The new year arrives. We break out the new calendars. And it's also a good time to take a look ahead at what might be coming.
As it relates to baseball, getting a new collective bargaining agreement worked out before the scheduled start of spring training would be a great start. So fingers crossed that we see that early during 2022.
But once the season does begin, what could 2022 hold for the Orioles?
Will the team begin to turn the corner?: This would be big for a suffering fan base that has put up with 108 losses or more in each of the last three full seasons. The 2021 Orioles lost 110 games. Will next season be the year when the team avoids 100 losses =and makes a leap toward more respectability?
At some point, the rebuilding has to head north in the won-loss record. Maybe this is the time.
In this recent entry, we noted how after three years of losing 100 or more, Houston began to turn it around in its rebuilding. Houston lost 106 games in 2011, 107 in 2012 and 111 in 2013. During the Astros rebuild, there was no pandemic and 60-game season, but like the current Orioles, they had three full years with 100-plus losses.
But then it got better. The 2014 Houston team gained 19 wins from the year before, going 70-92. If the 2022 Orioles gain 19 wins, the club would go from 52-110 last year to 71-91 next year. No doubt, many fans would see that as progress - progress at the big league level, which they are seeking and is more tangible than, say, a minor league organization being ranked No. 1. In seven seasons from 2015 to 2021, Houston went to the playoffs six times and played in the World Series three times, winning it all in 2017.
When will the top prospects arrive?: Seeing young talent reach the majors is always exciting, but it's not often a team - any team - can introduce two players to the big leagues that rank among the top 10 prospects in baseball. The O's could do that this season.
There is one level of excitement seeing young players like Ryan Mountcastle, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells debut, and Mountcastle was a top 100 prospect. But Rutschman and Rodriguez are the top two on the team and two of the best prospects in baseball. Both had big seasons last year and both are close to their debuts.
When Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said pitching in Triple-A is not a prerequisite for Rodriguez to pitch in Baltimore, it might have been an indication that this is a year the front office is ready to kick this rebuilding up a notch.
So many questions will be answered at some point about the pair. Will they have success right away in the big leagues? Can they handle the immense expectations that will go with their arrivals? How much can they help this team improve? Will they become instant leaders and key players?
It is going to be fun to see how this all unfolds during the season.
How will the rotation shake out?: This is an every year question for the Orioles - and most teams, to be honest. The club expects John Means and Jordan Lyles to top the rotation and cover a lot of innings - hopefully, quality innings - but who follows them and how will they fare?
There is always the hope that a pitcher that already debuted will take steps forward and exceed expectations. The O's look to pitchers like Lowther, Wells, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer among this group. Can Bruce Zimmermann take his 5.04 ERA from 2021 and the promise he showed and become a more consistent pitcher, joining Means and Lyles atop the rotation?
The potential for an improved rotation, maybe a greatly improved one, is clearly there. But they have to do it and do it in the toughest division in the sport.
Every new baseball season is like an unwritten book. We know many chapters will follow, we just don't know what they will say or how they will read. But finding that out can be quite interesting. Maybe even fascinating in thinking ahead to the 2022 season.