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The Orioles Need Mountcastle To Get It Going

The oft-used phrase “sophomore slump” seems to apply to a lot of professional athletes these days, which makes sense: the opposition has had an entire offseason to adjust after a rookie season, so teams coming into matchups against a player who were blind before are now armed with enough info to tear apart your gameplan.

So when Ryan Mountcastle started off slow this season, I figured it was because teams were attacking him differently. He would need time to reformulate his approach to at-bats. Maybe a couple weeks.

But that hasn’t been the case so far. Mountcastle is slumping pretty hard — he’s slashing .167/.208/.264 through 20 games and has just one home run thus far. Mountcastle is about to enter May as one of the least productive hitters in baseball. Here’s Mountcastle’s Statcast profile (right) to make it clear.

What’s changed? Why is Mountcastle struggling so much this season? Let’s attack that problem from a couple different angles.

Pitchers Aren’t Attacking Mountcastle Much Differently

Mountcastle saw fastballs 52.7 percent of the time in 2020 and he mashed, hitting .356 and slugging .492 against those pitches. Mountcastle saw breaking balls 35.4 percent of the time in 2020 and still found success, hitting .327 and slugging .442.

In terms of pitches seen, Mountcastle is seeing slightly more breaking balls and slightly fewer fastballs than last season. His fastball percentage has dipped to 49.1 and his breaking ball percentage has climbed from 35.4 to 39.4.

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Orioles Pitching Has Thus Far Exceeded Expectations

Throughout my time as a baseball fan, which spans almost two decades, I’ve noticed that rebuilding teams usually struggle the most in the pitching department.

It’s a lot easier to develop hitters than it is to develop pitchers — hitters generally stay healthier and as hard as it is to hit a baseball, it’s a little harder to pitch effectively.

So before the season started, I expected the Baltimore Orioles to hit and score at a decent clip, but struggle in the run prevention department.

As usual, I was wrong.

Through Friday night, the Orioles are 8-11. Baltimore ranks 13th in team ERA at 4.10, which is a highly respectable number in the juiced ball era that we’re living in. That number gets better when you exclude the Orioles’ starters, as the Birds rank sixth in bullpen ERA in the major leagues.

While the offense has spent most of the season floundering — Baltimore ranks 25th in runs scored — the pitching staff has kept them in ballgames. It’s encouraging, to say the least.

I can’t shower the Orioles’ starting rotation in compliments, but they’ve generally kept their club within striking distance. Bruce Zimmermann is looking more and more like a back-end starter at the major league level, holding a 4.57 ERA through four starts. He’s allowed three or less earned runs in each of his four starts and has finished the fifth inning in three of those starts. Zimmermann’s stuff isn’t exciting, but he’s started taking advantage of his curveball more this season and he’s seeing results.

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It's A Great Plan, But Now The Real Work Starts...

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last three years is that a plan without execution is just a dream. Dreams are fleeting and fragile.

You have to do the hard work necessary to make it a reality.

There’s a lot of hard work on the horizon for Virginia Tech, who announced an ambitious capital campaign that includes $400 million in fundraising over an eight-year period for various investments in the athletic department. The Reach for Excellence campaign outlines significant boosts to the football staffing budget, a massive renovation to Cassell Coliseum and numerous investments into other sports.

The end goals look good. Tech is shooting for a $30 million “football enhancement fund” that will aim to make it easier for the Hokies to hire better coaches and more lower-level assistants, among other things. Virginia Tech is also planning various investments into their non-revenue sports, helping with facility upgrades and enhanced nutritional support for athletes.

Don’t forget the headliner of it all — a $50 million renovation project that will modernize and revamp Cassell Coliseum into one of the nicest and most unique venues in college athletics.

Now none of these plans are necessarily brand-new — Virginia Tech has been talking about increasing the football program’s budget for years and the Cassell renovations have been in the works for just as long. But this is the first time it’s all been laid out and shared with the fanbase in a detailed way.

That’s cause for excitement.

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Orioles Win 2 of 3, Option Kremer To Alternate Site

It's never a bad weekend for Orioles fans when they win two of three and end up being tied for third in the AL East, something they did against the Texas Rangers this weekend. 

But remember, the 2021 season matters far more in terms of the progress of the Baby Birds than whether or not the O’s win a lot of games. The former is important so that eventually, we can worry about the latter.

