One of the stranger portions of the 2021 schedule requires the Orioles to leave Camden Yards, play two games against the Mets at Citi Field and head back to Baltimore.
Ten of 12 games on their home turf with a couple off-days before embarking on a three-city road trip that begins in D.C. and extends to Minnesota and Chicago.
The hotel stay in New York requires only one night. There are going to be two interesting story angles in the series.
John Means pitches tonight for the first time since his no-hitter in Seattle. And the first time since being chosen yesterday as American League Player of the Week. Following his own tough act.
How does he improve on himself?
Don’t bounce a curveball in front of his catcher. That’s pretty much it.
“It’s been crazy, but it hasn’t really set in, still,” Means said yesterday in a Zoom call. “I don’t think we’re really going to be able to look back at this until the offseason because I’m just so locked into this season and locked into just getting ready every five days. All that, it’s cool, it really is, but I haven’t really experienced it yet, mentally, emotionally.
“I’m just trying to pitch against the Mets and maybe get a hit.”
The video is out there, but Means probably won’t sit down and enjoy it until much later.
“I’m sure it’s somewhere and I have the video access,” he said. “I don’t have the tape per se, but I have the ability to go back and watch it if I want to. It might be an offseason thing to kind of go and relive that, but right now I’m just focused on the Mets.”
Whether Means is a staff ace or legitimate major league ace is unresolved. Arguments and theories abound from both sides. But when do opinions become solid facts?
We can agree that he’s been exceptional since last September. Over 11 starts, including seven in 2021, Means has compiled a 1.42 ERA with 33 hits, 13 walks and 80 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings.
Means’ 1.37 ERA this season ranked third in the majors yesterday and his 0.67 WHIP, .135 average against and 4.1 hits per nine innings were second to the Mets’ Jacob deGrom. The average exit velocity of 85.5 mph on his pitches ranked as fifth-lowest.
The Mets removed deGrom from Sunday’s start due to tightness in his right side, and yesterday he went on the 10-day injured list. Means is taking the mound tonight in health that can’t be debated.
It qualifies as perfect.
Means has made two starts against the Mets, in back-to-back outings last September, and allowed five runs and 11 hits in 11 1/3 innings. His lone game at Citi Field resulted in only one run and three hits in six innings.
What we didn’t know is that Means had launched himself into his current stretch of dominance.
We also know that Means loves to bat, unlike a lot of pitchers, and he’s putting a 1.000 average and 2.000 OPS on the line tonight after going 1-for-1 with a walk
If there’s one pitcher who could overshadow Means, it’s former Mets ace Matt Harvey, who’s back in New York for Wednesday afternoon’s start.
Harvey hasn’t pitched in New York since May 3, 2018, when he allowed five runs in two relief innings, refused to be optioned to the minors and was designated for assignment. He’s been employed by the Reds, Angels and Royals. He’s targeted the Orioles in free agency based on their common interest and obsession with analytics that Harvey discovered over the winter at the Baseball Performance Center in New Jersey.
He landed in a data-driven environment and began to turn around his career.
He’s spun back to New York this week.
The Orioles split four games against the Mets last summer, with its regional travel. They lost 16 of 18 games in a three-week stretch in 2018, the only break a two-game sweep of the Mets in New York June 5-6.
Alex Cobb and Dylan Bundy were the winning pitchers. Brad Brach recorded saves in both games.
A lot has changed in three years.
Just ask Means and Harvey.