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Five teams who will challenge the Orioles for the worst record in baseball this year

Five teams who will challenge the Orioles for the worst record in baseball this year

The Orioles have been deep in the tunnel of their rebuild for a few years now. The light at the end? Draft picks.

The reward for any team that loses as much as the Orioles have is the chance at a top choice in the following year’s draft. Typically, when a team loses at least 100 games as the O’s have, they are all but guaranteed to pick first, maybe second.

In the era of all-or-nothing teambuilding strategies, however, that hasn’t been the case. Last season saw a whopping four teams lose at least 103 games. The Orioles themselves lost 108 - a ridiculously high total - and they weren’t even within six games of the worst record in baseball.

The early prize in the 2021 MLB Draft is Kumar Rocker, the stud ace at the top of the Vanderbilt rotation who tossed a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the college playoffs as a freshman last season. He looks like a generational pitching talent, and to the 2020 “victor” will go the spoils. 

Baltimore is set for another losing season in 2020, but will it be enough for the worst record in baseball? Or will another team finish with more losses to keep the Orioles from making a second top overall selection in three years?

Here are the other teams competing with the Orioles in the race to the bottom of the standings, ranked from least likely to pick first in the 2021 draft to most likely.

5. Seattle Mariners 

Series vs. Orioles: July 6-8, July 20-22

The Mariners have some intriguing pieces in their lineup, including former top prospect J.P. Crawford and talented outfielders in Mitch Haniger and Kyle Lewis. Unfortunately for them, their pitching staff is a who’s who of people who make fans ask, “Who?”

Seattle lost 94 games last season and don’t appear to have improved at all. More importantly, they play in a very strong division, with Houston, Los Angeles and Oakland all clearly superior, and Texas likely better as well.

They will likely lose 90-plus games again in 2020. The question is if it will be enough to keep them within shouting distance of the Orioles. 

4. Pittsburgh Pirates 

Series vs. Orioles: April 10-12

For a boring franchise, the Pirates do have a number of interesting players. Chris Archer has long looked far better than his ERA would indicate, and it wouldn’t register as a surprise to see him take a step forward in the National League.

Josh Bell looked like an MVP in the first half of 2019, though he regressed in a major way later in the year. The team also traded Starling Marte, months after trading Gerrit Cole, which isn’t the sign of a team interested in competing anytime soon.

The O’s will get an early look at Pittsburgh as the two face off in the fifth series of the year.

3. Kansas City Royals 

Series vs. Orioles: April 17-19, April 27-30

Kansas City has been neck-and-neck with the Orioles in recent years, selecting second in the 2019 draft behind the O’s, and fourth in 2020. They find themselves on a similar timeline to Baltimore, though one could argue their Major League roster is a bit further along.

Like the Orioles, the hitters are interesting. Adalberto Mondesi is extremely toolsy, and Whit Merrifield is a flat out star. This prediction is based on the probability that Merrifield is eventually traded, despite the protestations of the Royals’ front office. Losing him would certainly boost their chances at the number one pick.

Like the Pirates, the Royals get their series with the Orioles out of the way early, playing six games in April and none the rest of the season.

2. Miami Marlins

Series vs. Orioles: None

The Marlins won’t face the Orioles this season, which is a shame for fans of tanking everywhere.

A mirror image of most tanking teams, the Marlins have a surprising number of exciting young pitchers. Caleb Smith was terrific at times in 2019, and plenty of others flashed as well.

There’s not as much in the lineup, though Jonathan Villar should fit in nicely with an athletic team looking to run, run, run. 

The Marlins have long been near baseball’s cellar-dwellers, and their lack of talent and stacked divisional schedule should keep them there in 2020.

1. Detroit Tigers

Series vs. Orioles: June 26-28, August 11-13

Along with the O’s themselves, the Tigers are runaway leaders in the clubhouse for the 2021 draft. The Mariners, Pirates, Royals and Marlins will all struggle to win games, but the Tigers were in a tier of their own last season.

They did make a few interesting offseason moves, including adding former Oriole Jonathan Schoop. Even if Schoop and new pitchers Zack Godley and Ivan Nova make a positive impact, it’s reasonable to expect Detroit to jettison and veterans at the Trade Deadline.
 