The first of the Baby Birds to be demoted is starter Dean Kremer, who came over in the Manny Machado trade in 2018. Kremer wasn’t necessarily the headliner, but he’s one of the first from the trade to make it to the majors.

O’s fans watched in 2020 with glee as Kremer allowed just three runs in his first three starts. Kremer worked at least five innings in all of those three starts and never allowed more than four hits. So when Kremer ran into a buzzsaw in his final start of the season, there wasn’t a ton of reason to panic. Rookies hit bumps in the road.

Unfortunately, Kremer’s 2021 season has been pretty rocky.

Kremer didn’t pitch past the third inning in his first two starts of the season, allowing seven runs over those two outings. Kremer pitched just 4.2 innings in his Saturday start vs. Texas, though he only allowed one earned run.

So when the Orioles optioned Kremer down to the club’s alternate site at Bowie, it was a logical conclusion for a team in need of bullpen arms. Baltimore has two off-days coming up — one on Monday (today) and another on Wednesday. Kremer must be down for at least 10 days, meaning he can re-join the major league club on the 28th, right in the middle of a four-game stint vs. the Yankees.

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What Happened 14 Years Ago Is Ingrained In All Of Us

I had a bad day yesterday.

I won’t get into the details — we all have our own issues that we deal with on a regular basis. Sometimes we handle it well. Sometimes we don’t. At 26 years old, I’ve been through my fair share of good times and bad, and yesterday wasn't a good one. So as I sat there on Thursday night, I threw back a strong cocktail and tried to make sense of it all.

Then I looked at the date — April 15.

April 16 holds a special place in my heart, as it does for anyone and everyone associated with Virginia Tech. I was just 13 years old when 32 Hokies were taken from us on that tragic day, but I knew well what was happening. As a kid who’d been raised a tried-and-true Hokie, it was pretty devastating.

I've spent 14 years now grieving for those 32 families as well as the others on campus who escaped unscathed.

But to be real, they were unscathed in name only. They will carry what happened on April 16, 2007 for the rest of their lives and will never be able to truly escape.

For 14 years now, the Virginia Tech community, and to an extent the Commonwealth and the country, have spent this day in mourning. The three years I was a student at Tech, I spent the few minutes before midnight on April 16 and the next hour or so afterwards standing outside huddled around the memorial in front of Burruss Hall with my Hokie brothers and sisters, all of us mourning the loss of those 32. Through the rain, the stinging wind that whips across the Drillfield on an April night in Blacksburg, we stood silently as each of the 32 names were read aloud. We walked through the memorial, spending time at each stone, trying to make sense of what had happened.

What happened on April 16 is now ingrained in who I am. It’s probably ingrained in who you are, too. It’s become a part of who we are. Even if you weren’t there on April 16, you feel like you were.

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It's Time For Orioles To Start Ramon Urias

I will not overreact. I will not overreact. I will not overreact.

Forget it. It's time to start Ramon Urias. 

There was plenty to like in Baltimore's doubleheader-split on Tuesday. The O's fell down early in both games and came back to make both competitive. They found a way to win the nightcap, ensuring they weren't swept by the AL West basement-dwelling Mariners.

Several players helped in each comeback, but perhaps none more than Urias.

The utility infielder started at second base in Game 1 and slugged a two-run homer in the fifth inning, closing the O's deficit to just one. Urias started at second in Game 2 as well, saving his lone hit until the bottom half of the seventh to walk it off, as you can see in the embedded video.

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Orioles Fans Are Pretty Agitated Right Now

Last night's postponement did Orioles fans no favors after last weekend's sweep by the Red Sox.

It was one frustrating series after another, as the O's have dropped five of six to those two teams up north. Yes, Orioles fans are pretty agitated right now.

Neither the offense nor the pitching staff is solely responsible for Baltimore's slide. But just looking at the hitters, it's hard to see this kind of futility continuing.

First things first: offenses across the league are struggling. In 2019, which was the MLB's last full 162-game season, the Cleveland Indians finished 15th in OPS at .756. This year, the Arizona Diamondbacks are 15th in OPS at just .693. The bottom 10 teams in OPS this season have an average OPS of .6345, while the same teams in 2019 had an average OPS of .7136. 

That's a pretty wide gap, a gap that isn't sustainable.

Yes, I'll grant you that the Orioles' lineup isn't exactly filled with stud sluggers who have track records of bonafide production. But they do have a track record of more production than what we're seeing.

