As the Orioles begin a West Coast trip to Oakland and Seattle, it’s time to examine their first four weeks. They’ve played about 15 percent of the schedule and, with a record of 11-14, they’re tied with the New York Yankees for fourth place in the American League East.
Their winning percentage of .440 would translate to a season record of 72-90, moderately better than most prognosticators had forecast.
Here are some observations about their play in April.
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The Orioles’ rotation includes two rookies, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann. If Keegan Akin had a better spring, perhaps he would have been in the rotation instead of Jorge López, who might be better suited for long relief.
Kremer, who returned from 10 days at the alternate training site at Bowie, has an 8.40 ERA in four starts and has allowed 24 hits in 15 innings.
Zimmermann, who has a 5.33 ERA in five starts, has given up 32 hits in 25 1/3 innings.
Those stats aren’t unusual for rookie pitchers, and they shouldn’t be terribly troubling.
Some rookie pitchers have immediate success, but some of the best had awful starts to their big league careers.
Take Tom Glavine, In his first full season in the major leagues, 1988, Glavine was 7-17 with a 4.58 ERA for the Atlanta Braves. His teammate, John Smoltz, was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA that season.
Glavine and Smoltz went on to Hall of Fame careers.
A year later, Randy Johnson, another future Hall of Famer, was 7-13 with a 4.82 ERA with Montreal and Seattle.
Who knows what kind of careers Kremer and Zimmermann will have.
Those who were eager to see young starters in the rotation must realize that bumpy beginnings are hardly unusual, and if Akin and Zac Lowther are added to that rotation later in the season, more inconsistency is promised.
Offense is worrisome.
The Orioles’ team batting average (.224) and OPS (.645) are among the worst in baseball.
Cedric Mullins has had a fabulous start to the 2021 season. His .340 batting average, .393 on-base average and .918 OPS are outstanding, but there’s no one else close to him.
Trey Mancini had two hits in Wednesday’s game and his first three-hit game of the season on Thursday, and his .247 average and .773 OPS are beginning to resemble his career averages.
Freddy Galvis, who has missed the last three games because of a groin injury, could be back for Friday night’s game in Oakland. His .264 average and .779 OPS are behind only Mullins.
Ryan Mountcastle has slowly begun to make more contact. His modest four-game hitting streak has brought his average up to .184, but he has just one home run.
Galvis’ injury resulted in the Orioles bringing up Pat Valaika from the alternate site. But, the punch he displayed in 2020 seems to be missing. Valaika is hitless in 10 at-bats since he came up on Tuesday and is just 1-for-19 (.053) this season.
Difficult spot with the catchers.
Many fans can’t wait to see top draft pick Adley Rutschman, who is scheduled to play his first minor league game since September 2019 on Tuesday, presumably for Double-A Bowie, though assignments have yet to be made official.
But Rutschman needs minor league work, and the Orioles had little choice but to stick with their incumbent catchers, Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco for 2021.
Severino is hitting .262, but he’s driven in only two runs in 20 games. That follows last September when he didn’t have an RBI.
His defense has been criticized, and some fans want to see more of Chance Sisco.
The Orioles agreed to a $1,83 million contract with Severino ahead of arbitration, an amount considered a bit pricey at the time, and they’re not likely to move on from him.
Sisco, who is in his final year before arbitration, is 5-for-30 (.167) with three RBIs. But Sisco, who walked 47 times from 2018-2020, hasn’t walked at all this season.
Despite many opportunities to play, Sisco has a .203 lifetime batting average in 473 at-bats. Sisco, like DJ Stewart, were high draft choices during the Dan Duquette era, and current general manager Mike Elias values high picks, many of whom he scouted while with Houston.
Even if they’re not Elias’ picks, Sisco and Stewart are getting extended looks before the Orioles decide what their future is.
There weren’t many quality veteran catchers available on the free-agent market last winter. A good veteran wasn’t going to sign with the Orioles because they knew Rutschman was coming, either later this year or in 2022. Being a caddy to a star catcher means little playing time.
While the Orioles could eventually turn again to Austin Wynns, who didn’t play for the club in 2020 but played in 70 games in 2018 and 2019, he doesn’t offer much upside, either.