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13 Orioles observations for 13 games, from a rough start at the plate to bright spots on the mound | ANALYSIS

Thirteen games of Orioles baseball so far this season have gone more or less as expected, and as such, the opening weekend sweep of the Boston Red Sox feels like a lot more than 10 games ago.

In the interim, the Orioles have struggled badly at times in every phase of the game, shading out the bright spots that do exist. Losing six of seven in the first homestand will do that.

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But for whatever this season lacks in widespread inspiration, it makes up for in individual and team developmental goals, veterans trying to find it again, and young players at a crossroads.

With the Orioles (5-8) headed to Texas for three games Friday, here are 13 Orioles observations with 13 games in the books.

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1. There has to be better ahead for the Orioles’ offense, because it’s not as if it can get any worse. As a group, they have much more ability than they’re showing. But a combination of some scuffles from the big hitters in the meat of the lineup and a top-to-bottom lack of on-base ability is doing them in. Once they find their stroke, the power numbers mean they can do some damage. However, this team is two weeks into the season and the number of big innings they’ve produced can be counted on one hand. Twenty of their 53 runs have come on home runs, and the Orioles need to find ways to maximize what they get when they do connect.

2. Here’s hoping Trey Mancini finds some middle ground between the impossible — hitting a home run every time he comes up — and the uncomfortable — watching him so frustrated so early in the season. Mancini is hitting into some bad luck, entering Thursday’s doubleheader with an expected batting average of .262 against the reality of .163 and an expected slugging percentage of .544 against the real .388 mark. That will be of little consolation to someone who is trying to meet a high standard he’s setting for himself and needs the results to show that he’s hitting them.

3. It was hard to tell what to make of Matt Harvey in spring training because no one could see him pitch. Three starts into his Orioles career, it’s still the case. He has been perfectly fine into the fifth inning in three starts now, but the Orioles haven’t hit for him. He has a 5.02 ERA that both seems reasonable and a bit harsh. Harvey seems capable of stringing a few starts together if his stuff stays strong, provided he can sustain it deeper into games.

Orioles pitcher Matt Harvey delivers against the Mariners during the first game of a doubleheader Thursday in Baltimore.
Orioles pitcher Matt Harvey delivers against the Mariners during the first game of a doubleheader Thursday in Baltimore. (Gail Burton/AP)

4. The 2019 Orioles bullpen and all the pitching staff’s attendant issues made it difficult to glean how manager Brandon Hyde and the organization were handling the in-game decisions on that front, but an overall improvement in 2020 made that easier. This year is back to the old ways, it seems, and it’s hard to tell why. Is Hyde not pushing the right buttons, or are there no right buttons? Through two weeks, neither is overwhelmingly clear. The usage thus far, however, makes it seem as if the Orioles are either uncomfortable with or unsure of what they have on their 14-man pitching staff.

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5. Freddy Galvis’ much-needed home run Thursday came in a week in which he was better, to an extent, than what came before it. He has six of his 11 hits this season in the past five games, and added three walks in that time. It’s just hard not to hold him to the ridiculous standard José Iglesias set as a veteran shortstop last year. When you hire a session musician and a legitimate rock star shows up at the studio, the next hired hand who is simply competent is always going to be disappointing. Simply getting average play from Galvis will be helpful to the Orioles.

6. This spring has really worked out well for Ryan McKenna. He impressed in big league camp and has been with the major league team since the regular season began, first on the taxi squad and then on the active roster since April 5 because of Austin Hays’ hamstring injury. He’s getting valuable experience in the big leagues that can inform what he does when he’s back at the secondary camp in Bowie or in-season at Triple-A Norfolk, and got to learn without the everyday pressures of holding down a lineup spot. This Orioles front office has done well helping players identify what to improve on after their first big league struggles. McKenna might benefit from that insight without the negative feelings.

The Orioles' Ryan McKenna runs past second base while hitting a triple against the Red Sox during a game April 11, 2021, in Baltimore. It was the first hit of his major league career.
The Orioles' Ryan McKenna runs past second base while hitting a triple against the Red Sox during a game April 11, 2021, in Baltimore. It was the first hit of his major league career. (Julio Cortez/AP)

7. The Orioles’ bullpen only makes sense if Paul Fry and Shawn Armstrong are reliable leverage relievers, so this week against Seattle was encouraging on that front. Armstrong broke a bad run of outings with a scoreless inning Thursday, and Fry has locked in after a rough spring and a shaky first outing of the season with four scoreless appearances since. Adding those pitchers to César Valdez, Tanner Scott, Dillon Tate and Travis Lakins Sr. gives the Orioles a competency quorum that will give Hyde better choices on a nightly basis.

8. It’s a long season, and he’ll surely be up for good before long, but it’s odd to see the Orioles choosing long-term roster gains with the Rule 5 relievers Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells and swingman Wade LeBlanc over someone like Cole Sulser. Same goes for Lakins before he was recalled Thursday. Each is caught up in something they can’t control, but in doing their part and pitching well when called upon the way they did in 2020, it’s putting the impetus on the team to keep them here.

9. Maikel Franco enters the Texas series batting .217 with a .669 OPS, but it seems as if his season is going a lot better at the plate. Perhaps it’s relative, as that’s still the second-best OPS on the team among qualifiers. It’s different from Mancini having bad luck, though. In Franco’s case, it’s more that seemingly every hit he’s had has been memorable in some way. Still, he’s been the major league quality corner bat that’s been advertised, and leading the team with seven walks is a bonus.

10. Saying so after he allowed a pair of runs in Thursday’s early loss might not be the best timing, but Scott should get a chance to consistently close to see if he can thrive in the role or not. It’s risky for the Orioles in that he could rack up saves that get expensive in arbitration, or he could show the moment doesn’t suit him and limit his trade market, a la Mychal Givens. But how long can this team go on without having its best reliever close games?

Orioles left fielder Ryan Mountcastle runs to the dugout in between innings against the Mariners on April 13, 2021 at Camden Yards.
Orioles left fielder Ryan Mountcastle runs to the dugout in between innings against the Mariners on April 13, 2021 at Camden Yards. (Kenneth K. Lam)

11. Ryan Mountcastle simply can’t escape having to answer for his defense, even as he’s now on his fourth position down the spectrum in his professional career after beginning at shortstop and then moving to third base, first base and now left field. Two things are different this month, the first being that the big leagues can be a harsh stage. The second, though, has seldom been the case in the minors. Mountcastle’s best defense for his defense has always been how he hits, and he appears to know that, because he’s seeking out big swings as opposed to letting them happen organically. It’s unfortunate, but it would be foolish to expect his struggles at the plate to continue.

12. The Orioles don’t have a catching duo the way they did in years past. They have a starter in Pedro Severino and a backup in Chance Sisco, and Sisco isn’t even the bat-first backup his floor used to be when he was coming up as a prospect. He has three singles in 17 at-bats, with no walks and seven strikeouts. His trajectory has been stop-and-start over his major league career, but it’s unclear what the path to getting more playing time is if he’s not hitting and Severino is still preferred defensively.

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13. John Means and Bruce Zimmermann being the Orioles’ two best starters is worth taking note of in this player development-driven rebuilding process. Neither was ever a highly touted prospect, though they climbed the minors, worked to get better, and are now ensconced in the rotation. In the same way that not every top prospect will make it, not every peripheral prospect will either. But these are the kinds that can make a difference and supplement a process that devotes a lot of resources to the top players. Having them in place is one of the best parts of this rebuild so far.

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