SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Orioles were better than the Red Sox last year, but as we look ahead, although their future is coming into clearer focus they still appear to be a bottom-tier team in the short-term.
There are no trends, because nobody has played! Baltimore did go 10-17 in spring training including three straight losses to end things, for whatever that’s worth. Which is nothing. It’s worth nothing.
4/2: Nathan Eovaldi vs. John Means, 2:10 PM ET
This was obviously not the plan, but for the second straight year the Red Sox are turning to Nathan Eovaldi for the Opening Day start, which also comes against the Orioles for a second straight year. Boston will be looking for a repeat of last year’s outing when Eovaldi allowed just a single run over six innings of work in a 13-2 blowout victory. The righty’s 2020 season as a whole was a bit underrated, which makes sense because we all tried to avert our eyes from this team when possible. But Eovaldi pitched to a 3.72 ERA with a 3.87 FIP, both of which came in more than 10 percent better than league-average. Of course, he also missed some time with injury which is always the concern. But for this start, Eovaldi is coming off a good year and facing a lineup that should not be among the best in baseball, so it’s an opportunity to get this season off on the right foot.
Means is a really interesting pitcher just two years into his career. Back in 2019, the Orioles southpaw was his team’s All-Star representative as well as the second-place finisher in Rookie of the Year voting after pitching to a 3.60 ERA. Then, in his sophomore campaign, he added five percentage points to his strikeout rate (from 19 percent to 24 percent) and a couple ticks to his fastball (from roughly 92 mph on average to roughly 94), but his performance tanked a bit. Means gave up a ton of home runs — 12 in 10 starts — which led to a 4.53 ERA. It will be interesting to see what the stuff looks like to start this season, and whether or not those homer problems were a combination of 2020 being a general nightmare and small sample noise. The one time the Red Sox faced him a year ago, they scored three runs over three innings. Means will lead with that aforementioned fastball and mix in a curveball, a changeup and a slider, all of which generated similar whiff rates last year per Baseball Savant.
4/3: Tanner Houck vs. Matt Harvey, 1:05 PM ET
With Eduardo Rodriguez hitting the injured list, Tanner Houck was called back up and gets the start for Saturday. Houck was, of course, one of the rare bright spots for the Red Sox last summer over three starts to finish the season. We’ll get to the potential pitfalls in a second, but it wouldn’t be fair to lead with them. When Houck has his two main pitches — the fastball and slider — working, he is a beast. We’ve seen as much last summer as well as this spring. He can miss bats, and when contact is made it is often the weak variety. There is every possibility he comes out and shoves. The issue, as we’ve discussed all winter and spring, is still the lack of a true third pitch in the form of a splitter. It’s still a work in progress, which leaves him susceptible to getting hit around by lefties. The good news is if his slider command is on point and he can throw it at lefty’s back foot a la Chris Sale against righties, he doesn’t need the splitter. It’s a lot easier said than done to consistently hit that spot without getting into trouble, though.
Matt Harvey was once one of the biggest names in the sport, coming up with the Mets and looking like he belonged in the best pitcher in baseball conversation early in his career. The righty posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each of his first three seasons in the majors. The last of those seasons was 2015, though, and injuries have taken down his career since then. He’s bounced all around the league over the last few years, most recently pitching in Kansas City last summer. There, he pitched to a 11.57 ERA over 11 2⁄3 innings. For whatever it may be worth, his ERA in spring was 4.80, though he struck out only nine batters over 15 innings. In his brief time on the mound in 2020 he attacked with a 94 mph fastball as well as a slider, a curveball and a changeup.
4/4: Garrett Richards vs. Bruce Zimmermann
The Red Sox get their new rotation member to make his debut with the team for this series finale on Sunday. Richards is obviously similar to Eovaldi in some ways in that health is the number one question here. Looking more short-term, though, I’ll be looking to see how his command looks. Early in spring this was an issue, but he had seemed to be turning a corner as time went on. However, he then had to take some time off due to what turned out to be a “non-infectious positive” for Matt Barnes. It wasn’t a ton of time, but it did throw off his schedule a bit. Sometimes that’s enough to have a real affect on performance. Richards was solid last season with Toronto, but he also spent some time pitching out of the bullpen. One start won’t make or break a season, of course, but it would be nice to see a positive start to 2021 for Richards.
