Posted on February 17, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
It’s been a long few years for the Baltimore Orioles. Since losing to the Blue Jays in the 2016 Wild Card Game, the Orioles have finished last in the AL East in three consecutive seasons. The good news is that Baltimore has already hit rock bottom, going 47-115 in 2018. A year ago, the Orioles showed some improvement, going 54-108. As they continue the rebuilding process, can the Orioles take a big step forward in 2020 or will is be another 100-plus loss season in Baltimore?
The good news for the Orioles is that their rotation was only the second-worst in the American League last season. Of course, with Dylan Bundy being traded and Andrew Cashner no longer in the picture, Baltimore’s rotation is even younger and less experienced than it was in 2019. The O’s would like to lean on veteran Alex Cobb to lead the rotation. But he remains a wild card at best after making just three starts last season because of groin, back, and hip problems. That could leave lefty John Means as the ace of the staff after posting a 3.60 ERA in his first full season in the majors last year.
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Beyond Means and (hopefully) Cobb, who makes up Baltimore’s rotation is anybody’s guess. The Orioles are likely to have at least half a dozen pitchers competing in spring training for the final three, possibly four, spots in the rotation. Asher Wojciechowski is a safe bet after making 16 starts in 2019. Kohl Stewart and David Hess also have some major league experience, although both had disastrous results last season. Hess was 1-10 with a 7.09 ERA over 14 starts and nine relief outings. Meanwhile, Keegan Akin, Michael Rucker, and Brandon Bailey will all get a chance this spring despite having no previous experience in the majors with prospects Dillon Tate and Luis Ortiz also on the horizon.
Needless to say, the Baltimore bullpen was also a disaster in 2019. Closer Mychal Givens has taken a step back the past couple of years after a breakout season in 2017, although he’ll likely remain in that role in 2020. Hunter Henry impressed in seven outings last season and could be an option in the late innings. Miguel Castro has also been steady but unspectacular over the last three seasons.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of proven depth in the Baltimore bullpen beyond that. Lefty Richard Bleier was great in 2017 and 2018 but struggled in 2019. The same can be said of Shawn Armstrong. Both should be part of the Baltimore bullpen in 2020 with the Orioles using some of their younger pitchers to fill in some of the vacancies. However, whether any of them will establish themselves as reliable bullpen options remains to be seen.
Surprisingly, the Orioles weren’t the worst offensive team in baseball in 2019. They were still bottom-5 in the American League, but that does count as progress. Trey Mancini had another big year with 37 home runs and 97 RBIs. Renato Nunez has also staked his claim to the DH spot with 31 home runs in 2019. Left fielder Anthony Santander and second baseman Hanser Alberto should also help anchor the Baltimore lineup after posting solid numbers in 2019.
Of course, several questions still linger. The Orioles are still stuck with Chris Davis and his monster contract getting most of the reps at first base despite hitting .179 last year. Baltimore also shouldn’t count on too much offense form third baseman Rio Ruiz or veteran shortstop Jose Iglesias while they wait for prospect Ryan Mountcastle to take over at the hot corner. In center field, a strong September from Austin Hays has the Orioles optimistic that they’ll get something out of that position. The Orioles are also hoping that the young catching tandem of Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco can supply some offense.
The current over/under win total for the Orioles is around 55.5 wins. That would only be a slight improvement upon their 54 wins in 2019. Despite a roster loaded with young players and filled with question marks, the cavalry is coming in the form of youngsters who are nearly ready to contribute in the majors. Look for the O’s to start slow but get better during the season and end up with at least 60 wins, possibly avoiding another 100-loss season.