitching.

The Orioles have scored as many as 10 runs twice, including their 10-6 victory over the Yankees on Sunday.

In a down year for offense throughout the game, the Orioles haven’t hit well. They rank ninth in the AL in batting average (.231), 12th in on-base percentage (.294), home runs (39) and OPS (.669).

Of the nine positions, only two — shortstop (.244) and center field (.317) — feature players with averages above .240.

The one that hurts most is catcher, where Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco have a combined .225 average and .579 OPS—and just one home run and six RBIs.

At Double-A Bowie, the Orioles’ top prospect, catcher Adley Rutschman, is hitting .231 but has walked 13 times and has a .444 on-base percentage and, with three homers and 10 RBIs in 11 games, has a .957 OPS. Rutschman will be with the Orioles a year from now, but he’s played only 48 professional games.

Triple-A Norfolk has Austin Wynns, who’s hitting .320 in eight games, and Brett Cumberland, who’s batting .282 in 10 games. If there’s an injury to either Severino or Sisco, Wynns or Cumberland might get a shot.

Orioles second basemen are hitting .201 with a .610 OPS. On Sunday, the Orioles optioned Ramón Urias to Norfolk. For the time being, Rio Ruiz (.167, .550 OPS) and Pat Valaika (.173, .464 OPS) are playing second.

Jahmai Jones, who’s sidelined because of an oblique injury, could get his shot at second later in the season. The Orioles hope that he’ll return to the Norfolk lineup by the end of the month.

Rylan Bannon, who’s primarily a third baseman, might get a look at second, and there’s always Stevie Wilkerson, who’s batting .357 with a .914 OPS in the Tides’ first 12 games. Bannon is on the 40-man roster, Wilkerson isn’t.

Another trouble spot is third base, where Maikel Franco was in a 4-for-52 skid until his three-hit game on Sunday,. The Orioles had hoped for much more punch from Franco when they signed him in March. Bannon also could get a shot at third later in the season.

Two other surprising trouble spots are right field (.220 with just three homers and 13 RBIs) and designated hitter (.199 with three homers and 16 RBIs).

The lack of offense in right can be attributed, in part, to Anthony Santander’s absence. Santander, who’s been out since April 21st because of a sprained left ankle, could be back by the end of the week. Santander played three games for Bowie over the weekend. But Santander got off to a slow start and had only a .196 average with two homers and eight RBIs when he was hurt.

Manager Brandon Hyde has used eight designated hitters, but only Trey Mancini (10 games) and Ryan Mountcastle (17) have started more than three times.

Mancini is hitting .297 as a DH, but Mountcastle, who had his first four-RBI game in the majors on Sunday, is just a .212 hitter with a homer and five RBIs as a DH.

No outfield surplus

At the beginning of the season, there was thought that there might not be enough playing time for the Orioles’ outfielders. With Santander, Austin Hays and DJ Stewart each missing time because of injuries, that hasn’t been the case.

Mullins has been a revelation in center field. He began the season with an 11-game hitting streak and has put together a 10-game hitting streak, though with only 11 hits in those games his average has dropped from .322 to .312.

Hays has played regularly since returning from a strained right hamstring and is hitting .250 with five homers, 13 RBIs and a .787 OPS. His first game back was April 20th, when he replaced an injured Santander.

Hyde would like to get an extended look at an outfield with Hays, Mullins and Santander.

DJ Stewart has hit only .205 despite regular work in the outfield since he returned from a hamstring strain on April 10th. He’s had only two home runs and nine RBIs.

The injuries to Hays and Santander have contributed to more major league time for Ryan McKenna than expected. McKenna has played in 20 games but has started just six times. He’s been a useful pinch-runner and defensive replacement.

The Orioles might have to decide between McKenna and Stewart when Santander returns.

Yusniel Diaz, who is expected to get a shot later in the season, is out because of a leg injury. He hasn’t played since May 9th.

Starting pitching has shown promise

Besides John Means’ outstanding performance, there are some promising signs. In their last outings, Zimmermann, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer showed their potential.

Zimmermann, who was used in long relief on Sunday, allowed just a run on two hits in 5 2/3 innings. Kremer gave up two home runs to Aaron Judge and three other hits in five innings on Friday.

In a relief appearance on Saturday, Akin pitched three innings in a game that was already out of hand, allowing just one hit before tiring in his fourth inning and allowing three runs.

Kremer is back in the rotation, and Zimmermann will get another shot. It will be interesting to see if the Orioles keep Akin, using him as a long man and spot starter or decide he’d be better at Norfolk with more regular use.

Bullpen has been strong

Oriole relievers have a 3.44 ERA, though that includes Zimmermann’s outing on Sunday. Before Adam Plutko allowed four runs in the first inning, he’d had a 1.21 ERA. It’s now 2.82.

Of their most used relievers, Paul Fry has a 1.17 ERA. Tanner Scott ( 2.16), Cole Sulser (2.77) and César Valdez (2.81) all have acceptable ERAs. Valdez allowed two runs to the New York Mets on May 12th and another to the Yankees on Sunday.

Travis Lakins hasn’t been as effective. His ERA is 4.38. Shawn Armstrong, who’s allowed nine of 11 inherited runners to score, has an 8.53 ERA.

Dillon Tate, who is on the 10-day injured list because of a strained left hamstring, has a 3.46 ERA.

The Orioles have two healthy relievers at Norfolk who are also on the 40-man roster — right-hander Isaac Mattson, who appeared in one game, and left-hander Brandon Waddell, claimed on waivers from Minnesota.

Notes: Matt Harvey (3-3, 4.81 ERA) will face Luis Patino (1-1, 1.54) when the Orioles open a three-game series against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. John Means (4-0, 1.21) will pitch Wednesday night, and Dean Kremer (0-3, 5.81) is scheduled for the Thursday afternoon game, which begins at 12:35 pm. … Delmarva shortstop Gunnar Henderson was named the Low-A East Player of the Week. In the Shorebirds’ six-game sweep of Fredericksburg, Henderson was 10-for-23 (.435) with a homer and 13 RBIs.

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