We'll start with Trey Mancini, who already seems to be heating up. He's had an abysmal start to the season, slashing .189/.244/.405 for an OPS of .649. That said, Mancini went yard twice against the Red Sox in their last series. Mancini's career OPS is .816, a number I'd expect him to reach by season's end.

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These Are The Weekends It's Tough To Be Orioles Fans

Momma said there would be days like this.

A week after engineering a series sweep of the Boston Red Sox to kick off the 2021 season, the Orioles ended their weekend on the exact opposite end of the spectrum with three losses to that same team in Boston.

This weekend's series showcased all of the Orioles' issues. Anything known to be an issue coming into the season was packaged into the three games against the Red Sox.

It started with shaky pitching and ended with shaky pitching. The bookend starters of the series — Matt Harvey and Jorge Lopez — both struggled in their respective outings, allowing a combined 13 runs in nine innings. Lopez' outing was particularly poor, allowing seven earned runs over four innings.

The struggles extended to the bullpen, too. The O's relievers allowed three runs on Thursday in the opener, another two runs and a blown save on Saturday and a whopping six runs on Sunday. Even Rule 5 draft pick Mac Sceroler, who shined in the opening series against Boston, was charged with three runs in just one inning in his Sunday appearance.

Oh, and the offense was inconsistent. The O's scored just seven runs in the first two games of the series and scored nine in the finale.

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Orioles Magic: They Win One They Probably Shouldn't Have

I remember hearing a baseball analyst say this as a kid, and it continues to stick with me to this day: "You're guaranteed to lose 60 games and you're guaranteed to win 60 games. It's those 42 games in between that you have to win in order to separate yourself from the pack."

On Wednesday night, the Orioles won one of those games in between.

The Yankees not only out-hit the Orioles by nine, but also didn't blow two saves. The Orioles still got it done 4-3 in 11 innings.

Baltimore should have lost this game. Consider, for example:

  • Teams shouldn't win when they register only four hits. Granted, two of those hits were homers, but a team's winning percentage can't be high when they register just four hits.
  • Left fielder Ryan Mountcastle misplayed a ball in the eighth inning that could've been caught. Instead, Gio Urshela drove in the tying run.
  • Two different relievers relinquished the O's lead in the later innings. Shawn Armstrong allowed two hits in the eighth inning before getting the heave-ho, and Cesar Valdez blew his first save in the 10th inning. 

Despite this, the Orioles won. They took advantage of Gleyber Torres' critical throwing error in the top of the 10th to take the lead, and cashed in both scoring opportunities they were given in extra innings, thanks to Major League Baseball's decision to automatically place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings.

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The Orioles' Winning Streak Comes To An End...

The aura of a series sweep usually only lasts as long as the team keeps winning. The aura the Orioles had created with their 3-0 sweep over the Red Sox ended Monday, thanks to a 7-0 loss to the Yankees. 

After a strong performance from the pitching staff in Boston, the O's found themselves in a lot of trouble on Monday night. Jorge Lopez didn't make it out of the fifth inning and was charged with four runs. Shawn Armstrong and Paul Fry combined to retire two batters, all the while giving up three hits, two walks and three runs. 

The loss isn't solely on the pitchers, since you can't win if you don't score. Cedric Mullins and Pedro Severino stayed hot, but the O's got nothing out of their 2-3-4 hitters. 

Thankfully, it's just one game. But it's a reminder that as fun as the series sweep over Boston was, there's going to be a lot of losing coming the Orioles' way this summer.

As I wrote before the season, the Orioles need to be judged on how their young talent develops over the course of the season, not necessarily of how many games they win.

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Time To Break Up The Orioles After Starting Season 3-0 :)

Ain't the beer cold?

Look, anytime you sweep the Red Sox in Fenway, there's cause for celebration. I'm well aware that the season is 1.8 percent of the way finished and that there's a long way to go, but let me enjoy this.

Through three games, the Orioles are good. Damn good, actually. 

O's fans saw it all in the team's opening series — solid starting pitching, a reliable bullpen and a lineup full of young sluggers. Baltimore used a combination of all three to bludgeon the Red Sox this past weekend.

The Means Justify The Ends

John Means earned his 2019 All-Star appearance and even threw his hat in the ring for Rookie of the Year. The following season was as rocky as it gets, thanks to COVID-19 and injuries.

But if Means' Opening Day start is any inclination of what Orioles fans are going to see in 2021, Means just might be returning to the Midsummer Classic.

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