It’s probably not the favorite part of any MLB manager’s job to call a guy into his office and tell him to pack his bags and head down to the minors. Things are a bit easier when running a simulation like this. There are no one’s feelings to be hurt.
Simulated Kohl Stewart is the first player to be on the wrong end of a tough conversation (or in this case a couple of mouse clicks) after posting an 11.57 ERA in his first four starts. Stewart, who signed a split contract with the O’s over the offseason, will have to try to right the ship in simulated Norfolk.
This demotion was the choice of readers in our last post. We have to make room for Hunter Harvey to be activated from the injured list, so Stewart heads to the minors, long reliever Tommy Milone goes to the rotation now that he’s stretched out a bit, and Harvey rejoins the bullpen.
If the sim so far is any indication, this will not be our last performance-based removal of a player from the roster. Some others’ time will be coming soon if they don’t get better - but that time isn’t now, so maybe they will start getting better.
This week’s games
Game 25: Blue Jays 9, Orioles 8
“What if simulated Alex Cobb keeps stinking?” might be the next big question we have to answer for this sim. He got wrecked in this one, giving up four home runs in four innings. That led to seven earned runs overall. Despite this, the O’s got Cobb off the hook for the loss when they piled on five runs against Jays starter Chase Anderson in the fifth inning, and another two against reliever Kyle Lloyd in the sixth.
Since these sim Orioles are still Orioles, after all that work by the offense, Shawn Armstrong gave up a home run to Travis Shaw in the seventh inning to put the O’s down for good. Armstrong is another guy on thin ice right now. Shaw homered three times in the game; he was batting .151/.233/.237 coming into this game. That’s pure, uncut Orioles pitching there.
The O’s actually out-hit the Jays 15-12, but only two of their hits went for extra bases. Jose Iglesias led the way with a four-hit game. Renato Nunez’s seventh home run of the season briefly tied up the game.
Game 26: Blue Jays 11, Orioles 6 (11 innings)
There’s an extra sting to a loss where an Orioles starting pitcher was not bad. Here, Asher Wojciechowski was “good enough to win” with three runs allowed - all on solo home runs - over seven innings. The Orioles led when Wojo left the game thanks to an Earl Weaver Special hit by Anthony Santander (homer #5 of the season) in the fourth inning. Then... the bullpen.
First, there was Tanner Scott, who managed to give up three runs in only a third of an inning. Then, when Hanser Alberto tied the game with a two-run dinger in the ninth when the O’s were down to their last out, other pitchers had the opportunity to fail in extra innings. Miguel Castro put the O’s back in a hole when he gave up a two-run homer and Cole Sulser made it worse when he came in and gave up a there-run bomb - all in the eleventh inning.
Game 27: Orioles 10, Blue Jays 6
We’re back in the win column! Not much thanks to starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc, who gave up five runs in three innings. However, the O’s offense was able to pounce over the Jays staff for seven runs in the first two innings. That included Santander hitting another three-run shot to put the O’s up. He homered again in the fourth and drove in five runs total. Chris Davis also homered in the contest.
With Santander’s performance here our simulated Orioles at last (for now) have two players in their lineup with an OPS+ of 100 (average) or better. The other is Nunez. Everyone else is not doing as well.
Game 28: Royals 11, Orioles 6
“Maybe trying to do the most realistic simulation of the 2020 Orioles possible was a bad idea,” I think to myself as I look at this box score. In his first start for our team, Tommy Milone gave up three runs in 1.1 innings. He left due to some sort of injury that was bad enough to have him out of the game but not bad enough to be day-to-day.
As Milone was our long reliever, we don’t have one now and just about every pitcher was pressed into service. In the later innings they were bad: Tanner Scott gave up two runs and Miguel Castro gave up three, each while recording only one out.
The O’s offense had 12 hits, which should really be enough to win a game, but, you know. The pitching. Hanser Alberto led the way with three hits. Pedro Severino drove in three runs with his third homer of the year.
I’ve tried to avoid making roster moves without consulting the crowd, but the bullpen is all tired, so I’m using my “I’m the one running the sim” power to demote Sulser and call up Travis Lakins, because he has the best WHIP of the Tides bullpen so far - and that’s a 1.32 WHIP so it’s not like that’s good.
Game 29: Orioles 6, Royals 3
A nice, boring win against one of the handful of teams that might be as bad as our sim Orioles. John Means recorded a bare minimum quality start - three runs in six innings. He picked up a win since the offense scored all six of its runs while he was in the game. That included Nunez driving in three runs and Austin Hays putting another two on the scoreboard with a double. Each of these guys had three hits.
With the rest of the staff tired, Paul Fry and our fresh callup Lakins combined to keep the Royals off the scoreboard for the last three innings. For his trouble, Lakins got the first save of his simulated MLB career.
Game 30: Orioles 5, Royals 3
Any time these guys win consecutive games, that’s its own celebration. The win comes at a cost, because Harvey, whose injury proneness is rated by the game as “fragile,” was hurt after facing two batters. No diagnosis yet. The AI chose to sub in Wojciechowski, even though he was scheduled to start the next game and even though I set “Allow SP in Relief” to “No.” We’re going to need to adjust the roster again.
Back to this game, Cobb had a fine outing, giving up just two runs in 6.1 innings. Of course, it came against the Royals, who at 10-20 are now tied with our O’s. Iglesias gave the O’s the lead with a two-run double in the fifth, and the two runs Rio Ruiz added with a sixth inning home run proved crucial when Scott came in the ninth, faced six batters, and retired only two. Fortunately, Armstrong came in with the bases loaded and got the final out.
Record: 10-20, 8 games behind Rays
With a run differential of -69, the Orioles remain the worst team in MLB by that measure. They are, however, one win luckier than their expected Pythagorean W-L of 9-21.
Next: One game vs. Royals (10-20), three games at White Sox (24-7), three games at Blue Jays (18-13)
What should we do about the pitching staff?
I’ve been doing two complete series with each post but I’ve stopped the sim at this point so we can ponder “What would Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde do?” when faced with this situation.
Our choices for the next game are to have LeBlanc start on short rest, or use a fully-rested Travis Lakins as an emergency starter for as long as he can go. Our non-Harvey relievers are all slightly tired but usable, except for Scott, who is tired.
The only fully rested 40-man pitchers in Norfolk are Dean Kremer (6.20 ERA and 1.77 WHIP so far), David Hess (8.03 ERA, 2.03 WHIP), and Cole Sulser (hasn’t pitched since demotion). Other minor league performance available on request.
The two big questions are:
Who should we have start the next game?
Should we put Harvey on the injured list right now, and if so, who should we call up?
Special note on Pat Valaika
In real life, the Orioles claimed 27-year-old Pat Valaika on waivers from the Rockies on October 30. Valaika has a career .656 OPS in MLB but does well enough in AAA to stay on the radar, including cracking 22 home runs in 84 games for Triple-A Albuquerque last season. The O’s lost Valaika to the Diamondbacks on January 22 and claimed him back on January 30, eventually succeeding in passing him through waivers to Norfolk.
At Norfolk in our sim, Valaika is batting .268/.333/.676 with nine home runs in 71 at-bats. I think that might get Elias’s attention, especially since our bench infielders Ramon Urias and Jose Rondon are stinking it up in their opportunities, and starters Alberto and Ruiz aren’t doing great either. What do you think?