The Plug Has Been Pulled on the O’s 2020 Playoff Hopes

So nearly three weeks later, we have our answer.

Back on August 12, I asked the question on this site, Who is Most Likely to Pull the Plug on this Surprisingly Fun O’s Season?

Well it’s safe to say that while there hasn’t been an electrical fire…the plug has most definitely been pulled.

After the Orioles defeated the Phillies on August 12, the team’s record was 10-7, and they were just 1.5 games out of first place in the American League East.

Since then…they’ve gone 5-12 and slipped to fourth place in the division – 9 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

Not only have they played .294 baseball in the three weeks since that article was posted, they’ve also seen their Opening Day starting pitcher and two key pieces of their bullpen sent packing via trade.

dejection_Alberto_08152020_01

Yes, I know…Tommy Milone wasn’t a “true” Opening Day starter. But he had been a stabilizing veteran presence in the rotation. And Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro were key pieces of a bullpen that had pitched well during the team’s early-season stretch of success.

So it’s fair to say that the losses of these three pitchers will have a large impact on the team’s fortunes in the month of September.

In that article, I listed a handful of potential “plug-pullers” who could have ended the fun in 2020.

Fortunately, a few of those – including Rob Manfred and the Covid-19 threat – have not come into play.

While watching the team go 5-12 over the past three weeks hasn’t been “fun,” it sure beats having the season shut down because the virus has struck back in a big way.

I’d also say the Orioles have been fortunate to avoid significant injuries in 2020. The most significant injury is probably the fractured rib suffered by outfielder Austin Hays. And no doubt, he has missed out on continued big league development time.

But Cedric Mullins has been very impressive in Hays’ absence, raising his on-base percentage from a paltry .077 on August 15 to a respectable .323 as of September 1. Additionally, Mullins has played excellent defense in center field, which is critical with such a young pitching staff handling the bulk of the load.

Cedric Mullins

The two primary suspects I listed for pulling the plug on this fun O’s season have turned out to be just the two that ended up responsible for its demise.

I named Mike Elias as the most likely suspect – with a “probability” of guilt estimated at 85% — and it’s true that Elias has not deviated from his plan to collect talent at the minor league level by leveraging any assets at the big league level contending teams might find attractive.

But I can’t lay all of the blame at Elias’ feet. In fact, I’d argue that the most significant “plug-puller” on this fun O’s season has actually been the performance of the Orioles roster.

On August 12, I gave the idea of the O’s taking a large step back a 35% chance of being what ultimately killed the fun…and it turns out those odds were too low.

Here are just a few of the questions I posed back when the O’s were 10-7:

  • Do we really expect Cole Sulser to be a reliable ninth-inning relief ace? Turns out…the answer was no.
  • Can Alex Cobb stay healthy for an entire season? So far, so good…but we’ve got a month to go.
  • Will Jose Iglesias stay in the lineup and hitting? That was also a “no.”
  • Is Renato Nunez likely to stay near the top of the A.L. home run leaderboard? Also a “no.”

Listen…it’s not like some regression was unexpected. And we all knew that Elias would pull the trigger on handful of trades as well.

In this shortened season of 2020 with expanded playoffs, the O’s are still just 4.5 games away from a playoff berth.

But let’s be honest…the fun is pretty much over at this point as far as postseason aspirations.

Instead, it’s time to enjoy Ryan Mountcastle’s first full month as a big leaguer…the continued strong play of Anthony Santander and Pedro Severino…and continued health and development for Keegan Akin, Hunter Harvey and anyone else (Yusniel Diaz, anyone?) the O’s decide to promote in the season’s final weeks.

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