It’s a frontloaded schedule for the Orioles in terms of matchups with their fellow cellar-dwellers, as their August series against Detroit is the only one scheduled for after the aforementioned Trade Deadline on July 31.

2020 will provide an interesting race for the number one pick in 2021, but for all the contenders involved, it would be a surprise to see anyone besides the Tigers and Orioles finish in last. In their own weird way, the two series between Detroit and Baltimore this season will be among the most interesting of the season.

May the best team Trust The Process.

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The quietest Opening Day in Camden Yards’ history

The quietest Opening Day in Camden Yards’ history

BALTIMORE — At first glance, the corner of West Camden and Eutaw Street in Baltimore offered no signs anything was amiss. 

The wind breezed lightly through the city on a late-March afternoon, where the temperature neared 60 degrees and partly cloudy skies allowed the sun to shine bright on an early spring day. 

The trees that bloomed all around Oriole Park at Camden Yards at every street corner meant warmer weather was here and baseball season had arrived.

On Thursday, though, there was no baseball. There won’t be baseball Friday either, and there won’t be baseball for, at the very least, a few more weeks — and perhaps longer. 

Two weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced the postponement of the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic. There still isn’t a known start date for the 2020 regular season. Instead of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole making his AL East debut against John Means — the likely starter for the Orioles — baseball stood still.

“It’s going to be weird knowing that we’re not playing,” manager Brandon Hyde said last Thursday on a conference call. “But there are a lot bigger things than Opening Day right now and a lot bigger things going on in the world.”

The coronavirus pandemic has led to businesses operating in a limited capacity, if at all, as every aspect of life around Baltimore and the U.S. has changed drastically in the last two weeks. As Thursday proved, not even the Orioles are insusceptible. 

Opening Day almost assuredly wasn’t going to be the start of a miraculous run toward relevance for the Orioles. But it was the first chance for fans to see the new look Orioles squad, now in the second year of a rebuild, try and get halfway to the total wins they had over the Yankees last season — two. 

And with the game postponed, perhaps the most human part of Opening Day was canceled, too.

Pickles Pub wasn’t filled to the brim with Orioles fans clad in orange and black, paying no mind to the time or the drinks in their hands. Street vendors weren’t selling hot dogs to parents and kids who decided playing hooky for the day would be a better use of their time. 

John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” didn’t blare through the speakers in the late afternoon for the seventh-inning stretch, either. 

Instead, one of baseball’s most beautiful parks was quiet on the most celebrated day of the season.

Neighborhood streets and parking lots around Camden Yards were filled with cars, but only because everyone sat at home with no baseball game to attend to. 

The earliest, and 66th, Opening Day in Baltimore Orioles history didn’t happen. The Orioles are now ontrack, should the season resume, for the latest Opening Day in history. 

For now, the park will remain closed. Over 10 days ago, the CDC recommended gatherings of more than 50 people be stopped for at least eight weeks, which could lead to some clues as to when Eutaw Street is filled once again.

That reality is, however, that the corner of West Camden and Eutaw will remain quiet for the foreseeable future. 

Opening Day will come for Baltimore in the 2020 season. 

The biggest question, though, is when?

“Opening Day is such a special day, and there’s a lot of emotions that go through everyone involved in an opening day ceremony,” Hyde said. “It’s something you never forget. This year is going to be pushed back. Now, we’re going to be looking forward to the 2020 opening day, whenever that is.”

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Opening Day postponement delays a game the Orioles have dominated for 20 years

Opening Day postponement delays a game the Orioles have dominated for 20 years

The Orioles have had their share of struggles since the turn of the century, but one event has always brought hope and joy to their fans: The home opener.  

 With the 2020 MLB season on hiatus for now, O’s fans are facing an indefinite wait for their annual unofficial holiday. But it never seems to matter how rough the previous year was for the Orioles. Fans never fail to turn out in droves to ring in the new season. Rain or shine. Warm or cold. The atmosphere at Camden Yards remains electric when the baseball season begins again, a sea of orange and black full of smiles and anticipation.  

Even last year – one that began with most fans knowing the worst season in team history was in store – the ballpark hosted 45,971 for the home opener against the Yankees on April 4. Over the past 20 years, O’s fans have been rewarded for their optimism on Opening Day. Baltimore is 15-5 this century. That’s shocking given how many rough seasons followed those wins. The Orioles didn’t have a single winning season from 2000 to 2009, but still managed to win eight of 10 openers. Today should have been a time to gather at Camden Yards and see if they could build on that streak.  

