Friday, May 21, 2021

Orioles Victory Card Number 17: The Struggles of a Rookie

 Baltimore Orioles Victory #17: 10-6 over the New York Yankees

2021 Topps Heritage Ryan Mountcastle/ Bobby Dalbec Rookie Stars

The O's are currently riding a three-game losing streak thanks to a beating put on their pitching staff by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays, conjuring the ghosts of the '27 Yankees who got into shape just down the street from Tropicana Field, mashed out 32 runs in the three-game series against a Baltimore pitching staff that has careened directly into beleaguered status.

Overall they haven't won back-to-back games in almost three weeks and have just four wins in their last sixteen match-ups. I guess we should have been expecting this at some point. The pitching staff was patched together (to be kind) and the reliance on the bullpen early in the season has taken a toll on the bullpen. The chances of things improving are pretty remote, but hopefully they stabilize a bit over the next couple of weeks. 

The offense hasn't been able to cover for the mistakes of the pitchers, but it hasn't been a total train wreck. They are mired in the lower third of the league and the .231 batting average isn't pretty (neither is the .297 on-base percentage) but they aren't the worst in the league. They haven't been no-hit yet either, and with the way those have been handed out so far this year, it's kind of a surprise.

Part of the struggles can be tied to the heart of the order. While Trey Mancini has righted his season (currently slashing .274/.341/.518 with 39 RBI) his fellow "M" brother, Ryan Mountcasetle is still scuffling along. There were high hopes for the second-year rookie after his scorching debut last season.

So far, it's been a struggle for the youngster. He's riding a .214/.239/.325 slash line with 3 HRs, 16 RBI, and 3 stolen bases. The kid can run, which is nice. Mountcastle has played roughly the same amount of games this year than he had last year and the difference in numbers is quite drastic. The number that stands out to me is his 30.7% K-rate.  It's the highest number he's posted in his professional career by a pretty wide margin (except for a brief 10-game stint at Aberdeen) and well above the 21.4% he posted last year.

Watching his at-bats this season it looks like he's struggling with pitch recognition a bit. There are times when it seems he is guessing at a pitch and letting it rip. When he's right, he's making solid contact, but more often than not he's wrong and swinging through the pitch. It seems like the numbers are baring that out a bit as well. He's swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone (40.7% vs. 38.1%) and taking more called strikes (12.9% vs. 9.2%). 

The good news is that when he does make contact he is hitting the ball harder than he did last year as his line-drive percentage, average exit velocity, and barreled-up percentage are all up this year. He just has to find a way to make more contact. 

There has been some talk of possibly sending him down to the minors to get his confidence back a little, especially with the outfield getting a little crowded with Anthony Santander's return scheduled for this weekend. It might help him get in the right head space if he goes down and mashes some AAA pitching, but it doesn't fix the overall issue of recognizing and reacting to major league pitching.

Playing and seeing more pitches is the only way Mountcastle is going to get better at that. And that means playing him. This is a lost season. Having him getting at bats isn't going to keep this team from making a playoff run. It might be a good idea to keep him out of the outfield for a little as his defensive numbers haven't been great. Still, he can DH and mix in at first base a little with Mancini while he works on his hitting.

Perhaps we got a little too excited with his debut last year, but his early struggles shouldn't dampen our enthusiasm for his future. Repetition will help him recognize how pitchers are working him during his plate appearances. As that improves, so will his numbers and he'll get back to driving the ball all around the yard. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Orioles Victory Card Number 16: An early look at the Orioles MVP race

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 16: 4-1 over the Boston Red Sox

2019 Bowman Platinum Cedric Mullins

I can't help but feel the O's have been waiting for me to post before they win their next game. Their last victory was literally a week ago and I haven't updated the site since then. That's on me. Sorry about that O's fans. It hasn't helped that they've run into a couple of pretty good teams from New York. The Mets swept them in a short two-game series and now the Yankees are on the brink of a three-game weekend sweep of the Birds.

The O's have come close. In the first game against the Mets they led 2-1 heading into the ninth after another strong start by John Means. Unfortunately, the normally reliave Cesar Valdez couldn't lock it down and they lost on a walk-off fielder's choice by Patrick Mazeika who accomplished their rare feat of garnering two game-winning RBI before before picking up his first major league hit.

Just the other night, they once again led late in the game, this time the seventh inning at home. The victim was Travis Lakins who left a pitch out over the plate and pinch hitter Gio Urshela deposited a three-run homer in the stands to turn a 4-2 lead for the Orioles into a 5-4 defeat. Bummer.

They are still struggling to hit consistently, although Trey Mancini is rounding into 2019 shape. The starting pitching outside of Means is wildly unreliable and the bullpen is starting to show some wear after heavy usage through the first 39 games of the season. Still, there have been some bright spots in the line-up, and despite it being less than a third of the way through the season, I figured it's time to highlight some of the early contenders for MVP for the ballclub.

1. John Means: 4-0, 1.21 ERA, 53 K, 10 BB, 52 IP, 351 ERA+, 2.91 FIP, .712 WHIP

He has been the definition of an ace pitcher. What's an ace? It's the pitcher that goes out and gives the team a chance to win no matter what the circumstances are or who the opponent is. That's exactly what Means has done this year. He's made 8 starts this year and has surrendered more than two runs only once, three in five innings against the Mariners on April 13th, while giving up one or zero runs in six of his starts. 

He has gone at least six innings in six of his starts, including his last five in a row. Four times he's pitched seven innings or more and he's been fairly efficient with his pitches, topping out over 100 only twice, with one of those being the 113-pitch no-hitter against the Mariners.

Coach Brandon Hyde skipped him in the rotation this week in order to manage his innings a bit, why burn him out early or risk an injury this year? With a little more offensive support, the O's have scored three or fewer runs in five of his starts, he could be flirting with the idea of a 20-win season. That would be something.

The weird thing is, that his underlying numbers aren't that far off from his career averages, which indicates he could sustain this a bit longer. His strikeout rate (28%) is a little higher than his career average (21.6%) but as far as batted ball rate his line drives/flyballs/groundballs rates are all in line with what he'd done over parts of four seasons. He most likely won't maintain a .152 batting average against, but his career mark of .218 is still below major league average. 

2. Cedric Mullins: .316/.379/.520 6 HR, 12 RBI, 1.9 WAR

The most surprising part of of Mullins' bounceback season is the .352/.407/.537 he is slashing against left-handed pitching. Formerly a switch-hitter, Mullins abandoned hitting from the right due to a lack of success at the major league level (.147/.250/.189). It was a switch he had contemplated for some time due to the effort it took to work on his right-handed swings. After finally committing to it in the off-season, the payoff has been tremendous.

With a short compact swing, he's able to stay on the ball and drive it against southpaws and righties alike. Other teams have to wary about shifting on him too much due to his bunting ability and it's opened up some holes for him.  He's been making solid contact all season (with career highs in average exit velocity (87.6 MPH) and line drive percentage (40.7%). Mullins has also already set career highs in hits (48), doubles (11), home runs (6) and RBI (12). 

The fact that he is hitting left-handers so well allows Coach Hyde to keep him and his defense in centerfield every day and shift Austin Hayes over to left field. That puts two pretty good defensive outfielders in the game at the same time which should have a positive effect on the pitching staff. Mullins defense approaches the elite level, he is currently second in range factor as a center fielder (Oakland's Ramon Laureano is first) and first in defensive putouts.

3. Adam Plutko: 1-0, 1.27 ERA, 21.1 IP, 14 K, 9 BB, 339 ERA+, 2.68 FIP, 15 games

For a pick-up that came at the tailend of Spring Training, Plutko has been a savior for the Orioles bullpen. With non-Means starters routinely struggling to get through the fifth inning the O's have needed someone to step in and work the middle innings effectively. Plutko has been that reliever. His 15 appearances is third on the team, trailing only lefties Tanner Scott and Paul Fry, but his 21.1 innings pitched leads all relievers by a comfortable margin. 

He's allowed just one earned run over his last eleven appearances and just three runs total over the seasons. His inherited runners scored rate is a little lofty at 47%, but he's been put in some tight spots. In seven appearances he's come into the game with two or more runners on base. Three times he's wiggled out of those jams without allowing a run at all. 

A lot of his success can be pointed to the fact that he is getting opponents to hit the ball on the ground. Throughout his career roughly 30% of the balls put into play off of his pitches were grounders. This season his ground ball rate is 42.4%. Needless to say that plays well in Camden Yards. Less fly balls mean less home runs and his HR rate is 1.2% this year compared to 5.0% over his career. 

Could the O's move him into the starting rotation due to his success? Possibly. He does have a starter's pedigree where he worked out of the rotation for most of his time in Cleveland. Doing so, however, would remove a vital piece of the bullpen from Coach Hyde. It's more likely Plutko will get dealt to a contender sometime this summer if he keeps up his success. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Orioles Victory Card Number 15: It's perfect in my eyes

 Baltimore Orioles Victory #15: 6-0 over the Seattle Mariners

2021 Topps Heritage John Means

Are we shocked that John Means is the featured card for this victory? C'mon, the first Orioles no-hitter since 1991, and the first solo pitcher no-hitter for the O's since my dad was a young man? Means was absolutely filthy against the Mariners, pumping in strikes (79 strikes out of 113 pitches including 26 first-pitch strikes, working fast, and keeping the hitters off balance with his power change-up. 

It was an impressive no-hitter as Means struck out 12 hitters, and he was a wild pitch away from a perfect game. Of course, that meant a brief but intense online debate on if it should still be considered a perfect game since there was no error charged or walk issued. Personally, I really don't care. I'd rather it be a no-hitter with a historical quirk. In this case, it's the only non-perfect game no-hitter that didn't feature a walk, error, or hit by pitch. That's way cooler than a random perfect game of which their have been 23 of. 

I picked up the game around the fifth inning and in my forty-plus years walking this earth I have never seen a better game pitched at a professional level (in high school, my friend Mike pitched a perfect game that is still the epitome of domination in my book). Mike Mussina and his multiple 1-hitters have been pushed aside.

Means has established himself as the ace of this staff in picking up his fourth win of the season. Every time he takes the mound he gives the Orioles a chance to win no matter who they are playing. To me, that's the definition of an ace. Now, is he pitching his way out of the organization? Possibly. Hopefully not, at 28 he's still young enough to be part of the Orioles rebuild and it's always nice to have one name that the fans can rely on seeing on the roster every year.

Still, if a contending team like Los Angeles or Boston dangles a ton of prospects in exchange for the lefty, it will be hard for Mike Elias to break away from his rebuild mentality and turn the deal down. That, however, is a topic for another day. For now, lets just celebrate how great the outing was.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Orioles Victory Cards 13 and 14: Just playing catch-up at this point

 Baltimore Orioles Victory #13: 8-4 over the Oakland Athletics

Baltimore Orioles Victory #14: 5-3 over the Seattle Mariners

1999 Upper Deck Ovation Mike Mussina

2020 Topps Opening Day John Means

Posting this while watching the Wednesday matinee game between the Orioles and the Mariners. Mr. Means, the staff ace for the Orioles, has a little something special going on. How he's doing it is a testament to a former Baltimore Orioles coach (who should have a statue right next to Earl Weaver) that just passed away this week.

Ray Miller died at age 76 and is a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame. While he managed them in 1998 and 1999, he was best known as their pitching coach during the last days of their dynasty that ran from 1966 to 1983. He presided over the pitchers from 1979 to 1985 and oversaw five 20 game winners (Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Steve Stone, Scott McGregor, and Mike Boddicker). Flanagan (1979) and Stone (1980) would win Cy Young awards while Boddicker is the last Oriole to win 20 games. Miller came back to coach the pitchers in 1997 (where Mussina went 15-8, went to the All Star game and finished 6th in Cy Young voting) and then again in 2004 and 2005. 

He had a brief tenure as manager of the Twins in 1985 and 1986 before heading over to Pittsburgh where he was Jim Leyland's pitching coach where he oversaw a third Cy Young winner, Doug Drabek, in 1990. 

Miller was known for a rather simple philosophy: "Work fast, throw strikes, and change speeds." It's a philosophy that holds up today, even if it's not practiced quite so much with the modern game's reliance on raw velocity and spin rates. 

He'd be really happy to see what Means is doing in Seattle on Wednesday afternoon.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Orioles Victory Cards 10, 11, 12: Some guys who were O's that were famous somewhere else

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 10: 4-2 over the New York Yankees

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 11: 4-3 over the New York Yankees

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 12: 3-2 over the Oakland A's 

1997 Bowman Jayson Werth

Wow, I managed to get a little behind didn't I? For the first time in the vaunted history of this series I missed a few wins. Oh, well, life happens and we move on. After intense discussions with the editor (me) and the writing staff (also me) we've decided to just make one post covering all three wins as opposed to flooding folks' time lines with multiple posts. Also, it's the easiest solution. That's what we like. Easy solutions. 

We do have a bit of a theme in today's trio of cards. They feature three players who wore the Orioles uniform (at least in Spring Training) but had the bulk of their career and fame elsewhere in the league. 

First up: Jayson Werth. Yup, before he transformed into a doppelganger of the Rated R superstar, Werth was 1st round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 1997. He made it up to AA ball in Bowie with the Orioles before they traded him to Toronto for the less-than-memorable lefty John Bale. You would be forgiven for forgetting that deal since it happened at the same time Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers for $252 million. It wasn't even the biggest news for the Orioles that day. In the following day's Baltimore Sun there was more ink dedicated to the O's selecting Jay Gibbons in the Rule V draft than the Werth/Dale trade, which garnered a few paragraphs in a larger story about the team's larger offseason plans.

It would be a few more years till Werth made his major league debut with the Blue Jays in 2002. He scuffled around up North for awhile before heading to the Dodgers for a few season. It wasn't until signed as a free agent in Philly before the 2007 season that his career took off.

Werth ended up playing for 15 seasons slashing .267/.360/.455 with 229 HRs, 700 RBI, and an even 300 doubles. Bale, well he pitched in 14 games out of the bullpen for the Orioles in 2001, went 1-0 with a 3.04 ERA and a 1.313 WHIP. The O's traded him in April of 2002 for Little Sarge, Gary Matthews, Jr. 

2008 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects Gold Jake Arrieta

Ahh Jake Arrieta. Good times. One of the all time bad deals in hindsight trades in franchise history. Unlike Werth, Arrieta did make it to the majors with Baltimore, even starting an Opening Day game for them. He was supposed to be one of the anchors of the pitching staff as the O's moved into a new era of competitive play in the AL East. 

He never seemed to harness his potential (or the strike zone) in Charm City and was sent to the Chicago Cubs in a 2013 deadline deal with Pedro Strop for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman. The O's were trying to make the playoffs for the second season in a row and felt that Feldman, who had pitched for manager Buck Showalter in Texas, would bring "more stable starting pitching". 

Feldman went 5-6 down the stretch as the O's weren't able to keep pace with the Yankees and Rays, ending the season in third place. His tenure in Baltimore didn't last past the season as he signed with Houston in the winter. Clevenger, who grew up in Baltimore and attended Mount St. Joseph's high school, kicked around the organization as a back-up catcher for two more seasons before being dealt to Seattle in 2015 for C.J. Riefenhauser and Mark Trumbo.

I think we all know what Arrieta turned into in Chicago - a Cy Young winner and World Series Champion. He threw two no-hitters in a Cubs uniform and seemed to have no-hit stuff every time he took to the mound for a couple of seasons (I remember going to see back-to-back starts in Wrigley where he took no-hitters past the fifth inning). He became a strike throwing machine, the complete opposite of his time in Baltimore.

Baltimore (4 seasons): 1.472 WHIP, 9.3 hits per 9 innings, 4.0 walks per 9 innings, 4.72 ERA
Chicago (6 seasons): 1.044 WHIP, 6.6 hits per 9 innings, 2.8 walks per 9 innings, 3.22 ERA

Pretty sure there was a clear winner in that deal.

2000 Topps Power Players Albert Belle

Unlike the previous two players, Albert Belle came to the Orioles in the prime of his career. Starting in 1991 he became one of the most feared right-handed sluggers in the American League. For seven years in a row he contributed at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. The previous season with the White Sox he slashed .328/.399/.655 with 49 home runs and 152 RBI. He led he league in games played (163), slugging (.655), OPS (1.055) and sacrifice flies (15). 

It was a risk the Orioles felt they had to take. After consecutive appearances in the ALCS in 1996 and 1997, they had taken a step back in 1998, finishing in fourth place with a 79-83 record. They lost Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, and Eric Davis from their line-up. They needed a little power, and Belle was the best bat available. He signed a five-year, $65 million deal on December 1st, 1998, the largest contract in franchise history at the time. 

Unfortunately, he didn't last all five years in an Orioles uniform. It started well as he slashed .297/.400/.541 with 37 HRs and 117 RBI. Not quite as lofty as the previous year, but still pretty impressive. The O's struggled to win games and finished with a 78-84 record, well out of the race for the AL East title. 

Part of the justification for signing Belle to a large deal was his durability. He was the active leader in consecutive games played when he signed with the O's and he ran that streak to a respectable 392 games before Orioles manager Ray Miller benched him in June of 1999. The flip side of Belle's intensity was his boorishness with other players, coaches, and fans. Miller had enough after the two were arguing in a game against Florida. 

While the argument garnered attention, his production was slipping a bit as well due to a hip injury. Still, it wasn't a horrible season as he ended up at .281/.342/.474 with 23 HRs and 103 RBI in just 141 games. That same injury would force him to retire the following spring at just the age of 34. The media in Baltimore didn't seem to broken up about his departure, 


08 Mar 2001, Thu The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland)

That was Baltimore Sun columnist John Eisenberg on the day it was announced that Belle wouldn't be able to play baseball any longer. Well, they didn't lose 100 games that season, only 98. Chris Richard and Jay Gibbons led the team with 15 home runs while Jeff Conine had the team lead with 97 RBI. Belle was a complicated person who battled his own demons, but publishing a column like that on the same day it was announced that a hall-of-fame career was cut short seems a little, to use Eisenberg's own words, "mean-spirited". 
Belle hasn't had much to do with baseball since his forced retirement with his name only popping up occasionally in regards to some legal issues.
There ya go. Three players who wore the Orioles uniform. I was caught up with the wins when I started this column and see now that I am once again behind. The 2021 O's are hot, baby!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Orioles Victory Card #9: Update on the Card Collection

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 9: 8-1 over the Oakland A's

2005 Topps Rookie Cup Red Davey Johnson # 389/499

Slipped a little behind in these posts. The O's really need to stop winning on Sunday's and Monday's when I'm working. John Means pitched the O's to victory on Sunday as they snapped Oakland's long winning streak. Good for Means who is pitching like a true ace this season. He's definitely found the right mix between his 93-94 MPH fastball and his change-up. He can still dial it up to 96 if he needs to, but is so much more effective at 93. 

On Monday, I had a couple of packages in the mail and one of them was from loyal reader Chris, aka hockeydude over at TCDB. He had reached out to help take some cards off of my hands in exchange for some O's and Lightning cards. One of them is the Davey Johnson card above, a nice parallel from a fun set Topps released back in 2005 highlighting all of their Rookie Cup winners. Those cards found their way into a lot of repack blasters back when I was buying those.

He also included a nice Steven Stamkos card

That may be the first memorabilia/relic card I've picked up through a TCDB trade. The serial number (8) also ties in nicely with my daily post over at Raw Charge today. Many thanks to Chris, check his blog out over at The Collector

Along with the padded envelope from Chris, there was another one chock full of Lightning and Orioles cards/stickers. It was a rather large trade that knocked out some cards on my Eddie Murray and Vincent Lecavalier collections so I figured it would be a good time to see how all of my so-called collecting goals are going.

According to TCDB (in which I have about 98% of my cards currently logged) it looks like I have 109,762 cards jammed into the bedroom closet. That's not too bad. I figure I've added about 1,315 cards this year so far so the collection isn't growing that fast, but is redistributing rather nicely. 

It looks like I am up to 6,044 unique Orioles cards with 366 Eddie Murray cards. That is roughly 7.4% of the Murray cards in the database and puts me 11th among collectors on the site among the Murray rankings. I'm only 7 cards away from cracking the top 10 at the moment and hopefully with a little focus I can hit it in the next month or so.

Despite being one of my top PC players, he's not the number one Oriole on my list. That belongs to Cal Ripken, Jr, currently sitting at 493 cards. Part of the reason is that Ripken has a few box sets out there that I've picked up over the past year. Also, he was part of the Project 2020 series from Topps last year and I acquired roughly half of those cards so far. 

Over all I am 16th in regards to O's cards with a shot at moving up a few spots once a couple of trades come through.

On the hockey side I have 2,675 Lightning cards (with the Crunch second on the list at 50 cards). That's good for 6th on TCDB's ranking page. While I might not overtake the lead this year I do want to get close to 3,000. I just moved the collecting to a 3,200 count box so it would be great to fill that up. 

Lecavalier is the leader in my collection with 339 unique cards (Steven Stamkos is second at 169). I'm at 8.7% of the cards listed for Vinny4 which means there is plenty of opportunity to find cards in trades. I am second on the website in regards to Lecavalier cards, currently trailing the leader by 35 cards. I really have to buckle down and find trades for him for the rest of the year.

So that's where I'm at right now. Thank you to Chris and everyone else who has sent me their unwanted Lightning and Oriole cards!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Orioles Victory Card #8: I got nothing

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 8: 7-5 over the Miami Marlins

2011 Bowman Chrome Prospects Mychal Givens

Well, this post is two days (and one loss) late. Wish is was because I was crafting something excellent for you to read. Unfortunately, it's not. I do like this card, though. It's always fun to see prospect cards for a player listed at a position they ended up switching from. As you may recall Mychal Givens did not make it to the Orioles as a shortstop. Rather he sent 5 1/2 seasons as a reliever that was occasionally dominant and occasionally extremely hittable. 

Last year he was traded to the Rockies at the deadline for Tyler Nevin, Terrin Vavra, and Mishael Deson. That could be a sneaky good trade for the O's on the road to a rebuild. Nevin and Vavra are ranked in the Orioles Top 30 prospects by MLB with Vavra coming in at 13th and Nevin at 23rd. Deson is a bit more of a project as he is only 18-years-old and has yet to appear in a game in the U.S. as he spent 2019 playing in the Dominican Summer League.

After a rough (I originally typed "rocky" but didn't want to go the pun route so early in the season) start for Colorado last season, Givens is back to throwing strikes in the National League. He has worked 8 innings, walked two (one intentionally), and struck out eight. He has allowed two home runs already (both at home) which is interesting because his flyball rate (14%) is way below his career average of 23.9%. If he puts together a strong year, he'll probably be on the move again this summer as Colorado is struggling in the standings (last place in the NL West).

The Orioles are hanging around in the AL East and have run their record back to 8-10 as their starters have done...okay. Their rotation was a huge question mark heading into the season, but they've probably gotten more than they've expected so far. The one major drawback is that, outside of John Means, the other starters haven't worked deep into ballgames, taxing a bullpen that features two Rule V picks.

On the other hand, that does give the team an opportunity to showcase a few arms to other teams that might be willing to add Paul Fry, Scott Armstrong, or Tanner Scott at the deadline. If Mike Elias and his staff can orchestrate a deal similar to the Givens trade, that will give them a few more lottery tickets in the system.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Orioles Victory Card #7: Slow start for Trey

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 7: 6-1 over the Texas Rangers

2019 Topps Gold Trey Mancini

For the second game in a row the Baltimore Orioles found a little bit of offense to support a decent, but short, start from their pitching staff. It took a little while, as Dane Dunning shut them out over the first five innings, but once the Rangers bullpen became involved, the runs started flowing for the O's.

One of the key hits was an eighth inning double by Trey Mancini that broke a 1-1 tie. With DJ Stewart on second and Maikel Franco on first, the veteran outfield ripped a shot into left field that plated Stewart and the O's didn't look back from there.

For Mancini it was only his 10th hit of the season and 3rd double of 2021. He finished the game with a slash line of .172/.234/.379 with 3 home runs and 11 runs batted in. Yes, those numbers are well off his usual numbers, but it's early in the season and a lot of players are scuffling through April. And not all of them missed an entire year due to a battle with colon cancer.

I'm pretty sure that even if his numbers don't improve (they will) he's a sure fire lock to win the American League Comeback Player of the Year, an award that no Oriole has won in it's brief, 17-year existence (now is the point where I'm a little sad that 2005 was sixteen years ago). 

As Andrea SK at Camden Chat pointed out in a larger piece on the overall struggles of the O's offense prior to the Texas series, some of Mancini's peripheral stats aren't that bad.

"If you’re secretly wondering if maybe Mancini isn’t quite “back” from Stage 3 colon cancer, his peripherals—especially hard-hit percentage, barrel percentage, and max exit velocity, all top two-thirds of the league—should put those worries to rest. A better explanation for his struggles might be that he’s seeing fewer pitches in the zone (41.3%, compared, say, to 49.5 in 2018), and chasing more. The good news is: there’s nothing wrong with Boom Boom’s strength."

At this point the best thing for Mancini is to get reps. It's hard enough as it is to hit major league pitching, now imagine trying to do it after missing a year. It'll take awhile for him to get back to recognizing pitches and locations. As Andrea pointed out, when he barrels it up, things are just fine. He's just not at the point where he's getting a lot of solid contact.

According to his Baseball Reference page, his batting average on balls in play (BAbip) is only .189. His career mark of .316 is well above the league average of .298. When Mancini is in the groove he is rocketing line drives, mostly to right-center. He's hitting way more ground balls than he has in his career (60% vs. 51.3% career) and pulling it way more (45% vs. 24% through his five years with the Orioles). With the increase in ground balls he's already hit into a league-leading 5 double plays. At least players are getting on base ahead of him.

I'm pretty confident that as he sees more pitches throughout the season those numbers will move back to normal for him. It's early in the season and with two or three multi-hit games like he had on Saturday his numbers will skyrocket back up. Mancini is never going to be a guy challenging for the batting average title, but I won't be shocked if he ends up around .275/.325/.850 with 20-25 home runs and a ton of doubles by the time September rolls around.

He's getting a day off on Sunday, which with the entire time being off on Monday, gives him a nice little break to clear his head and make sure he doesn't get into too many bad habits by pressing. At some point the entire Orioles offense will come around and I'm pretty sure Trey Mancini will be a key part of it.  

Orioles Victory Card # 6: Still in the trade game

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 6: 5-2 over the Texas Rangers

1991 O-Pee-Chee Ben McDonald

The O's managed to keep the losing streak to just two games (and only a day!) as they dropped a double-header to the Mariners. They had passable pitching in both games as Matt Harvey and Bruce Zimmerman pitched well enough to pick up some victories but the Baltimore offense couldn't come through against Seattle.

They did bounce back in the first game against the Texas Rangers as they managed to put up five runs (two more than they did in fourteen innings on Thursday). Cedric Mullins picked up two more hits and D.J. Stewart hit his first home run of the year. Good times!

As for me, I had a couple of trades come in through the mail. While everyone is jumping into the sports card market and dropping thousands of dollars on boxes they have no intention of ever opening, I've been plugging away picking up cheap Orioles cards through trades. 

I'm not going to lie, after getting furloughed at the beginning of the pandemic last spring, trading cards with strangers online was one of the few things that helped get me though the days (that and Porch Beers with The Wife). Putting together trades, pulling cards, and walking to the post office was a great way to kill a couple of hours every day. So that was nice. I'm not sure how many trades I made last year, but it was quite a bit. 

The Orioles collection has grown while the duplicates of other random players has dwindled. Yes, I have managed to sell a few cards along the way. Not enough to cover what I've spent already (I'm lucky to have a pretty good local card store) but, enough to fund a few decent single card purchases here and there. 

Oh yeah, that reminds me about my quest from last year where I wanted to give away 2,000 cards more than I took in over the year. Did that happen? Nope. I believe I ended up about even, but the dream of reducing the collection by one entire shoe box went by the way side. No, quests this year, but I am tracking the ins and outs to see how many I add. (So far the number is +1212).

One of the cards that came in a recent trade is pictured above. It's a 1991 (an underrated set) O-Pee-Chee Ben McDonald. But, wait you say, how do you know it's an OPC? It says "Topps" on the front. Well, I know because it came from a Canadian collector and he had labeled it as such. If I had seen this card in the wild, I wouldn't have noticed because the only way to tell is to look at the back of the card.

There is the tell-tale sign - French. Also, down in the bottom right corner is the OPC information. I'm slowly putting together the O's team set from these cards (along with all of the other Orioles cards in existence). It's a cool little variant (and another Eddie Murray to track down). 

Ben is filling in as the color commentator on some of the O's games this year as well as calling SEC baseball. One of the neat things is that he will, at some point, get to talk about his nephew, Mac Sceroler. The big right-hander was picked up by the Orioles via the Rule V draft from the Cincinnati Reds. He, along with Tyler Wells, are a couple of Rule V kids trying to stick with the ball club all year long.

Sceroler went to college in Louisiana like his uncle, not LSU but Southeastern Louisiana University (alma mater of former O, Wade Miley) before being drafted in the 5th round by the Reds. He made it all the way up to A ball in 2018 and 2019. It'll be tough for him to make the jump all the way up to the majors, but the O's are going to try and work him into low-leverage situations. With their starting rotation there will be plenty of chances for innings.

Here is Uncle Ben talking about Mac prior to the season (Ben's segment starts at about the 4:30 mark). McDonald is a pretty fun voice to have in the booth. With his easy going nature and Southern drawl it's just a treat to listen to him break down baseball (and say "Orioles"). 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Orioles Victory Card #5: Checking in on an ex-O

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 5: 8-7 over the Seattle Mariners

2020 Topps Gypsy Queen Hanser Alberto

After a sweep by the Red Sox, the Orioles managed to right the ship with a walk-off win against the Seattle Mariners in the second game of a double header. They had battled back to send the first game into extra innings, but couldn't pull off the victory. In the second game they battled back from a four-run deficit, blew a two-run lead, and then won in the bottom of the 7th when Ramon Urias lined a single back up the middle that plated Rio Ruiz with the winning run.

Currently, Urias is the only reserve infielder on the roster. That's the joys of having a 14-player pitching staff along with 5 outfielders currently. It'll be interesting to see if that changes throughout the season, or when Austin Hayes returns. Ryan McKenna is most likely to go back to the alternate site once Hayes is healthy, but it's also possible that DJ Stewart may go back down as well.

One of the reasons that Urias is on the roster at all is because the organization opted to let Hanser Alberto walk in the off-season. The amiable infielder went through a waiver journey prior to the 2019 season where he was claimed four times, twice by the Orioles.

He rewarded them with a fantastic season slashing .305/.329/.422 in 139 games while playing second, third, left field, and right field. He also tossed an inning of relief. All together he posted a 3.6 WAR, not bad for a waiver-wire pick up making $578,000.

That was good enough to bump his salary in 2020 to $1.65 million, a figure he agreed to with the Orioles prior to going to arbitration. He justified the raise in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season as he slashed .283/.306/.393.  While the numbers weren't as gaudy as what he posted in 2019, he absolutely destroyed left-handed pitching with a .375/.396/.521 slash line. For much of the season he was hitting well over .400 against lefties. The numbers are slightly more impressive when you realize that he doesn't walk, like ever. He posted 2.9% and 2.2% walk rates in his two seasons with the Birds.

In a sense, he's the opposite of the modern day hitter, and a throwback player that was more prevalent in the 1970's and 80's. He doesn't hit the ball hard (82.3 MPH average exit velocity), but he doesn't strike out a lot either carrying a 12.3 K rate over his career. He sprays the ball all over the field, pulling the ball just 36.6% of the time over his career. 

Another good season on a bad team meant he was looking at another raise in the off-season, to the tune of over $2 million. The Orioles decided they didn't want to pay that and non-tendered him. At the end of January the Kansas City Royals signed him to a minor-league deal that would guarantee $1.65 million if he made the roster and another $350k in potential bonuses.

It was kind of odd that all he could garner was a minor-league deal, but teams might have been concerned about his low walk rate and tendency to swing at anything vaguely resembling a strike. Well, their loss is the Royals gain. With a strong spring training he earned a spot as a back-up infielder. While he's not going to unseat Whitt Merrifield as Kansas City's starting second baseman, he should find plenty of playing time backing up Merrifield, Nicky Lopez at short, and Hunter Dozier at third. 

So far in 2021 he's appeared in seven games and started four. Early on  his bat is taking time to warm up: .222/.222/.389. In the limited sample size, he's actually hitting better against righties (.235) than lefties (.200), but he's only had five plate appearances against southpaws so far. That number will go up as the season moves on.

Not only is he a useful ballplayer, he has fun on the field and his teammates really seem to enjoy playing with him. 

I can understand why the Orioles would let him go this season. He isn't going to be part of the next contending team and they wanted to do as much as possible to slash their payroll, but it really sucks that he's not playing in front of fans in Camden Yards. It's players like him that help make a long season tolerable. Hopefully they appreciate him in Kansas City and he gets a shot at the post season.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Orioles 2021 Victory Card #4: Streak Breaker

 Baltimore Orioles Victory #4: 4-3 over the New York Yankees

2021 Panini Donruss Anthony Santander

It took a couple of extra innings, but the O's finally beat the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium. They had lost their previous twelve games in New York so it was nice to finally get one. It was Anthony Santander that played the hero as he homered and threw out the tying run at home plate in the 11th inning.

To celebrate I picked up a box of 2021 Panini Donruss. Did I pay too much for a product that doesn't have a MLB license? Probably, but it was still a fun rip. There are a ton of parallels, some numbered, some not, and each box has, on average, three autographs or memorabilia cards. I pulled two autos and a Kirby Puckett jersey card. The base cards are fairly nice with a simple design. 

