For the Baltimore Orioles, the last two seasons must have felt like a lifetime.The Orioles lost 115 games during the 2018 season, following it up by losing 108 games.
Since reaching the Wild-Card Game in 2016, the Orioles have finished last in the AL East over three straight seasons.
The good news is the 2020 season will only be 60 games. In theory, the shortened season gives all 30 teams a legitimate chance to make a push for the postseason.
In such a short time, anything can happen, and a team like the Orioles can surprise everyone. That being said, the Orioles are one of the weakest teams in baseball.
Is there any reason for optimism in the Charm City? Let’s take a closer look at the 2020 Baltimore Orioles.
Baltimore Orioles 2019 Results
As mentioned, the Orioles lost 108 games in 2019. The highlight of the season was its first week when the Orioles shocked the league by starting 4-1.
However, things fizzled quickly, with Baltimore losing eight of its next nine. By the end of April, the Orioles were already 10 games under .500.
It didn’t get any better in May, as the Orioles failed to win more than two consecutive games. They finished the month 21 games under .500.
Somehow, things got worse in June with Baltimore losing 10 straight at one point. Fortunately, things improved in July when the Orioles put together two, three-game winning streaks and finished the month 12-12.
However, Baltimore’s mediocrity was short-lived. August turned into another terrible month, as the Orioles lost 13 of 14 games at one point.
The Orioles were officially eliminated from postseason contention on Aug. 23. The song remained the same in September.
When all was said and done, Baltimore finished 54-108, a distant fifth in the AL East. They finished 49 games out of first place and 42 games out of a Wild-Card spot. The Detroit Tigers were the only team in the majors with a worse record than the Orioles in 2019.
As a rebuilding team, the Baltimore Orioles are hoping to improve via youth rather than making outside acquisitions. For that reason, Baltimore’s key additions this offseason were somewhat limited.
One of the few exceptions to that was shortstop Jose Iglesias, who signed a one-year deal that includes an option for the 2021 season. Iglesias isn’t considered an impact offensive player, although he is coming off one of the best seasons of his career.
In 2019, he hit .288 and had a career-high 11 home runs with Cincinnati, helping him produce an OPS of .724, his highest since 2013. He’ll give a young Baltimore team a veteran presence and steady defense at shortstop.
In addition to signing Iglesias, the Orioles made several modest additions to their pitching staff. Veterans Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone were both signed to minor-league deals, and both made the Opening-Day roster. Neither should be expected to be a savior, although they give the Orioles much-needed experience and depth in their rotation.
The Orioles are also taking a chance on Kohl Stewart, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft. Stewart struggled immensely with the Twins last season and owns a 4.79 ERA over 62 innings in the majors. However, the 25-year-old has potential, which could make him an intriguing wild card.
Big Losses for 2020 Baltimore Orioles
During the offseason, the Baltimore Orioles made an intriguing move by trading starter Dylan Bundy. Given his youth and durability, Bundy appeared to have a future in Baltimore despite posting a 4.79 ERA last season.
However, the Orioles traded him to the Angels for a slew of prospects, believing the move will eventually pay off in the long run. By doing so, they lost an important part of their starting rotation and one of just two pitchers to start more than 20 games for O’s in 2019.
The Orioles also traded infielder Jonathan Villar during the winter, sending him to the Marlins. Villar played both middle infield positions llast season and was one of the team’s most consistent offensive players, hitting a career-high 24 home runs. Alas, they traded him to Miami for prospects, making room for younger players but hurting their team in the short-term.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, their biggest loss of the 2020 season came during spring training when outfielder Trey Mancini underwent surgery to remove a malignant growth from his colon. In late April, it was reported that Mancini had Stage 3 colon cancer and would miss the 2020 season while undergoing chemotherapy.
Mancini was one of the few bright spots on Baltimore’s roster last year, hitting 35 home runs and registering an OPS of .899. Out of everyone, he was the one player the Orioles could least afford to lose in 2020.
Despite dealing Bundy, the Orioles still have an intriguing starting rotation in place. Alex Cobb gives them at least the possibility of having a dependable starterf.
Injuries limited Cobb to three starts last year. But he’s been a frontline starter as recently as 2017 and could have something left if healthy.
