There’s always something about an Opening Day lineup that just feels like it is saying, “This is it. This is the team you are going to see this year.”
For the Orioles in recent years, this has not actually been the case. Lineups change frequently. The team used 147 different batting orders in 162 games last year, never repeating any one specific lineup more than three times. If that continues this year, we’ll not see this exact lineup frequently at all.
Turnover at a variety of positions can be anticipated. Adley Rutschman is the obvious one. We’re all waiting for him to be healthy and then for the team to have him debut. A number of other position players in the high minors could find their way into MLB roles by season’s end if things go well for them. That’s a group that includes, but is not limited to, Joey Ortiz, Kyle Stowers, and Jordan Westburg.
Some players will get hurt as the year goes along. Others will not perform and will end up being sent to the great DFA in the sky. Good teams tend to find a bit more stability; last year’s American League champion Astros used “only” 133 different batting orders, repeating two different exact lineups on ten occasions. Maybe next year for the O’s.
With all that said, here’s the first Orioles starting nine of the season:
- Cedric Mullins - CF
- Ryan Mountcastle - 1B
- Trey Mancini - DH
- Austin Hays - RF
- Anthony Santander - LF
- Ramón Urías - 2B
- Jorge Mateo - SS
- Robinson Chirinos - C
- Kelvin Gutiérrez - 3B
The nine names in this lineup could have probably been predicted from the moment the Orioles signed Chirinos to be the pre-Adley starting catcher. The biggest question was whether Rougned Odor might crack the lineup in some form. Perhaps his fate for Opening Day was sealed when the Rays set up left-hander Shane McClanahan as their #1 starter.
Mullins was an easy choice for leadoff hitter after posting a .361 OBP over last season. Of course, he was the leadoff hitter last season even before demonstrating that on-base capability just by virtue of being a fast guy.
The #2 spot in the lineup is the sabermetric place of privilege, with the reasoning being that you want your best hitter following your best OBP guy because that guarantees the most potential plate appearances in a game for the best hitter. I’m a little surprised they’ve gone with Mountcastle here, but then again, he did have the next-best OPS after Mullins last season. The more he bats, the more chances for him to hit a homer.
If Urías continues hitting in 2022 like he did in 2021 (.279/.361/.412 over 296 PA) then I think we could see him move up from where he is now. I guess we’ll find out! The best version of this group of players probably has Urías hitting like a #3 hitter and Mancini hitting like a cleanup hitter, with Hays and Santander filling out the middle before a probably poor bottom third.
Again, the thing to keep in mind is that if the pattern holds, this lineup will be changing, a lot, for all kinds of reasons. It might change based on home or road - I doubt Santander will be called on to play left field in Camden Yards, for instance. There could be some tweaks whether there’s a left-handed or right-handed starting pitcher for the other team. Tomorrow, we might see Odor in against Drew Rasmussen, with Urías shifted over to third. There will be little day-to-day injuries and there will be guys who get banished to the bench or off the roster because of how they perform.
As you already know, the starting pitcher for the Orioles is John Means. It remains cool to have an Opening Day starting pitcher who threw a no-hitter last year. Means is not in danger of winning any Cy Youngs, but if he keeps pitching this season like he has done in his career to date, he’s certainly not going to be one of the problems that the Orioles need to address.
Let’s hope that the game 162 Orioles lineup ends up being more fun than the game 1 lineup. It will be interesting to see how things evolve as the year goes along. For today, these are the guys. Maybe they’ll surprise us and equal their 2021 win total against the Rays after one game!