The 2021 season is down to a dozen games, and egging on the Orioles to keep playing won’t do you any good. They’ll be scrambling to make their flights home or to get back to Baltimore.
Perhaps they’ll also get some satisfaction from influencing a couple of pennant races. The schedule has set them up for it.
They left Boston on Sunday afternoon and flew into Philadelphia, facing another team desperate for wins that can get it into the playoffs.
A four-game series against the Rangers won’t impact the postseason, but it’s followed by three more against the Red Sox in the final homestand and three in Toronto - two teams that began yesterday as the American League wild cards by slim margins.
A cruel season won’t let up on the Orioles, unless those games against the Rangers are supposed to represent some sort of apology. But manager Brandon Hyde and his coaches and players keep digging for reasons to stay positive.
For reasons to believe that the losses, many of them by lopsided margins or materializing in the late innings, will make the Orioles a better team down the road.
To be involved in these pennant races, even in spoilers attire, can be good for the younger Orioles who aren’t far removed from minor league bus rides.
“A huge amount of our team hasn’t played too much time in the majors,” said Trey Mancini. “These September games, the teams we’re competing with basically the rest of the way and have been this whole month, are fighting for a playoff spot. It’s our job to go out there and play our best and try to win every day. And it’s just big, especially these road games, playing in this atmosphere when the stakes are high. It’s really, really valuable for these guys to be playing in that situation.”
Some are thriving more than others.
Cedric Mullins needs one home run for the first 30/30 season in club history and will be the runaway winner of the Most Valuable Oriole award. Ryan Mountcastle has the most home runs hit by an Orioles rookie and is challenging for the Rookie of the Year award in the American League. Austin Hays is having another huge September.
“There’s some bright spots right now,” Hyde said. “The top half of our batting order is taking great at-bats against playoff pitching they’re young players. For me, that’s exciting for us going forward. With Cedric, Mountcastle and Hays and (Anthony) Santander, for what they’re doing at the top of the order, scoring us a bunch of runs against really good pitching, that’s a positive going into next year.
“A lot of our pitchers are facing major league hitters really for the first time, don’t have a ton of Triple-A experience or success, and it’s kind of tough. It’s very, very tough - ballparks and tough environments to pitch in. Hopefully, they can learn from those and get better going forward. ... Not a ton of experience on our club and we’re facing good clubs.”
* The Orioles’ offseason business won’t become bogged down with decisions on their pending free agents.
There are only two.
Starter Matt Harvey can return to the market and that’s exactly what’s going to happen. He settled for a minor league deal last winter that paid $1 million if he made the club. After 28 starts and a 6.27 ERA, numbers set in concrete now that he’s shut down with right knee inflammation, he’s hoping to land a major league contract with less of an audition feel to it.
The Orioles probably will attempt to sign at least one veteran starter for spring training, again seeking leadership, innings and a trade chip at the deadline. They brought Harvey, Félix Hernández and Wade LeBlanc to camp this year. Hernández didn’t make it out of Sarasota - well, until returning home - due to an elbow injury. LeBlanc allowed seven runs and 11 hits in 6 2/3 innings and was designated for assignment.
It’s conceivable that the Orioles attempt to bring back Harvey, who was really good in July before sustaining the knee injury, but I’m going to assume that his days with the club are really behind him.
Reliever Fernando Abad also can hit the market now that he’s on the 40-man roster, and the only lefty in the bullpen. That last part isn’t important to the topic, but it still surprises me.
The Orioles could attempt to re-sign Abad for depth purposes, though perhaps to another minor league deal. Decisions must be made on Paul Fry and Tanner Scott, who are entering their first year of arbitration eligibility and enduring brutal post-break struggles.
Fry is in the minors. Scott is on the injured list and likely done for the season.
I’m still guessing that they both return in 2022, but that’s just my gut feeling after so many teams expressed interest at the trade deadline. Their salaries won’t go through the roof.
Until recently, Spotrac also listed pitchers Andrew Bellatti, Jeff Ferrell, Jason García and Jhan Marinez as 2022 free agents, and I had absolutely no idea why.
I do know this much: The Orioles won’t be making any qualifying offers to their free agents.
* The Yankees put former Orioles reliever Darren O’Day on the 60-day injured list in June and he underwent season-ending hamstring surgery the following month. He’s contemplating retirement after also enduring a rotator cuff injury earlier in the year and appearing in only 12 games.
O’Day is making $1.75 million and his contract includes a $1.4 million mutual option for 2022.
There’s more money coming in.
The deferred payments on the four-year, $31 million deal that O’Day signed with the Orioles in December 2015 amount to $1 million in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
Mark Trumbo, who’s out of baseball, receives $1.5 million deferred in 2021 and 2022. The Orioles signed him to a three-year, $37.5 million deal in January 2017.
Andrew Cashner’s signing bonus on his two-year, $16 million deal in 2018 paid $1.5 million each in January 2020 and 2021. He’s now off the books.
* Reliever Eric Hanhold is an interesting story, with his three-year gap between appearances in the majors and expanded rookie status, and how he’s suddenly one of Hyde’s high-leverage options.
That didn’t take long.
But what about Hanhold’s major at the University of Florida?
I asked how he chose criminology and whether he was plotting a fascinating transition in his post-baseball life.
“I was young,” he replied. “I didn’t really like the schooling, kind of picked the easiest major.”
So much for that idea.
“But looking back at it now, I think that school’s an important thing and I wish I had put more time into my decision of what I would go with,” he continued. “So, in the future, if it does happen, I might switch it up, I might do something else. Give it some thought this time and take it more seriously.”
Criminology is an easy major?
“For the credits, it was at the time.”