After several weeks of playing catch-up, our simulation of the 2020 Orioles season has caught up to real time. Does it look anything like the Orioles might have looked if there had been baseball for the past two months? Sure, maybe, although reality probably wouldn’t have ended Chris Davis’s season with a broken kneecap. This will spare us the decision of whether to cut him for bad performance, although with his having a .724 OPS at the time of his injury, it could have been worse from him.
Considering I’ve been trying to approach this simulation with a “What would Mike Elias do to make this team as rebuild-y as possible?” mindset rather than “What would give this team the best record?” I’d say the current record of 20-29 isn’t bad. There are five teams with a worse winning percentage.
If the real life Orioles had played like this, would being an Orioles fan be any more fun right now? Probably not, if we’re being honest here. The only player who we could hope would be a part of a future good Orioles team who is playing well is Austin Hays (.809 OPS). The only prospect impressing at Norfolk is Zac Lowther (2.67 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 11.9 K/9 in 30.1 IP) - though we’ve got Keegan Akin in the MLB rotation and his first two starts were fine enough.
And we’re mostly stuck with the struggling players we’ve got. As far as this game seems to be concerned, the 2020 Orioles finances are at the level of the Athletics in the Moneyball movie, where they have to trade that guy for the money to fund the soda machine in the clubhouse so that players don’t have to keep paying for their own cans of soda. I’ve tried a couple of little cash considerations trades for other teams’ AAA starter depth and virtual Peter Angelos rejected me. Maybe he’s mad that I set up the game so he can’t fire us.
Perhaps when trade season rolls around, we’ll have some opportunities to get a little breathing room. As in real life, it’s unfortunate to be saddled with Davis ($23 million) and with how he’s pitched/not pitched so far, Alex Cobb ($14 million). Nothing much we can do about that except keep our eyes on the waiver wire. Currently on waivers are veterans Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, neither of whom is stretched out as a starting pitcher.
I’ll continue to do these posts twice per week, just from here on out, each will cover fewer games and say a little more about each game.
This week’s games
Game 44: Rays 5, Orioles 2
The Rays lead the division in this sim so far and just like in real life they’re better than the Orioles. Despite getting the good fortune of having Blake Snell’s scheduled start pushed back a day, the Orioles scored just two runs against Tampa in this bullpen game. Included in the parade were former O’s Oliver Drake and Chaz Roe, as well as former O’s draft pick Colin Poche.
For the O’s, Tommy Milone was OK, sort of, giving up four runs in six innings. Some days that’s good enough to win, but not when your own team only scored by hitting two solo home runs. Chance Sisco hit his second of the season and Austin Hays added his eighth. Jose Iglesias had a three-hit game and no one managed to drive him home.
Injury update: Simulated DJ Stewart continues real life Stewart’s hard luck with injuries. He tore a ligament in his thumb on a collision while running the bases. He’ll miss at least two weeks.
We had only just demoted the underperforming Ramon Urias to bring up utility man Andrew Velazquez. Stewart was DHing - if Ryan Mountcastle was doing better than .259/.299/.410 in Norfolk this would be his time. I’m calling up Richie Martin (.253/.333/.374 in AAA) to see if he’s improved any from 2019.
Game 45: Rays 5, Orioles 1
So... about facing Snell. It didn’t go well. The Orioles had just five hits in the game as Snell very nearly went the distance, striking out nine batters while scattering five hits over 8.2 innings. The only damage was when Dwight Smith Jr. hit a solo shot, his seventh homer of the simulated 2020 season.
The Rays never trailed the Orioles in this one, doing most of their damage in a three-run fifth inning against John Means. The O’s lefty allowed four runs in six innings. Sim Means now has a 4.82 ERA - a bit of a disappointing follow-up to last year, though he’s not in total failure territory either. His K/9 slipping from 7.0 to 6.0 probably has not helped him.
Other MLB news: If you had the idea that the Orioles might bid for pending free agent George Springer, too bad: He just signed a $185 million contract extension with the Astros. I don’t expect that to happen in real life.
Game 46: Rays 6, Orioles 3
How quickly the fun of the last article’s 5-1 stretch evaporates. The O’s and Rays each had 11 hits in this affair, but the O’s only hit singles while the Rays kept cashing in on chances with a runner in scoring position. Alex Cobb’s disappointing 2020 continued with six runs (five earned) allowed in 5.2 innings, including all 11 of the Rays hits.