Zimmermann represents some of the youth coming along on this Orioles roster, though he certainly isn’t one of the big names in their farm system. The southpaw is a former fifth round pick of the Braves who came to Baltimore in a 2018 trade that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta. Back in 2019 he had a good run in Double-A that led to a late-season promotion to Triple-A, where things stalled out a bit. Last summer he spent most of his time at the Alternate Site, though he did get a cup of coffee in the majors. Over seven innings of work across one start and one relief appearance he allowed six runs on six hits, two walks and seven strikeouts. Zimmermann doesn’t come equipped with big heat, but he adds to the fastball a good slider and a solid changeup.
Notable Position Players
Trey Mancini may be the story of baseball for this first stretch of the season. Yes, the Red Sox and Orioles represent one of the worst matchups on the MLB docket this weekend — the worst if you go by last year’s standings — but Mancini transcends that. Baltimore’s right-handed slugger missed last season after being diagnosed with, and beating, colon cancer. Everyone, including us Red Sox fans, will be rooting for him. And it should be mentioned he’s not just a feel-good story. He’s a very good player who will hit in the middle of this Orioles order after putting up a 134 wRC+ in 2019.
Anthony Santander is probably the best player on the Orioles these days, especially if you’re willing to read a good bit into 2020. Before going down with a season-ending injury, Santander was awesome, putting up a 132 wRC+. He might see some regression this year, but he has big power and, along with Mancini, should lead this offense.
Ryan Mountcastle is the top prospect to start the year on the Orioles roster. Defensively he has never really found a home (he’ll probably play first base this year) but he can hit. He had a 141 wRC+ in 35 games last season and the scouting report indicates he can continue to be productive for a long time.
Cedric Mullins might be the biggest wildcard to start the year for Baltimore. A speedy outfielder, he was about average at the plate last season thanks to a high BABIP. He’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts to counteract the BABIP regression, though.
Chance Sisco will be behind the plate for the Orioles, and he can hit very well for his position thanks to his power and patience. His defense leaves some to be desired, however.
Austin Hays is a former top prospect for this organization and still only 25. He came into the league with a bang two years ago but fell back to about average in 2020. The key for him will be tapping into his power more consistently.
Maikel Franco was a recent addition for Baltimore after spending last season with the Royals. He’s never quite made good on his top prospect status from last decade, but he still has an intriguing contact/power profile.
Freddy Galvis has the pleasure of replacing José Iglesias at shortstop. He obviously won’t be the same in terms of glovework, but his surprising pop makes him a rough equivalent at the plate.
Ramón Urías was a waiver claim for the Orioles who made his debut last summer, showing off surprising power in a small sample. That likely won’t carry over, but he has a good enough hit tool to get on base a bit.
The Orioles bullpen is, frankly, one that I cannot decipher. I have no idea who is going to close games for them to start this season. Tanner Scott, though, is probably their best arm. There are some control issues here for the southpaw, but he can miss bats at a very high rate.
He’ll probably be joined in the late innings by Cesar Valdez, who used pinpoint control last season to put up big-time results; and Dillon Tate, a former top five pick who rode a low BABIP to good results in 2020,
Shawn Armstrong is not injured, but will miss at least a little time in this series on paternity leave. When he’s back, he’ll factor into that late-inning situation as well.
Chris Davis was shut down with back trouble early in spring training and placed on the 60-day injured list. Given where he is in his career and where the Orioles are, he may stay on the IL most of the season.
Hunter Harvey is another guy who figured to be part of the late-inning situation here in Baltimore, but an oblique issue landed him on the 60-day IL. It’s a tough blow for a really talented pitcher who just can’t seem to stay healthy.
DJ Stewart, who would be outfield depth on the Orioles bench, has been dealing with a hamstring issue for most of spring and doesn’t look like he’ll be ready to start the year.
Well, the weather was certainly a factor already as it caused the Red Sox to postpone Thursday’s game and push it to Friday. Although, it turns out that wasn’t really necessary. Either way, Friday should be good, even if it’s a bit on the colder side. Saturday and Sunday also look clear for the time being.
A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.