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What to watch for from the Orioles in the season’s final two months

With the trade deadline now a thing of the past, there are still a few storylines worth monitoring as the O’s enter the homestretch.

Washington Nationals v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The trade deadline came and went. And the Orioles’ house, for all the talk of a storm that could be heading their way, was left pretty much intact.

Trey Mancini is still here. Not too surprising, given his popularity. But so is John Means. And Tanner Scott. And Paul Fry. Now we’re starting to climb that “surprise” meter.

With deadline day pretty much uneventful (though not entirely. So long, Freddy Galvis), there are roughly two months to go before the offseason begins and the construction on the 2022 team seriously begins. And even for a non-contending team that isn’t involved in a playoff chase, these two months can be intriguing.

Rosters will expand, and some prospects could get their taste of the big leagues. Players are auditioning either for a place in the continued rebuild, or for an offseason suitor via trade (think along the lines of Jonathan Villar, Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb, who were dealt not during the season but afterward).

Here are a few things to keep an eye on as the season enters its post-deadline phase:

Can Matt Harvey keep this up, and pitch himself back into the 2022 discussion?

The Matt Harvey experiment was among the biggest failures of the season, with the former Cy Young candidate with the Mets seeing his ERA climb to 7.70 in a July 7 loss to the Blue Jays.

But suddenly, Harvey has re-emerged. He’s allowed no runs over his last three starts, a span of 18.1 innings, while allowing 10 hits and striking out 11. It’s been impressive, even if the teams against which he’s done it — the Royals, Nationals and Tigers — aren’t.

Before Harvey’s run, any talk of a return next season was foolish. If Harvey can keep this up, thereby showing he’s fixed something in his approach, an Orioles team that will still be strapped for pitching depth may be tempted to give him another shot next season, even if it’s on the same no-risk minor league deal he’s on now.

How does Trey Mancini finish the year?

The Mancini trade talk is done for now, but only for now. As we’ve seen, trades can just as easily go down in the offseason as at the deadline.

Just how Mancini finishes the season over these next two months could determine his offseason value. The significance of these coming weeks, however, goes beyond trade return.

This is Mancini’s first season in two years, and while many players see their stats dip in the late summer months as fatigue sets in, it would seem to be an even bigger challenge for someone in Mancini’s position who hasn’t played through an August or September since 2019.

Fortunately, Mancini has shown an ability to save his best for last. In 2018, his .291 average, seven home runs and 20 RBI in August beat his output in any of the other months. And in 2019, his .365 average and 23 RBI in September were his best for any month.

He tends to finish strong, but this is no ordinary season. It’ll be interesting to see if the trend holds, or if the physical toll catches up.

Where is the arrow pointing on Ryan Mountcastle at season’s end?

It’s been an up-and-down season for Mountcastle, who after an impressive rookie season has faced the typical sophomore challenges of a league that has been able to prepare for him.

Overall, the stats (.259-18-59, .770 OPS) are all right, but it depends on how you look at the numbers. Take away most of his miserable April and chalk it up to being an adjustment period, and he’s batting .282 with an .822 OPS since April 26. During that span he was named AL Player of the Week in early June, and he’s largely assuaged concerns that the first key piece of the rebuild to make it to Baltimore was in over his head.

Still, Mountcastle isn’t finished proving himself. He’s batting .247 with only four home runs since the start of July, and finds himself at another checkpoint in his development. A strong finishing kick in the last two months — with eight hits in his last 13 at-bats, he’s off to a good start — would do wonders for his confidence as he prepares for another season in the middle of the Oriole lineup, whereas a closing slump could bring the questions from April back to the forefront.

Does John Means find his Cy Young form?

Means was one of the best pitchers in the American League at the start of the season, sporting a 2.28 ERA and 0.83 WHIP when he was hurt in a June 5 outing against Cleveland.

Since he returned on July 20, the arrow hasn’t been pointing up. Means, who had pitched to a 5.21 ERA over his last four appearances before the injury, has struggled to get back to where he was in April and May. He has a 5.09 ERA over three outings, though his last start, which saw him pitch six innings of one-run ball against Detroit, was encouraging.

Still, the question of what kind of pitcher Means will be going forward is entirely unanswered. To expect a return to that excellent level he was at earlier is likely asking too much, but it’s not off the table. Neither, however, is the possibility that Means had the answers coming out of camp, lost them in his time away from the field, and will have a hard time getting them back.

The Orioles need to find out what exactly they have in Means, whether he’s the All-Star-caliber pitcher from earlier this season, the solid pitcher who was second in the Rookie of the Year voting two years ago, the so-so pitcher he was last season, or anything in between. The next two months will show us, and will give Baltimore an idea for how to proceed with him this offseason.

Will any prospects will get the call up in September?

September call-ups have changed from what they used to be. Before 2020, teams saw their active rosters go from 25 players to 40, and there were plenty of spots available for prospects to spend the last month of the season with the big club. Now, the number goes from 26 to 28, and teams likely have some depth players that can grab those spots.

Still, if the Orioles decide not to use the spots on role players like Kelvin Gutierrez or Domingo Leyba, but rather on an up-and-coming prospect, it will be interesting to see who they pick. Jahmai Jones is the easy guess because of his time playing second base — a position of need — in Norfolk, and the fact that he has seemingly been poised for a promotion for some time now, but other players could get a look.

Yusniel Diaz, for instance, was thought to be on the brink of a big league debut at the start of the season, and despite his current turf toe injury and measly .167 average at Triple-A Norfolk, the team could decide to find out just what they have in the 24-year-old and former high-ranking prospect. And then there are pitching prospects, like Mike Baumann (ranked seventh in the organization) and Zac Lowther (ninth), who could get the call.

And, of course, there’s Adley Rutschman, but given the team’s reluctance to promote him too quickly, that’s likely a pipe dream. Still, one can hope.