The competition among the large-market teams in the American League East poses a huge challenge each season for the Orioles.
The slate of games is even tougher this year with another tough division thrown into the mix for the abbreviated 60-game season — the hard-nosed National League East.
“I didn’t think our strength of schedule, being an American League East team, could get any tougher, but it actually did,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said on a Zoom call with reporters. “We do have the toughest strength of schedule this year, so it’s not going to be an easy road, but I do think it makes things a little less predictable.”
When the schedule is finalized, the Orioles are expected to play 40 games against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays after going 24-52 against those teams last season. In addition, Baltimore will have 20 matchups against the NL East, which consists of the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Miami Marlins and the World Series champion Washington Nationals, who went 2-2 against the Orioles last year.
In such an unpredictable time, Elias doesn’t really know what to expect.
“The fact that the pitchers may not be totally built up at the beginning of the year, and then you get some extra roster spots with some more pitching changes — maybe that helps us, maybe it doesn’t — but I think it creates a little uncertainty,” he said. “And I think our goal is just to be an unpredictable young team that’s scary to play in these circumstances and we mix things up.”
The Orioles’ first workout is slated for July 3 at Camden Yards. The Orioles released an initial list of 44 players for their player pool, which consists of 18 right-handed pitchers, eight left-handed pitchers, four catchers, 10 infielders, and four outfielders. The challenge facing the club now is filling out the 60-man roster with taxi-squad players who will work out at another location.
Elias said the team will take its time finding the remaining 16 players eligible to compete this season. It’s still uncertain whether prospects like Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer will have an opportunity to be part of the 60-man roster.
“The way that we have analyzed the rules are that it’s easier to add people than take them off that 16, especially certain types of people,” Elias said. “A young prospect, a young minor leaguer who we would add more for player development purposes, cannot be removed from that list unless you release them and certainly we don’t want to get in a situation where we would even consider something like that.
“Or if their presence might otherwise cause us to release or waive someone that we didn’t want to otherwise. So we’re being very cautious about fleshing out that list.”
While several major-league players, such as Nationals Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross, have opted out of the shortened 2020 season because of the ongoing threat with the COVID-19 pandemic, no Orioles players have exercised that option. Elias did confirm that an international prospect showed signs of COVID-19, but he is expected to make a full recovery.
Baseball does appear on track to get underway July 23. The game might not look the same, but mostly everyone is excited to get back on the field amid the challenges.
“I know that I speak for a lot of people that we are all very proud of the way the Orioles have navigated this and continue to try to navigate what’s been very challenging,” Elias said. “I know we’re looking forward to getting back to baseball. We’re working right now to make sure it’s as smooth as possible and we’ll see how this goes and what the future holds for us. But I know everyone’s so excited to see one another again.”
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