Of all the directions that the Orioles’ 2020 season could’ve gone, the team’s final game of a 60-game season was played in a Triple-A ballpark against the Blue Jays in Buffalo.
With a 7-5 win over the playoff-bound Jays, the Orioles ended their season 25-35. It was a wild, up-and-down 60-game sprint from late July to late September, and the Orioles ended it with a feel-good victory.
And depending on your point of view, the season either went far better than expected, or was a slight setback in what could have been or could be.
“We’ve all gone through a lot this year,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Really like our club, I thought we did a lot of good things. We were thinking about it today about how Summer Camp feels like so long ago, and Spring Training 1.0 felt so long ago, just because of everything we have gone through. There’s just been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of things come our way this year that none of us have ever dealt with before. It’s over. That’s always a strange feeling.”
The Orioles started their season with a 13-2 loss to the Red Sox, but followed up with a series win. A sweep of the Rays came a week later, which preceded a four-game losing streak and then a six-game winning streak.
They had their second series of the year against the Marlins cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak at a time when the season looked on the brink. They turned Major League Baseball’s first ever inning-opening double play. The team opted to boycott a game to bring attention to systematic racism after the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Wisconsin.
And for a while, they stayed in the playoff chase until a 5-14 finish stretch at the end of the season took them out of the chase completely. All year long, the Orioles were as streaky as the entire year was.
“I think we rolled into Summer Camp having zero clue what it was going to look like, who was going to stay healthy, how protocols were going to be followed, so many question marks,” Hyde said. “For our club, and our league, to handle things the way they have handled them in getting to a postseason, is a credit to so many people.”
Of course, the 2020 season was never about the short-term for the Orioles. Instead, it was about advancing the Orioles’ future and building for a long-term vision of success. General manager Mike Elias held no misconceptions about the future during Spring Training, a time that seemed so long ago.
The biggest issue for the Orioles, however, was they weren’t able to have a minor league season for some of their youngest and brightest prospects.
They were, however, able to get a few young players some much needed playing time at the major league level. One of those players was starter Keegan Akin, who threw three innings in his eighth appearance and sixth start of the season.
“It really kind of lets you know where you’re at,” Akin said of his playing time in 2020. “Getting to pitch up here for a handful of appearances, it kind of gives you an idea of what you need to work on and what you need to do.”
Aside from Akin, Ryan Mountcastle and a few more of the team’s most pro-ready prospects, the Orioles kept some top prospects at the Alternate Training Site including catcher Adley Rutschman, pitchers DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez and infielder Gunnar Henderson.
After that, however, the middle and bottom parts of the prospect pool lost out on a valuable year of seasoning at the minor league level. They’re all set to play their first live games in a year starting in the spring of 2021.
“We’ve got a lot of young talented guys who are ready to show what they’ve got in the show,” said Cedric Mullins, who ended the season with a two-triple performance. “I’m excited for all of us.”
The Orioles are set to pick 5th in the 2021 MLB Draft, which isn’t far off from where the team could have picked in a typical 162-game season — give or take a few slots. It’s clear they weren’t noticeably affected by the shortened season in that regard.
The biggest impacts though are still yet to be known, as some players in the organization went a year without organized games. Once they’re able to hit the field again, the scope of what 2020 meant will become clearer.
On the flip side, the top-half of the Orioles’ prospect pool saw valuable time, and not only saw the field, but stood out.
Mountcastle ended the year as the team’s No. 3 hitter with a .333 average and an .878 OPS. Akin and Dean Kremer pitched well enough to boost expectations for the 2021 season. And they did it all in one of the weirdest years in Major League Baseball history.
“Every day was something new,” Hyde said. “You never knew what was going to happen next. I feel like we rolled with the punches well. It’s been a wild ride for sure.”
Now, the Orioles will go their separate ways and watch the remainder of the baseball season from their homes with family and friends, something they didn’t do much of during the year.
As for what the offseason and lead-in to Spring Training may look like, for now, it’s as wide open as the 2020 regular season was.
“I’ve only seen my family for a couple days since we started Summer Camp,” Hyde said with a grin during pregame.. “Looking forward to going home and taking the kids to school.”