It has certainly been fun watching the Orioles run wild during their season-opening series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, but are they exposing a major flaw in the new set of rule changes instituted by Major League Baseball this season.
The Orioles did something no other team has done in the history of the sport. They stole five bases in each of the first two games of a season.
That, in itself, is not particularly alarming. Quirky things are happening all over the place these days. The Orioles also enjoyed another MLB first, when Adley Rutschman and Austin Hays delivered five-hit performances in the first two games of a season.
If not for the dropped fly ball that led to Saturday’s heartbreaker, the long weekend in Boston would have been an unqualified success for a team that wants to show the world that last year was only the beginning of a new era of Orioles baseball.
It certainly seems like the beginning of a new era for the game as a whole, but I’m not sure that in the months ahead we’ll be extolling the virtues of the rule changes that were intended to speed up games and make them more exciting, even if it looks like that’s exactly what is happening.
Sure, O’s fans enjoyed watching speedy baserunners Jorge Mateo and Cedric Mullins embarrass the Red Sox pitching staff and – by extension – Boston catcher Reese McGuire, who didn’t even bother to try to throw either of them out in Thursday and Saturday’s games. But if that’s what we’re going to see every day, it won’t be long before the stolen base goes the way of the ho-hum home runs during the steroid era.
And don’t be fooled. It’s not because the distance between the base paths is a few inches shorter.
It’s because of the pitch clock and the limitation on pickoff throws. Pitchers no longer have time or the freedom to play the cat-and-mouse game with potential base-stealers. They’re too busy trying to choose a pitch and throw it before the clock runs out.
The average time of games can’t help but be significantly shorter and the shift ban undoubtedly will lead to higher batting averages, which are good things, but unless there are some modifications in the speed-up rules the right half of the diamond may end up becoming baseball’s Bermuda Triangle.