Eventually, we will kick off a new decade of Baltimore baseball. Until then, let’s look back to some of the more memorable openers of the past ten seasons, a decade in which the team had four winning seasons, made the playoffs three times and reached the American League Championship Series in 2014.  

2013 

The 2013 season saw added buzz surrounding the new season, with the O’s coming off their first playoff appearance in 15 years. The previous year, the franchise changed logos to a throwback variation of their iconic cartoon bird. With the team’s new success, and gear, it was easy to find fans across the city sporting the new look. 

It certainly added to the anticipation. The Orioles opened on the road and took two of three against the Tampa Bay Rays with Chris Davis homering in all three games. The Minnesota Twins then arrived in Baltimore for a three-game series. The O’s entered the bottom of the eighth inning of the home opener trailing by a run. An Adam Jones single tied the game, and with the bases loaded later in the inning, Davis cranked a grand slam to left to give the O’s a 9-5 lead and eventual win.  

The Orioles would go on to win 85 games that season, though that wasn’t quite good enough for another playoff spot. That hot start for Davis was a sign of things to come, as he hit a franchise-record 53 home runs to lead the majors. It’s also worth noting this performance kicked off four straight years that an Orioles player took the MLB home run title. Nelson Cruz hit 40 in 2014, Davis again led everyone with 47 in 2015 and Mark Trumbo homered 47 times in 2016. 

2014 

The Orioles entered the 2014 season with even more hype, being picked by many as the American League favorite. They beat the Red Sox 2-1 in the home opener, with Cruz hitting a home run in the bottom of the seventh for what became the winning run.  

Winning the home opener is always great, and for most fans, taking down the Red Sox or Yankees is an added bonus. In a city that often struggles to keep visiting teams’ fans from taking over the stadium, O’s fans often find themselves competing for those “Let’s Go, O’s!” chants.  

But 2014 was a renaissance at Camden Yards, a reminder that not that long ago they packed 3 million fans a year into the beauty of a ballpark – and most of them were Orioles fans. But all the losing took a toll on attendance. The Orioles dipped under 3 million for the first time in 2002 and under 2 million for a four-year stretch from 2008 to 2011.  

That started to change in 2014 when 2.464 million fans made it to Camden Yards. That was the most since 2005 and the high-water mark of the decade. That’s how excited area fans were for the 2014 season and – for the first time in a while – it helped keep Red Sox and Yankees cheering to a minimum.  

It was also emblematic of what was to come, as the Orioles won 96 games and the AL East that season before falling to Kansas City in the ALCS.  

2016-18 

The numbers get really fun from 2016 to 2018. The O’s won all three home openers, and all three were won 3-2 thanks to a walk-off hit. 

In 2016, Matt Wieters hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the visiting Twins. The start of the game was delayed for nearly two hours, and then again for another hour after the second inning. Chris Tillman started the game, throwing two scoreless innings with no hits, but could not last through the second delay.  

The bullpen took over for the remaining seven innings, including five relievers who only allowed two runs on seven hits, a sign of things to come from a unit that helped key the team’s 2016 postseason run. 

In 2017, Mark Trumbo hit a two-out, walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat the Blue Jays. Trumbo was coming off his home run title the year before, so fans were thrilled to see him pick up right where he left off.  

Finally, in 2018 - and again in the 11th inning - Adam Jones hit a lead-off homer to beat the Twins. Dylan Bundy started the game for the Orioles and pitched seven shutout innings. The Twins scored twice to tie the game in the top of the ninth. But in what would wind up being his final season in Baltimore, Jones played hero once more. 

The Orioles went 7-3 in home openers from 2010 to 2019, book-ending the decade with losses in 2010 and 2019. That sums up the decade well. They came into this stretch consistently losing games, found some unorthodox success for five years, and then tailed off into their current rebuilding state.  

But none of those struggles matters much come Opening Day at Camden Yards. The Orioles usually rise to the occasion. And with the 2020 season facing a prolonged delay, when Opening Day finally does return to Baltimore it will have more meaning than ever. 

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