How do you give up 11 hits in 5.2 innings? Very carefully. To give it that real, authentic Orioles loss feel, four of the six Rays runs were driven in by their #8 and #9 hitters, Mike Zunino and Daniel Robinson.
The O’s offense wasn’t helped by the fact that Hanser Alberto was thrown out stealing twice after getting on base with a single. I’ve adjusted the game strategy so that he will not be attempting to steal a base quite so often. Pedro Severino and Pat Valaika also had two hits in the game for the O’s - Hays was the only starter without a base hit.
Game 47: Twins 6, Orioles 3
That’s four losses in a row for our O’s, who these Twins are probably looking forward to facing to creep back towards .500 (now 23-25). You may not be surprised to learn that all of the damage done against the O’s was via the home run.
Starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc gave up five runs in 4.1 innings and every run scored on one of the four home runs Twins batters hit against him - including former Oriole Nelson Cruz connecting for his 16th and 17th homers of the season. Remember when the Orioles wouldn’t give him that fourth year after 2014? Yeah. LeBlanc has now allowed 20 home runs in 43.2 innings. Maybe the sim thinks he’s Dan Straily.
Hays (#9) and Rio Ruiz (#5) each homered in the loss for the O’s. Ruiz also tripled. Anthony Santander had a multi-hit game as well.
Game 48: Orioles 5, Twins 4
The losing streak was snapped before it could drag on any farther thanks to Ruiz hitting a tie-breaking ninth inning home run. He had three hits and drove in three of the five Orioles runs. After slumping to begin the season, Ruiz is up to a .263/.321/.421 batting line.
This was the second start for our simulated Keegan Akin. He kept the Twins off the board for five innings before running into trouble in the sixth, loading the bases with no one out twice. Our sim version of Brandon Hyde thought this was time to go aggressive with the high leverage spot for Mychal Givens, who ended up allowing two of the inherited runners to score and later a then-tying run. Tanner Scott vultured a win with two scoreless innings.
Game 49: Orioles 10, Twins 4
So much for the Twins getting back to .500 against the O’s. The O’s batters rained down a storm of 15 hits against Minnesota, with Austin Hays really blowing open what was then a 4-2 game with his sixth inning grand slam. That brings Hays to ten dingers for the season.
It proved to be a good game for the reserves, as Velazquez, Pat Valaika, and Smith all had three hits, with Velazquez driving in three runs on his own. This was more than enough for an adequate start by Milone (5.1 innings, three runs) to lead to Milone getting the win.
Record: 20-29, 10 games behind Rays
The Orioles have the second-worst run differential in MLB at -63 runs, though they’re still one win better than their expected Pythagorean W-L (19-30).
Next: Four games vs. Blue Jays (22-28 including nine straight losses)
Statistics through 49 games
Conflicted feelings about Ryan Mountcastle
I’d like for Mountcastle to be on the Orioles by now. If the 2020 season had happened as scheduled, I’d be disappointed if he hadn’t been called up by now. Would Elias try to force him into the picture even if his early Norfolk results weren’t great? He did call up Hays last September after what I thought were underwhelming numbers, and that was OK.
The starting rotation
As long as I can’t even try to trade for some other team’s AAA starter for $25,000 or $50,000, we’re stuck with what we’ve got. There is Kohl Stewart at Norfolk, whose first four Orioles starts in the sim were terrible, but who seems to have rebounded in Triple-A. Should we give him another chance? I might rather see him try again than see more of LeBlanc.
Hunter Harvey has pitched a couple of games in the minors after his latest injured list trip. I think it’s probably time to bring him back. Should we demote or release one of Dan Duquette’s struggling leftovers like Miguel Castro and Tanner Scott, or just send one of the fringe Elias pickups like Cole Sulser back down to Norfolk?
Asher Wojciechowski has another week or so to go before he’s healed. I’ll give him at least one rehab start since he’ll have been off for two weeks by the time he next pitches.
Evan Phillips, who started the season on the injured list with forearm soreness, is on a rehab assignment with about 10 days left at most. Since he didn’t get to participate in spring training, I’m leaving him on that assignment for as long as possible.
Trey Mancini is also nearing the end of a rehab assignment in the sim. When I began the game, his injury was just listed as “surgery” and he was only out for 3-4 weeks. I had to manually place him on the 60-day injured list since in real life it seemed clear he wouldn’t play before June, if not longer. I plan to demote him to the minors when the rehab ends, not because I think Mancini would end up there in real life but because he probably won’t be playing in Baltimore any time soon.