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Series #5: Athletics at Orioles - Subverted Expectations

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles were doing well there, for a while. The team went from zeroes to heroes unexpectedly the same year the A’s did, in 2012, and were continual threats to make the postseason for years. Unlike the A’s, the Orioles actually managed to make it passed the Division Series, advancing to the Championship Series in 2014 before getting swept by the Royals, who wound up going to their first of two consecutive World Series that year. The team was built on offense and a good bullpen, and for a while the Orioles’ success seemed indefinite, having held strong against both the Yankees and the Red Sox for years.

Then the wheels fell off, and the team crashed hard.

Last year was one of the worst ever for a baseball team. With a 47-115 record, it was the fifth most total losses ever for a baseball team, and the Orioles were an astounding 61 games out of first place in their division. The team couldn’t pitch, couldn’t hit, and were essentially a punching bag for the rest of the league. Famed manager Buck Showalter was let go. General manager Dan Duquette was let go. It was time for the franchise to do a hard reset.

At the very least, the 2019 Orioles get to play with the benefit of no expectations. The team is able to continue to trot out long term signing albatross Chris Davis each day without worrying the veteran’s diminished skills will hamper the team from challenging for a Wild Card. They can play Rule 5 picks to get coveted prospects some valuable big league experience while the stakes are still low. The hope is that, under new, much more analytical management, the Orioles will have an Astros-like arc of historic awfulness, followed by sustainable success.

The starting rotation is top heavy. Alex Cobb and Dylan Bundy should each be able to give the O’s a chance in every game that they start, rough 2018s be damned, while the rest of the rotation is less reliable. The bullpen is sneaky good, at least at the back end of things. Pitchers like Michael Givens, Richard Bleier, and Miguel Castro possess real talent, and could potentially be solid trade chips if they play up to expectations this year. So far this year, a lot of that talent has yet to come to fruition, particularly from the bullpen, so despite the strong potential of the Orioles’ relief staff, the team has been exposed late in games this year.

The offense possesses a couple of former A’s. Richie Martin was surprisingly left unprotected prior to the Rule 5 draft by the A’s, and was predictably selected by the Orioles as the first overall pick. It was clear that his bat wasn’t ready for the big leagues, as evidenced by his early season slash line of .087/.192/.087, but he has always been pitched as a glove-first prospect and, with the benefit of zero expectations, he is all but guaranteed to spend all year on the big league roster. Renato Nunez, who spent years and years in the A’s organization before getting surpassed by the likes of Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, has been doing better to hold his own in the show, and is currently one of the Orioles’ most significant offensive threats.

Chris Davis, who is now the official “other” Chris after the A’s DH, is two hitless at bats away from setting a big league record for the most at bats in between hits. Davis is currently 0 for the season with a handful of walks, and 0 for his last 44 overall, dating back to last season. The aging slugger still has 4 years and $92 million remaining on his contract, which may be one of the most ill-advised contracts in MLB history. For this season, Davis is likely safe to remain on the roster, but as the team slowly drafts and trades its way back into contention, he is a potential sunken cost who may get released to pave the way for a new generation of Orioles studs.

To just about everyone’s surprise, this Orioles team began the season 4-1 after trouncing the Yankees in New York. Since then, things have gotten a bit more predictable. The Orioles are entering this series with the A’s having lost four straight games. The team somehow managed to surrender seven home runs in a particularly forgettable game yesterday. Having just come off of a sweep themselves, this series poses a chance for the A’s to right themselves and to get back on the happy side of .500.

At the risk of sounding dismissive, and while winning on the road is easier said than done, the A’s absolutely have to sweep here. Oakland went 6-0 against the Orioles last season, and this season’s version of the Orioles is worse. The main reason the A’s got to 97 wins in 2018 is that the A’s beat up on the teams they were supposed to beat up, and to even sniff 97 wins again the A’s must do the same this year. Oakland dropped a handful of winnable games over the weekend, and as a result dropped to fourth place in the division. Things aren’t urgent, per se, but in order to compete for the division these are the types of games that need to be won.

Potential Lineup

Cedric Mullins - CF

Dwight Smith Jr - LF

Jonathan Villar - 2B

Trey Mancini - RF

Renato Nunez - DH

Rio Ruiz - 3B

Chris Davis - 1B

Jesus Sucre - C

Richie Martin - SS

Pitching Matchups

Marco Estrada vs Andrew Cashner

Brett Anderson vs John Means

Frankie Montas vs Alex Cobb

Aaron Brooks vs Dylan Bundy

Game Information

Game 14: Monday, April 8th at 4:05

Game 15: Tuesday, April 9th at 4:05

Game 16: Wednesday, April 10th at 4:05

Game 17: Thursday, April 11th at 9:35

The first three games will be on NBCSCA. Thursday morning’s game is an Orioles-only broadcast.