Well, just as the Orioles’ season was getting interesting, the club entered Yankee Stadium, or as we can call it, The Reality Zone. Hey, this season will stand as a big success for GM Mike Elias, manager Brandon Hyde and the rest of the guys whose names are not Chris Davis or Alex Cobb no matter how the club closes it out. The oddsmakers put the over-under total on O’s wins at 19.5 prior to the season, so standing at 20-26 with 14 games to go represents a certain level of progress on the field.
Putting aside the club’s playoff chances, I certainly think five more victories are doable. The club has eight games left at Camden Yards — Sept. 14-16 against the Atlanta Braves and Sept. 17-20 against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles will begin their series against the Rays with a doubleheader Sept. 17 in which the Rays will be considered the home team for the nightcap. The O’s will finish the season with three against the Boston Red Sox (Sept. 22-24) and then shuffle off to Buffalo to close out the campaign with three against the Toronto Blue Jays (Sept. 25-27).
The number of wins is a quantifiable number and is really kind of black and white. But really, it doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the talent winds are heading in Baltimore. Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Ryan Mountcastle and DJ Stewart all have had moments in which you can see real pieces of the rebuild starting to take their places on the field. And there is more. As frustrating as the injury issues are for Hunter Harvey and Austin Hays, they also might be pieces. The same can be said for Cedric Mullins, Chance Sisco and Dillon Tate.
While Mountcastle and Kremer have both been standouts to date, it’s important to remember that the pipeline in this system is really starting to take hold. It’s important that in a season devoid of minor-league development, the club still found a way to teach and work on developing parts of their best young players’ games in an analytical fashion.
From a fan’s point of view, the games have been much, much closer than they were in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, during which the pitching was so awful that three or four times per week, the O’s might be down 4-5 runs by the time fans sat down in their seats. That was by no means the case this season. The rebuild became much more tangible in 2020, and that’s good for the business of dusting off the reputation of the Birds.
And now here are my power rankings:
1. Oakland Athletics (29-17, No. 3 overall last week): The A’s made two solid acquisitions at the trade deadline in infielder Tommy La Stella and lefty Mike Minor. The great story here continues to be a bunch of no names making up a very special relief corps.
2. Minnesota Twins (30-18, No. 4): The Twins had a 1-5 stretch in late August and actually fell behind the Indians in my power rankings. But they have bounced back with a vengeance with 6-1 and 5-1 records during the past two weeks. Damn if they don’t look like they are taking this opportunity to win a World Series.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (33-14, No. 1): Don’t look now, but bullpen ace Kenley Jansen is no longer near being a sure thing. Management also needed to take a really serious run at acquiring Lance Lynn. With him, they’d be in the catbird seat. The World Series win that may have seemed likely a month ago now looks not impossible, but much more problematic thanks to a rapidly fading closer, Walker Buehler’s blister problems and San Diego’s emergence.
4. Tampa Bay Rays (No. 2, 30-17): I know Kevin Cash is a smart guy, but he seems to always need to show everyone how smart he is — and it just looks like his players may not totally understand their roles. Of the Big Three in the rotation, only lefty Blake Snell is looking the part.
5. San Diego Padres (No. 7, 31-17): Eric Hosmer’s injury really hurts the Padres, and his bunting against a lefty with two outs and a man on first may just go down as the single dumbest play I have ever seen. The fact I am contending for a title in my fantasy league and have Hosmer has nothing to do with my assessment. Did I mention it may have been the single dumbest play I have ever seen? On the flip side, Mike Clevinger pitched a seven-inning shutout against the Giants Sept. 13.
6. Chicago White Sox (30-16, No. 6): Unlike the Padres, I still think the White Sox are a bit young for a deep run, but if starters Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel pitch at their highest levels, they can certainly be a tough out for any team in the playoffs. This is an ascending team that should win at least one World Series in the next half decade.
7. New York Yankees (26-21, No. 8): For a second straight year, manager Aaron Boone’s squad has been devastated by injuries, but unlike 2019, they were having a deleterious effect on the Yankees’ chances of a deep playoff run. In fact, they were 5-12 during a recent 17-game stretch. Then they beat the Blue Jays Sept. 9 and swept a four-game series against the O’s Sept. 11-13. Only one of those four wins was a dominant performance, but the seriousness they showed makes it look like they just now may be getting started. And they should have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton back pretty soon.
8. Cleveland Indians (26-21, No. 5): When the Indians beat the Royals in the first of a four-game series Sept. 7, Cleveland was flying high at 26-15. Then the Indians lost those last three games against the Royals and dropped three against the Twins. Sandy Alomar had been looking very good filling in for manager Terry Francona until this — what shall we call it, a small bump in the road or falling into a crater? Ironic that once they traded Mike Clevinger, the rest of their rotation kind really went sour.
9. Atlanta Braves (28-19, No. 9): I know the price is high to get a playoff-level starting pitcher at the deadline, but with the chance to win a World Series, your big pickup is Tommy Milone? GM Alex Anthopoulos made three solid pickups for his bullpen at the deadline last season in Shane Greene, Chris Martin and Mark Melancon. But this was a total head scratcher. As good as this team is, the top of the rotation can’t go toe-to-toe with top-tier rotations in the playoffs.
10. Chicago Cubs (28-20, No. 11): I admit that I’ve had this team buried a couple times. I look around and I don’t see any players having above-average seasons aside from ace Yu Darvish. Players must respect and play for first-year skipper and ex-Cubs catcher David Ross. In this crazy, illogical season, who knows?
11. Toronto Blue Jays (26-20, No. 15)
12. Philadelphia Phillies (23-22, No. 12)
13. San Francisco Giants (23-24, No. 14)
14. St. Louis Cardinals (20-20, No. 10)
15. Houston Astros (23-24, No. 13)
16. Miami Marlins (23-21, No. 16)
17. Milwaukee Brewers (20-24, No. 19)
18. New York Mets (21-26, No. 20)
19. Cincinnati Reds (21-26, No. 18)
20. Colorado Rockies (21-25, No. 17)
21. Washington Nationals (17-28, No. 22)
22. Kansas City Royals (20-28, No. 27)
23. Seattle Mariners (21-25, No. 24)
24. Baltimore Orioles (20-26, No. 21)
25. Detroit Tigers (20-26, No. 25)
26. Los Angeles Angels (20-28, No. 26)
27. Arizona Diamondbacks (17-31, No. 23)
28. Texas Rangers (17-30, No. 28)
29. Boston Red Sox (17-31, No. 29)
30. Pittsburgh Pirates (14-30, No. 30)