Three games don’t tell you much about a Major League Baseball team. Bad players can have good weekends. All-Stars might be in the midst of a slump. And just because the Orioles took two out of three from the Red Sox to open the season does not immediately make them a contender.
But there were still things about the 2020 Orioles that can be gleaned from the team’s successful, season-opening business trip to Boston. Plus, it’s always fun to stretch out the “Red Sox lose” content for as long as possible.
Alex Cobb, when healthy, is still a really good pitcher
There were a lot of positives to take away from the Orioles’ two wins over the weekend, but Cobb’s domination of the Red Sox lineup on Saturday stands out. The 32-year-old tossed 5.1 innings and gave up just one run on four hits, no walks and six strikeouts.It’s not as if Cobb has never pitched this well in an Orioles uniform before. Remember the second half of the 2018 season? Between July 13 and the end of the year, Cobb had a 2.59 ERA over his final 66 innings. There is a reason he has been able to survive in the AL East for his entire career.
Cobb’s performance immediately spurred speculation regarding whether or not he would still be an Oriole by the end of the season. The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli explained how that might be difficult to pull off in a season with no minor league season and restrictions on who can be traded. He has one season beyond 2020 remaining on his current contract, and while the odds of him making it to Opening Day 2021 with the Orioles may be remote, they feel more possible than the odds of him being dealt this summer.
The O’s might have something in Cole Sulser
You would be forgiven for saying “Who?” when Sulser trotted in from the Fenway bullpen in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game. After all, this was a crucial moment. The O’s were up two runs with a runner on base, no outs and the top of the Boston lineup looming. For that high-leverage situation O’s manager Brandon Hyde turned to a 30-year-old rookie?
But Sulser rewarded that confidence by inducing a 5-4-3 double play, working around a Jose Iglesias error and then striking out two in the ninth inning for his first career save.
While this exact scenario may not have been planned, Hyde said after the game that he “wanted to see [Sulser] pitch in big spots because I’ve been impressed with how he’s throwing... I like the 94 (mph) elevated heater, I like the split/slider mix, gets right-handers and left-handers out. So I was looking forward to watching him pitch in big spots.”
Don’t pencil Sulser into the closer’s role just yet, but be aware that his manager isn’t scared of throwing him into the fire.
Chris Davis may not be “back,” but he looks better at the plate
The batting line isn’t pretty. Through three games, Davis is 1-for-11 with a double, an RBI, a walk and a strikeout, plus one TOOTBLAN. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Prior to recording his first hit of the year on Sunday, Davis had put eight balls in play, including swings that had expected batting averages of .590, .370, .390 and .450. There is a little bit of bad luck causing Davis to come up empty on all four of those chances.
At the very least, Davis looked more engaged at the plate in the season’s opening series. It’s a far cry from where he was to begin the 2019 season, when he was striking out every other at bat and, when he did put the ball in play, completely unable to buy a hit.
The back of the Orioles bullpen has a chance to be good
Injuries wreaked havoc on Richard Bleier’s 2019 season, but he was better than his final 5.37 ERA would suggest. Similarly, Mychal Givens took a step back last season, walking nearly four batters per nine innings and posting the worst ERA and ERA+ of his career.
Both relievers appeared in Saturday’s win and looked good while doing so. Bleier tossed 1.2 scoreless innings, striking out two batters in the process, while Givens lasted 1.1 innings and also struck out two to finish off the victory. The success of both will be vital to an Orioles bullpen that is expected to make up for the shortcomings of the team’s rotation.
Add in contributions from Sulser, Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott, Shawn Armstrong, and Hunter Harvey whenever he is healthy, and this could be a solid unit.
Small sample sizes will reign supreme during the 2020 season. Sixty games isn’t enough to determine whether a player is good or not in the same way that it probably isn’t enough to figure out which team’s are the absolute best. An expanded playoff field may blur the lines even further. A solid few weeks from the O’s may be enough to make things interesting and frustrate the rest of the league. That would be a hoot!