The Orioles’ season has a little over two months remaining, and the final 64 games could be intriguing.
Friday’s trade deadline might provide more clues about where the team is heading, though it’s not expected that any of the team’s big names will be changing addresses. Still, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has been known to construct deals quickly and quietly.
Here are some things to look for in the final third of 2021 season:
The schedule gets tougher: The Orioles are 6-3 since the All-Star break. Five of those wins came against sub-.500 teams, Kansas City and Washington.
In the first 98 games, the Orioles are 34-64, and just 20 of those games came against teams below .500. The Orioles were 10-10 in those games.
The next six games are against Miami and Detroit, the only American League team the Orioles haven’t faced. Both are sub-.500, although the Tigers have been playing well. The Orioles play 38 of their final 58 games against the American League East. They’re just 12-26 against Boston, New York, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
They don’t play a single game out of the Eastern time zone, but the schedule will make it hard for the Orioles to avoid a third 100-loss season in four years. They would have to go 29-35.
It’s still about the starters: The Orioles have used 13 starters. Seven are on the 26-man roster: John Means, Matt Harvey, Jorge López, Spenser Watkins, Alexander Wells, Thomas Eshelman and Adam Plutko.
Watkins and Wells have combined for four major league starts. Watkins will start on Tuesday night against the Marlins, and Wells will start later in the week at Detroit.
Eshelman started five times and has an 8.35 ERA. His immediate future is in long relief. Plutko was a starter in name only. On May 16th, he served as the opener against the Yankees and allowed four runs in an inning.
Keegan Akin is on the Covid-19 injured list. When he’s reinstated to the active roster, it’s not a sure thing that he’ll return to the Orioles. He hasn’t pitched since July 16th, and he has an 0-5 record and 8.16 ERA.
Bruce Zimmerman is on the 10-day injured list because of left biceps tendinitis. He hasn’t pitched since June 13th, and it’s possible he could miss two months before he returns.
Dean Kremer was sent to Triple-A Norfolk with an 0-7 record and 7.25 ERA. Manager Brandon Hyde said after he retired just one of eight batters on June 24th that Kremer needed an extended stay with the Tides.
In his five starts with Norfolk, Kremer has given up 27 runs (6 unearned) in 18 innings. His most recent start on Saturday night was better, although he still gave up three runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings without walking a batter.
The Orioles cut ties with Wade LeBlanc after his only start. Travis Lakins suffered a stress fracture during his start. Zac Lowther, who started one game, is on the minor league injured list because of a left shoulder strain.
Who will be in the rotation for the rest of the season? Wells probably will get more opportunities based on his emergency fill-in for Akin on July 21st. He gave up three runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out seven.
The Orioles would like to see more of Lowther, who has struggled in the minors and majors (0-4. 6.93 at Norfolk, 0-1, 10.80 with the Orioles), but his return is uncertain.
Right-hander Kyle Bradish and left-hander Kevin Smith, obtained from the Los Angeles Angels and New York Mets for Dylan Bundy and Miguel Castro, were both excellent at Double A-Bowie (13 2/3 scoreless innings for Bradish; 1.04 ERA in six games, five starts, for Smith), but have been inconsistent at Triple-A. Bradish is 2-3 with a 5.75 ERA in 10 starts, and Smith is 1-3 with a 6.43 ERA in six starts.
Both must be placed on the 40-man roster this fall, but unless they string together some better starts, they may not get a look until next spring training.
Mike Baumann, who’s on the 40-man roster, was held back by a right flexor mass injury as well as tendinitis and has begun to pitch well for the Baysox. In his last four starts, Baumann has a 2.04 ERA, and threw six scoreless innings, giving up just two hits, on Friday night. He could get a bump up to Norfolk soon, and perhaps some time with the Orioles before the season ends.
Position player debuts: Nine of the 11 Orioles who made their major league debuts this season have been pitchers. Conner Greene, whose contract was purchased after Tyler Wells went on the injured list on Friday night, hasn’t been used but could be the 12th.
Outfielder Ryan McKenna and infielder Tyler Nevin are the only position players to make their major league debuts with the Orioles.
Two position players who were added to the 40-man last November, infielder Rylan Bannon and outfielder Yusniel Diaz, have had rough seasons for Norfolk.
In his last five games, Bannon who missed a month because of an oblique injury, is hitless in 18 at-bats. Overall, he’s hitting just .156 in 32 games.
Diaz, who missed time this season with a quadriceps injury and now is dealing with turf toe, hasn’t played since July 11th. He’s hitting just .167 in 22 games.
The Orioles would like to give both an opportunity this season, but Bannon must play consistently in the next month and Diaz must get healthy and play decently.
Jahmai Jones, who’s still learning second base, is hitting .268 with an .832 OPS, but he has to be comfortable at second before the Orioles promote him.
Jones won’t be making his major league debut with the Orioles. He played three games with the Los Angeles Angels last year.
Another difference this year is that you won’t be seeing mass promotions in September. The roster limit will increase by just two, to 28, and Norfolk’s season will end the same time as the Orioles’, October 3rd.