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Stoetzer: The Orioles open the 2021 season April 1. What lies ahead for us fools? | COMMENTARY

Opening Day brings optimism and hope for even the most crotchety of baseball fans, many of whom reside in or near Baltimore.

You can’t blame them, given what has transpired over the last few seasons. The Orioles were battling for a playoff spot in August 2017 before fading in September. They’ve faded from relevance ever since.

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Alas, a new season is set to begin April 1. Brace yourselves for what could be a fool-filled year.

The optimist looks toward the future, however, with a stable of prospects and young pitching potential soon making their home at Camden Yards. The pessimist looks at Chris Davis.

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The pessimist also wonders if Mike Elias really knows what he’s doing. Sure, the Houston Astros went three years in a row with 100 or more losses, then won a World Series four years later (with help from trash cans).

Elias was part of the turnaround in Houston’s front office, and maybe he’s on the right track with his new franchise. After losing 115 games in 2018 and 108 in 2019, last year’s 60-game season felt like something of an uptick in Baltimore.

The Orioles went 25-35, finished in fourth place in the AL East, and at times did not look like the “Bad News Bears.” It’s just tough to grab onto something positive since the Buck Showalter-led teams from 2012-16 injected life and enthusiasm into many an Orioles fan and their city.

Don’t be fooled come April 1. Not that you didn’t know this already, but these Orioles won’t be all that competitive. There will be a lot of players the average fan won’t recognize. Or at least not right now.

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It’s difficult to break up with that Orioles run from last decade. Call it complicated, or an estrangement. It’s OK. It’s not you, it’s them.

Fans won’t soon forget the playoff team in 2012, the AL East title in 2014, and so many exciting moments and memories throughout.

Zack Britton, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Chris Tillman, and yes, Chris Davis (he was really, really good for a while there). Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy (welcome home, new Orioles Hall of Famer), Darren O’Day, and more.

All-Star selections, MVP votes, crafty acquisitions along the way.

It was cool to see Jim Thome, albeit at the end of his career, helping that 2012 Orioles team find its way into the postseason. Delmon Young should never have to pay for a drink in Charm City given his ALDS heroics against Detroit in 2014 (the loudest Oriole Park has ever been).

Those days are long gone. Fine, it happens. It’s just that the new era is one that goes down smoother with Rolaids or a stiff adult beverage (maybe more than one).

MLB.com ranks the Orioles’ farm system as the fifth-best in all of baseball. Baltimore owns the Nos. 1 and 2 picks from the previous two drafts in switch-hitting catcher Adley Rutschman and outfielder Heston Kjerstad. Right-handed pitcher Grayson Rodriguez is the club’s second-best prospect, according to the site, and lefty DL Hall is climbing the ranks.

Ryan Mountcastle, the team’s No. 5 prospect, could turn heads this season as he roams the outfield and shows off his power.

Orioles catching prospect Adley Rutschman. Baltimore Orioles Spring Training at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. February 20, 2020
Orioles catching prospect Adley Rutschman. Baltimore Orioles Spring Training at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. February 20, 2020 (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Orioles fans can take solace that they should be seeing these faces very soon. Some sooner than others. Rutschman, the crown jewel and face of the franchise these days, could be the Orioles’ next superstar. Winning games and contending will go a long way in how long he stays in Baltimore down the road.

But it’s silly to think that far into the future. Just rejoice in another baseball season coming this week, and try not to think about the irony of it starting on April Fools’ Day.

Pat Stoetzer is the Times’ sports editor. Reach him at 410-857-7894 or pat.stoetzer@carrollcountytimes.com.

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