Maybe the most baffling thing about the 115-loss Orioles from a year ago is that they entered the season expecting to contend. It’s difficult to picture now, but Baltimore had serious playoff aspirations. The Orioles signed Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner late in the offseason, held onto Manny Machado, and were still banking on a comeback year for Chris Davis. The organization had talked itself into thinking it was a contender, and they might have even fooled you.
Flash forward to the beginning of this season, and expectations could not be lower. The team, the front office, and even the fans understand the Orioles are undergoing a significant rebuild. The number one pick in the draft is certainly obtainable, a playoff spot is not.
But a funny thing happens when you have low expectations: you can be pleasantly surprised. Reeling from a 107-loss season the year prior, the 1989 “Why Not” Orioles won 87 games on their way to a second place finish. Funny enough, the Gin Blossoms released their hit song “Hey Jealousy” the same year. Perhaps they were speaking to Orioles fans when they sang, “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.”
We’re only five games into the season, but a few players have already turned some heads. No one is reading too much into a five-game sample size, but a few guys may warrant longer looks than everyone originally anticipated.
David Hess is a prime example. If somehow you haven’t heard by now, Hess was 6.1 innings into a no-hitter Monday night when Orioles skipper Brandon Hyde decided to pull him. The Orioles won the game 6-5, and Hess picked up his first win of the season. Hess made one relief appearance in New York, and has now pitched 8.1 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts. That’s a long way from is 3-11 record with a 4.88 ERA last year.
Hess reached the mid-90s with the fastball several times Monday night, and topped out at 95 MPH. He used to high heat to fan eight batters, over double his average of 3.89 K’s per start last year. The Blue Jays lineup may not be murderers row, but people might say the same about Baltimore. The Orioles hitters were not held hitless into the seventh.
Hess credited catcher Jesús Sucre for calling a masterful game. Sucre prompted Hess to work in his slider and changeup at just the right times. Sucre has proven to be a reliable backstop. The 30-year-old righty has four hits and three RBIs in the young season. Sucre has shown an ability to drive the ball, and should be able to remain in the lineup until the Orioles feel Chance Sisco earns a call up.
John Means, one of the only left handed pitchers on the Orioles roster, impressed in his only outing so far this year. He picked up a win in relief against the Yankees and allowed just one run in 3.1 innings. Means pitching well could go a very long way for the Orioles. Whether it’s out of the bullpen, or every fifth day, every team needs at least a little bit of left handed pitching. Means could work his way up to being the only lefty in the O’s starting rotation.
Neither Trey Mancini or Jonathan Villar look as out of place as one might think in the heart of the order. Villar’s blend of speed and power is not just attractive for fantasy teams. The idea of Villar being the best player on the team was a difficult pill to swallow in February, but his ability to get on base, steal bags, and play quality defense certainly passes the eye test.
Mancini has hit .450 through the Orioles first five games with two home runs and five RBIs. MASN announcer Gary Thorne mentioned during Tuesday’s broadcast that Mancini has settled into a rhythm and feels comfortable serving as the designated hitter. Whether he’s making diving catches in right field, or hitting off a tee in the batting cage before at bats, he’s seen results. At 27 years old, Mancini might just be putting it all together in 2019.
Without a doubt, the greatest surprise so far this year has to be the club’s record at 4-1. Some fans likely didn’t expect the Orioles to win four straight all year, but they accomplished the feat before the home opener. The Orioles have won both series so far this year, and they’ll go for a sweep this afternoon in Toronto.
It would certainly be premature to develop any expectations about this year’s club, but it’s nice to see the team has some fight in it. Could the Orioles have a few more surprises up their sleeve? Why not...