A sparkling new season brings endless possibilities for the 2021 rendition of the Baltimore Orioles.
Although playoff contention is still, on paper, several years away, the fruits of a lengthy rebuild are starting to blossom for a franchise hungry for another crack at conquering the always-daunting American League East.
While Baltimore’s record at the end of the campaign might not show it, the pieces are there, whether they be on the mound or batter’s box. Without further ado, here is my preview of Baltimore’s 2021 season.
Baltimore’s starting five of John Means, Matt Harvey, Bruce Zimmermann, Jorge Lopez and Dean Kremer is not going to make opposing offenses shake in their boots, but for a rebuilding team, it is about playing chess, not checkers. The key move Baltimore has in their back pocket, of course, is the fact that the quintet, while not super imposing, bring several factors to the table. Means brings increased fastball velocity to supplement a changeup that is effective when not in extreme overuse. After signing a minor-league deal with Baltimore in mid-February, Harvey brings a chip on his shoulder that the 32-year-old hopes will be the necessary motivation to revive his nasty fastball spin that made him an ace less than a decade ago. The Zimmermann-Lopez-Kremer trio, meanwhile, will vie to cement themselves as potential assets Baltimore can rely on to sponge up innings now and potentially in future seasons.
An additional trump card Baltimore hopes the starting staff brings to the fold is not their production on the mound, but their intangible factors toward bridging the gap for top pitching prospects in Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. Such is the same case for a slew of Baltimore relievers, including that of Keegan Akin, Wade LeBlanc, Tanner Scott and even Adam Plutko, who was acquired from Cleveland on Mar. 27. Even still, many a Baltimore reliever will be given an opportunity to start or even “open” a game, as injuries and the everyday grind of a 162-game season will be back in full force.
No matter who pitches in the orange and black, the same tune will be sung – make the most of the opportunity, sponge innings and build toward something greater, regardless if said potential greatness comes to light this season, the one after or even the one after that.
What a story, Trey Mancini. After the Baltimore first baseman-corner outfielder hybrid was diagnosed with colon cancer last year, the Notre Dame alum fought through the adversity (chemotherapy, pandemic and no baseball) and returned to the Spring Training field in late February. He then went on to slash .333/.352/.451/.803 in 51 at-bats, which the 29-year-old hopes is a sign for things to come during the regular season. After all, Mancini is the face of the offense. The veteran still young enough to learn a thing or too but experienced enough to teach the youngsters a tip or two, as well.
The youngsters refer to the likes of Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle, two former high-profile prospects hoping to get a full season of MLB action under their belts. They certainly hope to be the future mainstays in Baltimore’s lineup, while veterans in Freddy Galvis, Maikel Franco and Pat Valaika will aim to solidify a lineup in need of protection and stability.
Chris Davis contract and injury issues aside, the slugger will additionally look to bounce back from what has otherwise been a nightmare over the past few seasons. With a refined swing and a much more calculated approach, Davis, in addition to the rest of the position groups, will tap into enough power and plate discipline to bridge the gap for future prospects, including Adley Rutschman.
Bridging the gap as the rebuild continues has been the theme of Baltimore and will continue to be for Brandon Hyde and his coaching staff heading into the 2021 season. A veteran presence in Fredi Gonzalez (former Marlins’ and Braves’ manager) will solidify a revamped coaching staff that has shuffled responsibilities and shifted philosophies to counteract the complete overhaul of the roster taking the field game in and game out. The group will continue to mold the young roster into a winning culture, both on and off the field, in the hopes that it bears more plentiful (and productive) fruit down the road.
Executive Vice President and General Manager Mike Elias has a formula. The formula, whether in regard to building up the farm system, enhancing scouting abroad or in seasoning players on the major league roster, all boils down to the same goal: long-term success. The long-term success of the organization will hinge on bridging the gap as more prospects flood the franchise.
Elias recognizes this and will not rush the process. The end result of the 2021 Orioles’ season might not be the flashiest, but it will all be for the greater good when it is all said and done.
Chess is the game at play here, and chess is the competition of choice Baltimore will play this season (along with the actual game of baseball).
Record prediction: 71-91