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Takeaways from a difficult opening weekend for the Orioles

Getting swept to begin the season was less than ideal, but it wasn’t all bad down in Tampa.

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Losing to the Tampa Bay Rays has become the speciality of Brandon Hyde’s Baltimore Orioles. Despite playing one another 19 times in the 2021, the O’s emerged victorious just once. That level of futility is impressive in some ways. You would imagine even the worst team could fall into another couple of wins against a familiar opponent, but these Orioles are special.

Those struggles extended into the opening weekend of the 2022 season as the O’s lost all three games down in Tampa. That leaves them as the lone winless club in baseball and losers of 15 in a row to the Rays.

At least the Rays are a good team. That blunts the shame of losing to them so often, at least slightly. After all, they won 100 games last season and represented the American League in the World Series the year before that. But those facts don’t do much to lessen the blow of what was a disappointing weekend for Birdland faithful.

Small sample sizes be damned, let’s relive the three-game sweep and examine a few first impressions of this year’s Orioles squad:

The bullpen is full of intriguing arms

Let’s start with a positive. Following the trade of Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott there was some understandable concern that the rare leads that this Orioles team may achieve were going to be in serious jeopardy. Let’s be honest, that was probably going to be the case with Sulser and Scott in tow anyway, but their loss certainly didn’t help the problem.

This weekend provided a glimpse as to why Mike Elias felt their departure was something the roster could absorb. Keegan Akin was a standout with his three scoreless innings on Saturday, Cionel Pérez was impressive with his velocity from the left side, and Félix Bautista looked fantastic in his 1.1-inning appearance on Sunday. There is going to volatility, but the bullpen at least appears to have some notable upside.

Jordan Lyles is as advertised

You are not about to read about why allowing five runs across five innings is “good.” It is not, and the Orioles will be hoping for better from Lyles most times out. But the fact that he gave them five innings at all is the point of Lyles being on this team in the first place.

This bullpen is going to be taxed most days. Lyles going five innings saves at least one relief arm for a future implosion. That’s considerate of him, and it’s something that Elias and crew clearly felt was worth $7 million.

D.J. Stewart is no longer a priority

It was perhaps a minor surprise to see Stewart make the Opening Day squad after battling injuries for much of spring training. He is clearly behind Austin Hays and Anthony Santander in the corner outfield pecking order, and Trey Mancini is the better DH option. It seems the Orioles were hoping to use him as a super pinch hit option off the bench, a role in which he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts prior to being demoted in Triple-A Norfolk.

This could be a move made to bring more arms with the club to Baltimore. Sunday turned into an unexpected bullpen game after Dean Kremer felt discomfort during his preparation to come in as relief for Tyler Wells. Regardless, it does not bode well for Stewart’s future with the team. Things only get harder for him from this point, especially if the other outfield options in Norfolk maintain their hot starts to the season. Rosters will eventually shrink, and it’s tough to see what Stewart brings to the table that others don’t, while his faults are well documented at this point.

That was an awful lot of strikeouts

The Orioles struck out 37 times as a team this weekend. That is the third most in all of baseball, but it is, by far, the most by any team that only played three games. Now, they did so against the Rays, who did finish in the top 10 in MLB in pitching strikeouts in 2021. But still, that is a problem.

Cedric Mullins had a particularly tough time making contract. The O’s leadoff hitter went down on strikes seven times. That is concerning on its own, especially following a difficult spring for the center fielder. But Mullins has shown an ability to adjust in his career, so we won’t panic yet.

Ryan Mountcastle is locked in

Predicting a bounce-back season from Mountcastle had become sort of a trendy pick amongst Orioles fans in the run up to the season. It’s not that he struggled in 2021 (112 OPS+, 33 home runs), but he was not as good as he had been during his brief 2020 (137 OPS+) cameo, and his defensive troubles in left field early on just made it worse.

As far as we can tell, Mountcastle won’t be playing left field this year. He appears to be plenty competent over at first base, and perhaps his bat is benefiting from the certainty. The former first-round pick has recorded five hits already, including his first home run. Better yet, he has struck out just once. Major league first basemen have a high offensive bar to clear, but Mountcastle could be on his way to doing just that.

It will be interesting to look back at these first impressions sometime after the All-Star break. By that point we should be enjoying a team than includes Adley Rutschman and Kyle Bradish, and maybe even DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez. Oh what a world that will be.