The Orioles have now played 116 games, and that means only one thing and one thing only — the O’s have 46 games left to play. And at some point next month, the club will reveal that Cedric Mullins is the Most Valuable Oriole for the 2021 season.
Wait, isn’t that two things?
Seriously, talk about an anti-climactic vote. This year’s crowning of Mullins is the biggest landslide I can remember in many a year. Mullins is deserving on so many levels, just on the basis of being the one player you can totally count on day in and day out. In addition to being the clear-cut choice, if you had broached this subject in late March, people would have reserved you a room at the funny farm.
Yes, his bunt-laden season in 2020 helped him bat .271, but with just three homers and 12 RBIs as a switch-hitter, it would have been staggering to contemplate a .318/.382/.540 line with 20 homers, 53 extra-base hits, 40 RBIs, 67 runs and 22 steals in 2021. If he truly had consistently productive batters around him, he’d be looking at 100 runs.
I am not managing the Orioles and I am not suggesting that as an option, but if I were, I think Cedric Mullins would be the captain of my team.
So, what else are bright spots in a not-so-bright season?
Well, we are a season closer to not having to watch Pedro Severino catch 100 or more games. The day Adley Rutschman gets behind the plate for the Orioles, the catching will become much more watchable and that is a bright spot.
But more tangible bright spots? Ryan Mountcastle — at the moment on the concussion IL after he was tagged in the head by Wander Franco on a stolen base attempt — has backed up a very encouraging 2020 season with a solid season again in 2021.
Sure, he has room to grow, and he was well on the way to doing that when Franco’s glove knocked him out of the lineup. He’s currently batting .264/.308/.477 with 19 homers and 63 RBIs. As feared, the on-base percentage is way too Mark Trumboesque, but there are some solid signs that he won’t be one of the 200-plus strikeout guys with a walk total in the teens. He’s a definite work in process, but the results are mostly positive.
Nobody could argue that Trey Mancini’s season hasn’t been hugely positive. Just the fact he is playing after battling colon cancer is the stuff to celebrate. His play for much of the first half was top-drawer stuff. But when the hot weather hit Baltimore, Mancini’s bat fizzled aside from a dramatic pinch-hit homer against Liam Hendriks just before the Home Run Derby.
One wonders if Mancini’s soft numbers since July 3 are related to some both physical and mental fatigue. In 32 games Mancini has played in since July 3 –including that homer off of Hendriks at Camden Yards — he is batting just .246/.290/.446 with five homers and eight RBIs. That’s very un-Trey-like.
Mancini would never beg off or ask out. But one wonders if some first-season-back fatigue could be at play. I am guessing it’s a 50-50 proposition, mental and physical. If so, I think it would be a good idea to proactively talk to Mancini about a 10-14 day trip to the injured list to allow him to regather himself and finish up on an upbeat surge.
Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser and Dillon Tate look like they have the stuff to be solid pieces in the bullpen. General manager Mike Elias was smart to not just deal them at the deadline considering these guys are cheap and under team control.
The only problem with these three is none of them smacks of a closer and that’s where Elias may have struck gold with Rule 5 pickup Tyler Wells, who may quickly grow into that role. The shame is that you grow into that role by going through the very different gauntlet of getting the last three outs when your team has the lead in a close game. The Orioles, well on their way to 110-plus losses, don’t figure to give him much practice.
One last positive is the remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of No. 32, Matt Harvey. If you listen to a Harvey postgame presser, invariably he is asked about his days as the Dark Knight of the Mets when he could rare back and throw 100 mph — or he brings up that he isn’t that guy anymore.
Having that great natural talent is wonderful until the moment you lose it and realize you have to change your whole game plan of keeping batters off balance.
Harvey’s first season in black and orange wasn’t an overnight success, but Harvey did get out of the gate with a modicum of success when he held a 3.60 ERA at the end of his seventh start. It was Harvey’s trust and belief in the process that pitching coach Chris Holt laid out that got him going in the right direction.
Holt had to leave the club for personal reasons in May, so his time with Harvey was cut down significantly. Harvey’s ERA ballooned to 6.84 by the end of May.
In fact, when Harvey left the mound July 7, after a long string of horrid performances, one had to believe the Orioles were just about done with the Harvey experiment. That’s when the All-Star break came and afforded Harvey the chance to reset. And what a reset it’s been. In five starts since the break, totaling 27.1 innings, Harvey has pitched to a 1.65 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Opponents are batting just .208 and he has only allowed two homers.
Nobody knows how this will proceed. It wouldn’t be shocking to have Harvey fade as the season winds down. He also could finish strong and leave the Orioles for another pitching-hungry club who might offer him a two-year deal worth between $6 million and $7 million.
But if Harvey is smart — and I think he has gotten smarter as he has gotten humbler — he’ll take a modest raise to stay an Oriole and continue working with Holt, who may just be the guy to help Harvey turn into a real pitcher.
Next week I’ll be back with some of the not-so-positive stories from Birdland.
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox