I have to admit…I’m having a hard time fully enjoying the surprising start to the Orioles 2020 season.
It’s not entirely because of COVID-19, or the strange feeling of watching Major League Baseball games being played in empty stadiums.
It’s not even the feeling that a ton of resources are being used to test players, equipment managers, umpires and team officials that could most likely be used elsewhere for a greater good.
Nope…I’ve managed to push all of that aside in an attempt to just enjoy watching the games.
But I’m having a hard time getting 100% invested and I think I’ve just figured out why:
I keep waiting for someone to pull the plug on this season – potentially the most surprisingly interesting season of Orioles baseball since 1989 – and bring the fun to a sudden halt.
It’s sort of like being at a college party that you know is going to get busted. You’re there and having a good time, but you’re constantly thinking of your escape plan in the back of your mind while you wait for that knock on the door from the police.
Or something like that.
Strange analogy aside, I’m convinced that someone – or something – is going to pull the plug on this season. So let’s take a look at the most likely “wet blanket” suspects and analyze their chances of bringing the fun to an end.
Potential Wet Blanket #1 – Commissioner Rob Manfred and the Rest of Major League Baseball
We’ve all seen what has happened to MLB teams that have had outbreaks of COVID-19 – they get shut down for as long as needed to remove the virus from the clubhouse.
The Marlins missed significant time and are scrambling to complete the already abbreviated 60-game schedule. And the Cardinals are hoping to get back to action this weekend but have no real shot at playing a full 60 games.
It seems as if the worry and panic has faded just a bit, but at the time the Cardinals outbreak became public knowledge, there was a feeling throughout baseball that the season was hanging by a thread.
Not much, other than the passage of a week or so, has changed since that time. So the question is: how many additional outbreaks would it take for the commissioner to call off the rest of the season?
A skeptical person would say that so long as the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers aren’t impacted MLB doesn’t particularly care. But that’s probably a stretch.
I’d say that if 2-3 more teams suffer the same fate as the Cardinals – and let’s hope for a multitude of reasons that never happens – the game would likely shut things down for the year.
For the most part, it seems as though teams throughout the league are committed to operating within the safety protocols to help ensure the season can be completed.
But as we saw this past weekend (I’m looking at you, Cleveland) there are still risks involved that cannot be ignored.
Chances that Rob Manfred and/or COVID-19 puts an end to the surprisingly fun 2020 Orioles season: 25%.
Potential Wet Blanket #2 – The Orioles 28-Man Roster Takes a Giant Step Backward
Let’s not act like the gains we’ve seen in some of the O’s players this season is guaranteed to be permanent.
John Means looks great with his improved velocity…but will it last beyond just a handful of starts? Miguel Castro has – up until Tuesday night in Philly – been outstanding this season, but he has shown flashes before.
Do we really expect Cole Sulser to be a reliable ninth-inning relief ace? Can Alex Cobb stay healthy for an entire season in the orange-and-black? Will Jose Iglesias stay in the lineup and continue hitting at a level he really hasn’t sustained in his entire career? Is Renato Nunez likely to stay near the top of the A.L. home run leaderboard?
I know, I know…all of these questions make me sound like a wet blanket. And I derive no enjoyment whatsoever out of typing them or even thinking them.
But still…you have to wonder, right? Isn’t is possible that this team is playing a little bit over its head right now in relation to its true talent level?
Never mind – time to move on. I need to stop thinking about the possible regression and just enjoy this season for what it is: interesting baseball.
Chances that Orioles’ player regression puts an end to the surprisingly fun 2020 Orioles season: 35%.
Potential Wet Blanket #3 – Injuries to Key Players
While it may seem as though the Orioles have escaped the injury bug that has plagued MLB early in this 2020 season, the truth is they have already been impacted.
Hunter Harvey is the most prominent name that comes to mind – and it remains to be seen if he contributes at all this year – but there are others who could have made contributions who are still missing.
Steve Wilkerson certainly would have had value in his utility role on this 28-man roster, especially considering the team currently has just 3 true outfielders at the moment after sending Cedric Mullins and D.J. Stewart back to the alternate camp. And Dillon Tate could have been a weapon out of what has turned out to be a surprisingly deep bullpen.
But both Wilkerson and Tate have battled injuries, with Tate potentially the only one of the two who could return this year.
A look around the league, however, shows that injuries are popping up at a higher-than-normal rate this year, especially for pitchers. Aside from John Means’ “tired arm” to start the season, the Orioles’ rotation has avoided this trend.
One of the unique things about the 2020 season is that the total of 60 players allowed between the Major League roster and the alternate camp means that depth can be limited. If a key player — or players – goes down with injury, there might not be a whole lot of options to choose from at the alternate site as some of the 60-man roster spots are allocated for the development of players who will not see the majors this season under any circumstance.
This makes staying healthy even more important than it might be in a normal season – especially at critical positions such as middle infield and starting rotation where there aren’t a lot of experienced alternatives at Bowie.
Chances that key injuries put an end to the surprisingly fun 2020 Orioles season: 20%.
Potential Wet Blanket #4 – Gleyber Torres
Don’t question me on this one. It could happen.
After what we saw last season, I’m absolutely certain that Gleyber Torres could singlehandedly wreck the fun we’re having this season.
And even with Gary Thorne watching from home, I still expect to hear him yelling about it if and when it happens.
Chances that Gleyber Torres repeatedly hitting soul-crushing home runs against Orioles pitchers puts an end to the surprisingly fun 2020 Orioles season: 10%.
Potential Wet Blanket #5 – Mike Elias Trades Away Critical Pieces…Even if the Team is Still in Contention
I’ll be honest…this is the one I’m most afraid of.
And listen, I understand it – I really do. I understand what the process is. I signed up for it.
We’re in a rebuild and the #1 goal still needs to be acquiring as much talent as possible. So when Mike Elias trades away Alex Cobb, Michael Givens, Miguel Castro and Jose Iglesias before the August 31 trade deadline…on some level I’ll be fine with it.
But the part of me that is enjoying the fun of this season – even through a small sample of just 15 games – will be furious.
That’s because the O’s have finished in last place the past three years, with the 2018 and 2019 seasons being historically bad for the franchise.
They’ve been, frankly, difficult to watch.
So now that we seem to have a perfect storm of entertainment value…I’m terrified that the cold, unfeeling, process-based executive team we now have in place will do just what they were hired to do: follow their head and not their heart.
But this really is the perfect storm: It’s a fun team to watch, with entertaining, overachieving players. They’re winning games in unlikely ways – and they seem to believe they have a good thing going.
Combine that with an abbreviated 60-game schedule and an expanded playoff format where 16 teams – more than half the league! – gets invited to the postseason, and you have plenty of reason for the completely ridiculous optimism that many O’s fans feel about this season.
Part of me wants to make the argument that the minor league talent we might get in return for a month of Cobb, Castro, Givens or Iglesias really won’t amount to all that much. So why make the deal? Why not sacrifice that potential added talent to appease a fan base that has suffered – and will likely continue to suffer?
Standing pat would be like handing a glass of water to someone stranded in the middle of the desert. It won’t help us get out of the desert – and we still have a long way to walk – but it sure will feel great for a little while and maybe sustain us fans just enough to get us through the rest of the journey.
But then the other side of me wakes up. I realize that Cobb’s days on this roster are absolutely dwindling with every devastating splitter he throws.
And no matter what the team’s record is – or how close it is to a postseason spot – Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal are going to make the decisions they were hired to make.
Those trades are coming. Many fans won’t like them or understand them…but they’re coming.
And when they do, the honeymoon period for Elias will come to an end as well – and the clock will begin ticking as many fans will then expect to see a return to contention even earlier than we can probably reasonably expect (this abbreviated year notwithstanding.)
I hate to say it – and I’m sure I’ll curse up a storm when it happens – but Elias will be right when he makes the moves. I just know that I’ll probably enjoy watching the O’s games a little bit less once he pulls the plug on the idea of a playoff berth this season.
Chances that Mike Elias trading away key players puts an end to the surprisingly fun 2020 Orioles season: 85%.