The 2019 season began yesterday with a 7-2 loss to the Yankees in the Bronx. It didn’t take long for things to go south this season, as New York took a 3-0 with on out in the bottom of the first. But after a long winter, we finally got to see the next era of Orioles baseball begin.
What follows are a few points that stuck out to me while listening to Opening Day. As you’d expect after a team that is severely lacking talent loses, most of these are negative. That isn’t to say that yesterday was without positives. Trey Mancini and Jonathan Villar combined for five hits. David Hess threw two scoreless innings. Nobody got injured. But it wasn’t a good day for the Orioles and the following are some takeaways.
Chris Davis is on pace for 486 strikeouts
Coming off one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball history, Chris Davis vowed (again) to change things up. He “switched up his offseason workouts, consulted coaches who knew him as a younger player, and spoken to sports psychologists.” Combine that with the fresh start he gets from a new manager and front office and there was reason to at least give Davis a chance in 2019. Unfortunately, his spring training numbers were disappointing. Despite hitting three home runs and posting an OPS of .751 (over 200 points higher than last season!), he struck out in 19 out of 37 at bats (44 plate appearances).
Today was not a step in the right direction; he struck out in all three trips to the plate. He showed signs of being the tentative, unconfident hitter he was last season. In his first at bat, he got ahead 3-0 before looking at two strikes and missing the third. He occasionally quibbled with the umpire over the strike zone. By the grace of God, Brandon Hyde pinch hit for Davis in the ninth instead of allowing him to bat against Aroldis Chapman. We know how that would have ended.
We can’t judge Davis on three plate appearances, but the Orioles’ highest paid player will be under the microscope all season. I was ready to release him after his second strikeout. We will frequently discuss how much rope Mike Elias gives him.
Brandon Hyde spent the offseason and spring training stressing the importance of defense and fundamentals. After the poor defensive performance we saw from the 2018 Orioles, this was a welcome proclamation. There were some good signs today: Joey Rickard made an impressive diving catch today and the infield turned two double plays.
But the Orioles also exhibited some troubling signs in the field. Aaron Judge’s third inning infield hit, a chopper just beyond the mound, nearly forced Jonathan Villar and Richie Martin to collide. Mike Bordick said that Villar should have yielded to Martin; either way, it is clear that there was a miscommunication. Jesus Sucre, known for his defense, dropped a pop up in the seventh inning and and also allowed a passed ball. After hearing the manager preach the importance of defense, seeing these types of miscues is alarming.
Alarming disparity in walks
The Yankees have a fantastic lineup that led the majors in home runs last season and may do so again. It is littered with All Stars, top young talent, and every spot in the order is a threat to go deep. The Orioles... do not have a fantastic lineup. The average baseball fan may not have heard of half of yesterday’s starting lineup.
The disparity in walks yesterday perpetuated the difference in talent between the two offenses. The Orioles worked one walk while the Yankees got eight free passes in addition to being hit by a pitch. This continues the trend of 2018, when the Orioles drew the fewest walks in the majors and gave up the sixth most. The O’s simply are not good enough to overcome that deficit in free passes. Hyde needs to instill a culture of working the count and being selective at the plate while preaching throwing strikes to his pitchers.
More is needed from Cashner
Andrew Cashner got the start on Opening Day by default. His 5.29 ERA last season certainly didn’t earn it. But he is one of the few veterans on the team and that comes with a responsibility, which he didn’t meet yesterday.
A player with as much experience as Cashner needs to understand the situation. Despite having the day off tomorrow, Saturday’s game will feature an opener and figures to tax the bullpen. That is followed by another game against the powerful Yankees. The Orioles needed more than four innings from the veteran. Luckily David Hess picked up two scoreless innings and the O’s didn’t need to pitch anyone in the ninth. But Hess was a candidate to start on Monday and Hyde’s need to go to the bullpen early may cause some early season rotation turmoil. Cashner could have done a favor to his manager and team by getting deeper into the game.
Paul Fry’s reverse splits continue
Paul Fry came into the game in the 8th inning and quickly got ahead of Greg Bird in the count 0-2. He then hung a slider that Bird deposited into the right field seats. The Yankees were already in command of the game so the run was fairly meaningless. But it continued an interested trend from last season. The southpaw Fry was more effective against righties than lefties by a wide margin (OPS against of .556 vs .702). If Fry wants to impress his new general manager and manager and become a reliever who can be counted on to retire tough left-handed hitters, those splits are something he needs to work on this season. Yesterday was not a good start.
Joe Angel will be missed
Because I opted to take a day off next week to attend Thursday’s home opener at Camden Yards, I had to work yesterday and was listening on the radio. (Work interferes with baseball too often.) What caught my attention more than anything happening on the field was just how much I am going to miss Joe Angel calling games on the Orioles Radio Network. We know that it’s going to be a long season and what happened in yesterday’s game confirmed that. But Angel had a way of making even the worst games funny and interesting. No disrespect intended to Jim Hunter or Mike Bordick, but Angel’s humor and wit will be missed this season. I hope you’re enjoying your retirement, Joe, but we sure could use you.