Orioles enter final homestand of season sorting through playoff roster possibilities

A scout who was tracking the Orioles in Cleveland, likely in case of a possible playoff matchup, didn’t begin his impromptu report in the media dining room with observations about the hitters or pitching staff. He didn’t talk about the club’s defense that’s produced one of the lowest error totals in the majors.

He went straight to the enthusiasm and effort.

“They’re a lot of fun,” he said. “I love watching them play. I show up early to watch them get ready. Those guys come to play.”

They were allowed to stop for one day after 17 games in a row without a break. They have six more, on the last homestand of the regular season, while awaiting their opponent in the Division Series.

The wild card round is mathematically possible but would require a thunderous collapse with the magic number down to three. The earliest they can clinch is Wednesday night.

Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez start in the two-game series against the Nationals and could stay in that order to begin the playoffs. The bye that comes with a division title makes it easier for manager Brandon Hyde to set up his rotation.

The Division Series requires four starters and the Orioles are using five after moving Jack Flaherty to the bullpen. There’s a feeling that John Means secured a spot with his 6 2/3 hitless innings Saturday night and how he stretched out to 96 pitches in 7 1/3. He’s healthy again and, as Hyde put it, looking “like John Means.” Nothing else needs to be said.

The Orioles feel like they added a huge piece past the deadline with Means’ reinstatement from the 60-day injured list. The Rays seem to lose a player daily to injury. Means made the club stronger.

“That’s an All-Star arm right there and that’s an All-Star changeup, so it’s cool to see him coming back,” said reliever Mike Baumann, who was in Triple-A Norfolk with Means during the left-hander’s rehab assignment. “It’s kind of eye-opening to hear his story a little bit. It’s not easy mentally or physically to make that kind of comeback. He was awesome to have. And I know the guys down there really appreciated just being able to pick his brain and see what he does on a daily basis to prepare for taking the mound.”

Let’s say that Means stays in the rotation, which isn’t official. Kyle Gibson and Dean Kremer would be vying for one spot, with a relief role the alternative. Gibson posted his 17th quality start yesterday in Cleveland and has registered a 2.96 ERA and 1.110 WHIP this month in four outings, compared to a 7.89 ERA and 1.483 WHIP in August. Kremer headed in the other direction with a 2.37 ERA and 1.055 WHIP in five August starts and a 4.67 ERA and 1.789 WHIP this month in four games.

Kremer has worked 4 2/3, 4 1/3, five and 3 1/3 innings in his last four outings after posting four quality starts in a row. He’s facing the Red Sox later this week, his turn falling on Thursday. It’s a big one for Kremer, and also the Orioles if they haven’t clinched.

An exhausted bullpen got a chance to catch its collective breath with only four relievers used in the last two games. Means and Gibson worked through the seventh inning. The starters can influence how much time Hyde spends on the dugout phone.

The playoff roster is reduced to 26 players with a maximum of 13 pitchers. The Orioles must decide whether to carry Flaherty and one of their starters in the bullpen, giving them two length options. They have Cole Irvin in Triple-A.

Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe, DL Hall and Cionel Pérez are locks. Jacob Webb has the inside track on a spot, and Tyler Wells has time to convince the club that his command has returned, and he can get important outs at any point in the game.

Jorge López is ineligible for the playoffs, and the seven runs and 13 hits he’s allowed in 10 1/3 innings since rejoining the Orioles probably would have excluded him from the roster anyway. Shintaro Fujinami keeps gaining the organization’s confidence and then losing the strike zone. He’s up and down like a politician’s approval rating.

Can’t carry him if there’s no trust.

He’s got this week to instill it.

The week also is important because the Orioles don’t know whether Ryan Mountcastle can be reinstated from the injured list. He’s eligible Wednesday and a bye would give his shoulder more time to heal.

Mountcastle took more ground balls at first base Sunday and carried a bat to the dugout rack after completing his workout, but he didn’t swing it. He’s trying to feel better, which isn’t the same as actually feeling better.

Ryan O’Hearn could be the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year and he’s eased a second loss of Mountcastle by slashing .300/.331/.498 with 22 doubles, a triple, 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in 354 plate appearances. His next homer will establish a career high.

O’Hearn had 64 hits in 105 games with the Royals in 2019. He’s totaled 100 in 106 games this season.

“I’ll tell you the big person who’s really stepped up for those guys is O’Hearn,” said another scout from outside the organization. “Unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

What hurts with Mountcastle gone is his .340/.396/.660 line against left-handers. O’Hearn has 29 plate appearances against lefties and is 5-for-26.

The Orioles are on a streak of facing 11 right-handed starters in a row since the Cardinals’ Drew Rom on Sept. 13. The Nationals hadn't announced their starters yesterday, but two more right-handers were anticipated.

* Former Orioles pitcher and current MASN broadcaster Ben McDonald will be the guest splasher in the Bird Bath during Friday night’s game against the Red Sox.

McDonalds participation is part of “Fan Appreciation Weekend” at Camden Yards.

The club also will honor Hall of Famer Jim Palmer during a pregame ceremony, celebrating his 60 years in the organization.

Palmer signed with the Orioles as an amateur free agent on Aug. 16, 1963, and made his major league debut on April 17, 1965. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on Aug. 6, 1990, and began his career as a broadcaster in 1992.

Boog Powell will sign autographs at his BBQ stand.

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