Takeaways From O’s First Weekend
The first weekend of baseball games that count is in the books for the Baltimore Orioles and it’s been interesting to say the least.
Brandon Hyde has already received his first beer bath, courtesy of the players after his first win as O’s manager on Saturday. We’ve also had our first rain delay, our first home run (Renato Nunez!) and our first series victory – taking two of three from the Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium. Everybody called that right?
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At 2-1, the Orioles enter the week with their first winning record since beating the Minnesota Twins in last year’s season-opener. In order to keep the good mood going, we’ll ignore the fact that the 2018 Orioles then proceeded to lose their next five games and were 10.5 games out of first place by April 18. It’s highly likely that something similar will happen this year, but we won’t worry about that just yet.
Instead, let’s take an early look at some things that could be signs of things to come, if not outright reliable trends.
Eager to run
It remains to be seen how this lineup of largely unknown Orioles will perform this season, but what we do know is that a lineup of slow, muscly, all-or-nothing sluggers is a thing of the past, even if Mark Trumbo does return from the 60-day IL at some point, and even if Chris Davis does find the hitting stroke he left back in 2015-16 (don’t hold your breath on either).
The new philosophy promotes the idea of smart, aggressive base running, and even if guys get thrown out, who cares? At least then, we’ll know who can pull it off, and who can’t.
The O’s have put this philosophy on display in the first few games, and it’s already paid off. The real eye-grabber was on Saturday when plodding catcher Jesus Sucre set up a run by moving from second to third on a fly ball to center field. But they also pulled of a run-scoring double steal with Richie Martin and Dwight Smith Jr. on Saturday. On Sunday, Jonathan Villar set up another run by stealing second and cruising to third on an errant throw.
It should be noted that the O’s won’t always have the luxury of taking advantage of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, but it is refreshing to see a group put pressure on an opposing defense by picking spots to be aggressive.
Pitching in, pitching out
Anytime you take two of three from the terrifying lineup that is the Yankees, you have to be pleased. But when you look at how Orioles pitchers performed, you have to be skeptical about the sustainability of winning. Then again, we’re not supposed to care about winning, right?
First, let’s look at the bad.
Dylan Bundy was a disaster on Sunday. It’s true that last year’s leader in home runs surrendered kept the ball in the yard against the Yankees, but given his command issues that should be considered a minor miracle. Bundy went just 3.2 innings and while he struck out seven, he also walked five and allowed three runs in his brief outing. His short outing came on the heels of a bullpen game, putting undue strain on an already tenuous relief corp.
It’s just one start, but if that’s a sign of how things are going to go, the Orioles are going to struggle to find suitors for the once-prized prospect at the trade deadline. Also, when combined with Alex Cobb’s absence and Andrew Cashner’s equally meager start, Bundy put a lot of strain on the bullpen, something that is clearly unsustainable. Anybody who shines early out of the pen will be exhausted by May.
There were some positives, however.
John Means, not exactly a power pitcher, may have found something as he more or less dropped his slider in favor of a fastball/change combo against the Yankees and was quite effective. Also, Jimmy Yacabonis and Miguel Castro appear to have honest-to-goodness major league stuff – throw in a little command and consistency and you might have something there.
And speaking of command, it’s always been the issue with Mike Wright, but after a solid spring he looked at home as a fire-breathing reliever on Saturday, whiffing a pair (and getting in Giancarlo Stanton’s head with back-to-back inside fastballs) on the way to earning his first career save.
An outfield find?
Among a group of moves the new regime has made since taking charge, there was a little trade in early March in which the O’s sent international signing bonus pool allocation to Toronto for outfielder Dwight Smith Jr.
The 26-year-old impressed right away in spring, playing his way into a starting spot, and hasn’t stopped hitting since. Obviously we’re in Small Sample Size Theatre here, so don’t pay too much attention to the numbers. But counting seven years of minor league action, Smith does have a career OPS of .750, which is more than fine if he can duplicate that long-term in the big leagues.
“Dwight Smith is a young outfielder with a strong track record of performance and a plus-hit tool from the left side,” Mike Elias said at the time of the trade.
What’s important here is not so much that Smith is hitting .455, which is nice but means little. What’s important is that the Orioles have a big task ahead of them in improving their overall talent pool from top to bottom as they try to turn this thing around. The acquisition of Smith is a good sign that Elias will be able to do this moving forward.
Enjoy the ride
Don’t let the first series fool you – the Orioles are going to lose a lot of games this season. There are going to be a lot of players coming through the big league clubhouse this season. There are going to be a lot of mix-and-match lineups. And there are going to be a lot of games where the pitching staff is cobbled together as well.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the fun moments when they come, and taking a series from the Yankees should certainly qualify. The Orioles appear to be taking that approach, as evidenced by this “We’re gonna celebrate the good times” tweet.
Frankly, I like it. It’s not about winning any one game, or even any one series. It’s about building a franchise from the bottom up. It’s about bringing in more talent and developing it, cultivating it and putting it in a position to succeed. It’s about instilling a method of operating and a culture of behavior. The O’s are looking to change it all. And the early returns, even if you ignore the win-loss record, are promising.
Bob Harkins is a former editor and writer for Time Warner Cable Sports in Los Angeles, where he helped cover the Dodgers and Lakers. Prior to that, he was a senior editor and writer for NBCSports.com, leading the site’s coverage of Major League Baseball for nine seasons. He always believed that Major League catcher was the toughest job in sports -- until he wrote a series on professional rodeo cowboys. Talk about tough!