The Orioles also have a pair of young pitchers worth watching in John Means and Asher Wojciechowski. Means had a breakout season in 2019, pitching to a 3.60 ERA and winning 12 games despite a lack of run support.
Means is in line to be Baltimore’s ace. Wojciechowski wasn’t quite that good last year, although he flashed plenty of potential in his 16 starts.
As mentioned, the Orioles brought in veterans like LeBlanc and Milone to help fill out their rotation while Stewart could get a chance as well. At their best, LeBlanc and Milone aren’t going to move the needle much. But both are capable of eating innings and at least giving the Orioles a fighting chance to wint.
Unfortunately, the Orioles could have big problems in the bullpen, which is usually the last part of a roster to come together for rebuilding teams. Mychal Givens is most likely to close games in the rare event the Orioles have a lead late in games. However, he’s coming off a somewhat disappointing season in which he posted a 4.57 ERA and saved just 11 games.
In addition to Givens, the Orioles have high hopes for Hunter Harvey developing into a late-game reliever. The former first-round pick and son of big leaguer Bryan Harvey looked sharp in seven appearances late last year. Obviously, he’s far from a sure thing, but he’s one source of hope in the Baltimore bullpen.
Naturally, the Orioles have several other young arms who will likely get a chance to pitch out of the bullpen in 2020 and will be eager to prove themselves. However, most of their young pitchers struggled to be effective last season, which is why there aren’t high hopes for the Orioles finding many answers.
Without Mancini available, the Baltimore offense will be fighting an uphill battle. One of the few remaining hitters who will strike fear in opposing pitchers is designated hitter Renato Nunez, who hit 31 home runs and 24 doubles in 2019 while driving in 90 runs.
He would have provided adequate protection for Mancini, although he’s now going to be required to be the biggest bat in Baltimore’s lineup. Nunez also hit just .244 last year with an OPS of .771, which is disappointing for a player with over 30 home runs.
Without Villar, the team’s best table-setter figures to be second baseman Hanser Alberto. He hit .305 last season, although his on-base percentage leaves something to be desired. The Orioles are hopeful he can continue to develop and establish himself as one of the team’s building blocks.
The Orioles have plenty of young players with promise. For example, center fielder Austin Hays hit .309 with four home runs in 68 at-bats in the big leagues last season. The club is also high on outfielder Anthony Santander, as well as the catching duo of Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco.
Finally, the elephant in the room is first baseman Chris Davis. He has three years left on the seven-year, $141 million deal he signed in 2016.
Unfortunately, he hit 179 with 12 home runs last season and is a shadow of his former self. The Orioles have little choice but to keep playing him, at least part-time, especially with Mancini unavailable. However, they can’t count on him being a productive player.
Baltimore Orioles’ Three Key Players
It seems almost cruel to mention him again, but Davis is one of their keys. At age 34, they need him to stage a revival.
He should also be eager to redeem himself after a disastrous campaign that included 54 straight at-bats without a hit, an all-time MLB record for a position player. With Mancini out, the Orioles need him to at least pose some type of threat.
On the pitching side, Cobb is going to be another key. All indications are that he’s healthy and ready to pitch.
Even if some of their young arms like Means and Wojciechowski are ready to take a step forward, the Orioles still need some stability at the top of the rotation. To keep things from getting too ugly, they at least need him to be a solid mid-rotation starter.
Finally, Hays figures to be an important figure. It may have only been 68 at-bats, but he was a revelation in September.
If he can keep it going in 2020, Hays can give the Orioles a little more optimism heading into 2021 and beyond. This is the point in the rebuilding process that young teams start to put some pieces in place. The club would love nothing more than to see Hays become one of those players.
The Orioles will play 40 of their 60 games against their AL East rivals. To be frank, that’s not a recipe for success.
The Yankees and Rays were both playoff teams a year ago, while the Blue Jays should be much-improved. Baltimore will be an underdog in virtually all 40 of those games, so the odds are stacked against them.
Facing teams from the NL East in their other 20 games, including six games with the reigning champion Nationals, isn’t going to make Baltimore’s schedule any easier.
It’s a safe bet that the Orioles aren’t a threat to win the World Series. If things go perfectly for Baltimore, it will have a chance to finish around .500 and perhaps play some meaningful games in September, which wasn’t the case last year.
However, in a season like this with a roster like this, the Orioles should consider themselves lucky to win more than 15 games.