Five most important things so far this year

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Credit: Mallory Pente

It’s good to be an Orioles fan on this Easter Sunday. With a 11-4 win over the Blue Jays today, the Orioles remain in first place at 8-3, just a half game ahead of those pesky 8-4 Yankees. If you are reading this though, you probably already knew that. We Orioles fans are a knowledgeable lot.

Eleven games into the season doesn’t tell us much about how our season will go, but it does give a look at what is going right and what is not early on. So let’s take a look at the five most important things that have happened so far in this young season.

  1. Starting Pitching – After today’s solid six inning start by Dylan Bundy, the starters are now 4-1 and only Ubaldo Jimenez has been predictably terrible. Kevin Gausman hasn’t had his good command so far in his first three starts, but he’s made some big pitches when he’d had to and has shown growth as a pitcher despite his decent but not spectacular 3.94 ERA. Wade Miley has been solid in his two starts and 10.6/9 K rate talks to his improved stuff this season. Alec Asher threw well in his Orioles debut and if Ubaldo continues to struggle, he could very well end up the 5th starter this season once Chris Tillman returns.
  2. Bullpen is as good as advertised – Zach Britton has been perfect in save opportunities going five for five, but his 1.86 WHIP was a bit concerning. The Orioles put him on the 10-day disabled list today with a strained forearm which hopefully was part of his command issues and after a little rest he will be back. Brad Brach, who has been the team’s best reliever so far this year (batters are slashing .056/.190/.111/.302), will take over the closer duties, but the loss here is now someone else will need to pick up that set up duties. That will probably go to Mychal Givens, though Darren O’Day and the surprising Donnie Hart, who has been getting righthanders out so far as well, could get some work with the right matchups. The only issues have been with the rest of the bullpen where Tyler Wilson and Vidal Nuno have been less than impressive and newly promoted Stefan Crichton looked like his fastball and slider command were lacking. With all three of them being optionable, we may see a cast of characters in the backend of the pen until someone steps up.
  3. Trey Mancini may be forcing his way into the lineup fulltime – After homering twice today, Boom Boom Mancini has now become just the 3rd player in major league history to homer seven times in his first 12 major leagues games. The thing is, he’s hitting lasers off of right-handers and it’s going to be hard for Buck to bench him while he’s this hit. That playing time could come at the expense of Hyun Soo Kim. I could see Seth Smith moving to left in order to keep Mancini’s bat in the lineup in RF of DH, if Buck chooses to put Mark Trumbo out in right. Trumbo is off to a slow start, but his track record and contract means he’s not coming out of the lineup anytime soon. With the Orioles heading to Cincinnati for a three game set, they will be without the DH, so that decision could come sooner than later.
  4. Welington Castillo has been a great game caller – Matt Wieters was never known much for his game calling, but in just 11 games it’s become apparent that Castillo is an upgrade on working his pitchers. Castillo is not afraid to call offspeed pitches with runners on first base and he does a great job of understanding what his pitcher has working or not and using his strengths. He’s nursed several pitchers without their good command and he’s blocked balls well and has thrown out 43% of base stealers so far. Add in his .820 OPS and Castillo is off to a great start. Now if Buck would rest him a bit more and not bury Caleb Joseph that would be great.
  5. The roster will be a work in progress – With as many guys as Dan Duquette has been acquiring after they’ve been DFA’d, there is little doubt that he plans to keep revolving optionable players back and forth from Norfolk. The backend of the bullpen will see the most transactions, but Craig Gentry‘s hold a roster spot could be tenuous though his speed and defense brings value. Since Joey Rickard has options, so don’t be surprised if he is sent down when he’s activated off the DL. If Buck and Dan believe Gentry is about the same, they will send Rickard down to play every day instead of risk losing Gentry. Of course don’t forget Michael Bourn was resigned and will be in the mix at some point this year.