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What we learned about the Orioles in their Opening Day win

The Orioles won on Opening Day for the seventh year in a row. What can we glean about the team from how the game played out?

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

For the seventh year in a row, the Baltimore Orioles were winners on Opening Day. It was a glorious 3-2 walk-off victory thanks to a Mark Trumbo home run against the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays, guaranteeing the O’s at least a split in the first series of the season. Sure, this one counts the same as a mid-June match-up with some random senior circuit squad, but it definitely feels like a lot more right now. So, let’s do what we do best and over-analyze the ever-loving fuzz out of it.

If we’re honest, the Orioles team on display on Monday was a carbon copy of the side we saw for most of 2016. The starting pitcher was OK; good enough to keep the team within reach of a win. The bats fell asleep for most of the afternoon before awaking with a majestic dong. The infield defense was marvelous while the outfielders left a bit to be desired. And the bullpen was lights out despite missing Darren O’Day.

Gaus Boss tossed some sauce

Ignore the fact that the above sub-headline makes little-to-no sense. The point is that starting pitcher Kevin Gausman had a rocky afternoon. It was his first Opening Day start and the nerves were noticeable. The righty ended up throwing 5.1 innings and allowing two runs on five hits, four walks and four strikeouts. It was far from a lights out performance.

He had his good fastball. The first pitch of the day was clocked at 96.8 mph and his last was 94.7, so he was throwing some cheese. Plus his splitter had some serious funk on it. And no matter what he threw, the Blue Jay hitters were rarely making solid contact.

The trouble came when Gausman got a bit wild. He threw 103 pitches, but only 57 of them were strikes. Of the 25 batters he faced, he started nine of them with ball one. You don’t have to be an expert to know that he needs to be in the strike zone on a more consistent basis.

That said, Gausman’s outing leaves a pleasant taste in your mouth. It came against a division opponent with a lot of weapons that he will need to face again and again. Despite not having his best stuff, the LSU product did well enough to help the team win. Moving on.

Castillo’s questionable framing

Remember that this is game one and that it is also partially the umpire’s fault too, but social media was up in arms over the work of the Orioles new catcher Welington Castillo. One of the big knocks on Matt Wieters over the last few years had been his inability to make balls into strikes for his pitching staff or to keep close calls within the zone, and it would appear that Castillo has the same issue. No one can make Orioles Twitter happy (except for maybe that flashy third baseman of ours).

According to @OriolesUmp on Twitter, the three most glaring mistakes were the first pitch of Troy Tulowitzki’s at-bat in the second inning, ball four of the Kevin Pillar at-bat in the fifth inning and ball four to Russell Martin in the 10th inning.

Pillar ended up scoring from the resulting walk, which of course had the domino effect of pushing the game to extra innings and forcing Buck Showalter to dig deep into his bullpen on the season’s first day. That’s far from ideal. Of course, Castillo also went 2-for-4 at the plate. As long as he is hitting, he will be playing while Caleb Joseph settles for one to two games per week.

The outfield “platoon” is very real and has some issues

Both corner outfield spots were question marks throughout the offseason. The Orioles never really addressed them head on. Re-signing Trumbo was nice, but he is a known liability with the glove. The trade for Seth Smith was a shrewd business deal to get a player with notable strengths and obvious deficiencies. And then were the holdovers of Joey Rickard and Hyun Soo Kim. Throw in Trey Mancini and Craig Gentry for good measure and you have yourself what you’d call a classic difficult decision.

With the team facing a right-handed starting pitcher (Marco Estrada), Showalter went with the left-handed hitting option of having Kim in left field and Smith in right field. The pair were a combined 1-for-7 with Smith notching a double and scoring a run. Not a banner day at the plate, but that happens. It’s a long season. The clear problem with trotting out these two together was the lack of defensive ability.

The Devon Travis single to begin the game fell in between Smith and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. It was a weakly hit ball on which it seemed that Smith got a poor read off the bat, allowing it fall in. Trumbo could have done that.

Later on, with Gausman in a jam. A Blue Jay hitter lifted a high fly ball into foul territory in left field. To be fair, the outfield seem to be in a shift towards right field. Nonetheless, Kim gave chase to the foul-bound ball but couldn’t make it in time, forcing Gausman to throw more pitches.

In both scenarios, one can imagine their right-handed counterparts, Gentry and Rickard, making those plays. Gentry is a well-regarded defender with topline speed. Rickard has questionable defensive skills but most would agree that he is far faster and better with the leather than Kim.

Both Kim and Smith would give way for their platoon partners later on. Rickard pinch hit for Kim, against a right-hander oddly, in the ninth inning and ended up lining into a double play, but it took a nice play by Jose Bautista to get him. And then Mancini hit for Smith in the 10th against a southpaw before being lifted for the more speedy Gentry after smacking a single.

None of these moves ended up making much of a difference in this game. But Showalter showed why he wanted to bring all five of these outfielders to Baltimore for the beginning of the season. He’s planning on using them and getting the most out of their unique skill sets. He’ll need to make the most of it while he can. The Orioles currently have 14 hitters on their roster and only three starting pitchers. Difficult decisions will need to be made, but that’s a discussion for another day.