They do take variations to a new level with nickname versions of the player (Jose Altuve is "Gigante") and the city (St. Louis is "The Lou").  I think there are mask variations as well. 

If this was priced below $100 it would be a perfect box to rip. Will I buy more? Depends on what else is available. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Orioles 2021 Victory Card #3: Sweeeeepppp

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 3: 11-3 over the Boston Red Sox

2006 Upper Deck SP Legendary Cuts Cal Ripken

I'm not going to lie. I wasn't sure I was going to resurrect this series this year, waiting until literally the last minute to start writing about the O's. So, it's not a surprise that I wasn't expecting them to win three games in a row. The good news is that I do have plenty of new Orioles cards to post, just not sure what to write about.

So, it'll be a short one today. The O's took the Red Sox to the woodshed on Sunday to complete the sweep while getting decent starting pitching from Bruce Zimmerman. Seeing the offense click was nice as well and gives me some hope that at least a portion of the wins will keep coming throughout the season. Austin Hayes getting hurt was a bummer, but Cedric Mullins raking through an entire weekend softens the blow a bit.

Now the Yankees loom large, and they aren't in a great mood having dropped two out of three to the Blue Jays. A couple of wins over the next few days will really get people talking about the Birds.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Orioles 2021 Victory Card Post #2: The New Guys help out

 Baltimore Orioles Victory #2: 4-2 over the Boston Red Sox

1991 Leaf Ernie Whitt

While the future of the organization is heavily reliant on home-grown talent, the present needs some help from outside of the organization. On Saturday, it was three guys brought in from other organizations that helped key the win. 

First it was reclamation project Matt Harvey getting the nod as the starting pitcher. "The Dark Knight" made it into the fifth inning while allowing only two runs. It wasn't a dominating start as he scattered six hits in his 4.2 innings of work, but he only walked one and touched 94 mph with his fastball a couple of times. It'll be interesting to see how he progresses throughout the season as the number two pitcher on the staff. The best case scenario for the Orioles is that he continues to make solid starts and some teams in contention come calling and the O's can move him for some more prospect depth.

Following Harvey in the game was Adam Plutko, a reliever that Baltimore picked up in a trade at the end of Spring Training. He worked out of the jam he inherited from Harvey and pitched 2.1 innings of shutout ball to pick up the win. Plutko is one of many bullpen arms that is expected to work multiple innings in games throughout the season as the young starters get used to the major leagues. There are going to be days when the starter doesn't get out of the third or fourth inning and the bullpen is going to have to stretch it out. 

On the offensive side it was Maikel Franco providing the big hit with a two-run single. Another late addition to the roster, Franco is in the same boat as Harvey. A solid start to the season with the O's could lead to a trade to a contender later this summer. In the meantime he fills a hole in the line-up at third base.

This season is going to be a nice mix of young prospects and veterans looking to rebuild their career. Is that a formula built for a successful playoff run? Not really, but based on just two games it looks like the O's are at least going to be a bit frisky early on and teams won't be able to take them lightly. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Orioles 2021 Victory Card Post #1: Not a bad way to kick off a season

 Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 1: 3-0 over the Boston Red Sox

2020 Topps John Means

The first win is out of the way, that means there will be no 0-21 start! It's the little things in life that matter when you root for a team that realistically has no shot at making the playoffs. So, it's always nice to start the season with a win. That goes doubly so when the win comes at the expense of the Boston Red Sox.

As for the game itself, John Means looked like the ace of the staff. Rookie Ryan Mountcastle had the big hit. The bullpen locked it down and Rio Ruiz is apparently the second coming of Roberto Alomar at second base. It was also nice to see the other team make a crucial fielding error that led to extra outs and runs for the Orioles.

Means was dealing in his first career opening day start and really seemed to have figured out the fine line between throwing heat and mixing in his most effective pitch, his change-up. Last season when he returned from injury throwing 94-95, he seemed to get away from using his change-up to get hitters out and tried to over power them which led to some not so pretty results. Against the Red Sox he backed it down a bit and took a little more off the offspeed, which kept the hitters way off balance.

As for Mountcastle, it looked like he was going to greet his first opening day with a grand slam but the Green Monster (and perhaps the slightly deadened 2021 baseballs) turned it into a double. Still, it was an excellent at-bat for the rookie as he turned on a pitch well inside and muscled it onto the wall. He probably won't sustain the crazy .398 BABIP he put up in his truncated season last year, but it looks like he's still driving the ball when he makes contact.

I don't have many expectations for the O's this season. Try not to lose 100 games, get some quality looks at young pitchers like Dean Kramer and Keegan Aikin. Hopefully Austin Hayes is healthy for the entire season and Cedric Mullins rakes as a pure left-handed hitter. The payoff for the rebuild is still two years away at least (although they could be a frisky young team next season). 

The best part is that baseball is back and on schedule to play a full 162 games. Settle in for a long, hopefully enjoyable, season.