Orioles Broadcaster Geoff Arnold Ranks the Best of the East by David Laurila September 17, 2020 Geoff Arnold knows the East. Not only do the Baltimore Orioles, the team he serves as a play-by-play announcer for, compete in the American League East, their inter-league schedule this year is solely comprised of the National League East. As a result, Arnold has been getting regular looks at two of the game’s most intriguing divisions. Surprises, both pleasant and not so pleasant, are present in both. How would Arnold rank the teams and players he’s seen this season? That was the crux of a conversation I had with the radio (and sometimes TV) voice of the Orioles prior to last night’s game. ——— David Laurila: Which is the best team you’ve seen this year? Geoff Arnold: “The best team I’ve seen this year is probably the Tampa Bay Rays. They’ve got a really good starting rotation. We saw Tyler Glasnow when he was at his absolute best, and Blake Snell has obviously got great stuff. They’ve also got some hitters that can really make you pay for mistakes. They’re an extremely patient team; they get to 3-2 counts and work these long at-bats. I think their batting average on 3-2 counts might have been the highest in baseball when we last saw them. “What Kevin Cash has done managing that bullpen… there were some guys they’d bring in and it was like, ‘I don’t know who these people are,’ yet he knew how to slide them into these specific roles — just like he figures out how to get enough production from their offense. Kevin Cash seems to know every right button to push. I’d say the Rays are the toughest team I’ve seen in the AL East, and probably the best overall.” Laurila: What about in the NL East? Arnold: “The Atlanta Braves have unbelievable talent. The big question mark with them is their starting rotation. Cole Hamels is going to make his first start of the year [Wednesday night]. Two nights ago we saw Touki Toussaint, who didn’t pitch very well. Last night we saw Huascar Ynoa, who kind of came out of nowhere; there really wasn’t much of a book on him. “Everybody knows their bullpen is really good. If they can turn things into basically a four-inning game… like last night. They brought in Darren O’Day, Will Smith, Chris Martin, Shane Greene, and Mark Melancon. You’re not going to get a whole lot of runs off of that group. The problem is that their starting rotation isn’t very good, or very consistent. Losing [Mike] Soroka was huge for them, and [Max] Fried has the back issues. They would probably be the best team if their rotation was a little bit better. “I’ll give Tampa Bay the edge, because they’ve got a slightly better rotation, but Atlanta can hurt you all up and down the lineup. [Marcell] Ozuna has had a big year. [Travis] d’Arnaud is having a career season at the plate. Freddie Freeman continues to do what Freddie Freeman does. And then there’s [Ozzie] Albies and [Ronald] Acuña. Albies hitting out of the nine spot basically gives them a second leadoff guy at the bottom of their order. There isn’t a great way to pitch to this team, because again, they can hurt you up and down the lineup.” Laurila: Who would you say is the third-best team? Arnold: “Third is a little tough. I’m inclined to say… maybe the Blue Jays? I’ll go with Toronto, because they’ve got a lot of young bats that are really exciting. You’ve got be careful about how you pitch them, because they’re super aggressive. [Randal] Grichuk has had an unbelievable season against us, and has put up good numbers overall. They’ve got an exciting bullpen too. There are some pieces at the end of the of the game that can make you really uncomfortable. “With Hyun Jin Ryu, the question everyone had was whether he would be able to stay healthy or not. He was healthy all last year with the Dodgers, but he’s kind of got an injury history. He’s looked really good. Behind him, they have just enough starting pitching, their bullpen is good, and they’ll score a bunch of runs. They’re playing at that ballpark in Buffalo, and the ball just flies out of there. That’s benefited them pretty well. I’ll put them third. “I liked the Phillies when I saw them. They’ve got some dangerous offensive pieces. They have J.T. Realmuto — who knows what’s going to happen with him in free agency — and Bryce Harper was really good against us. Their starting rotation is good. Their bullpen was a disaster when we saw them. It was awful, and while they’ve made some upgrades, their bullpen still isn’t pitching all that great. But the Phillies can hit.” Laurila: You’d put the Phillies at four… Arnold: “You know, maybe I’d put the Yankees in front of the Phillies. They’ve got [Aroldis] Chapman and [Zack] Britton in the bullpen. Chad Green. In the starting rotation, Gerrit Cole has started to look like Gerrit Cole. He’s had these flashes where he’s been really, really tough. [Masahiro] Tanaka pitched well against us the second time. Jordan Montgomery shows some flashes of stuff. For him it’s all about whether he can land his changeup. “When we saw them in Baltimore, they didn’t have their full complement of pieces. Their biggest thing is, can they stay healthy? Gleyber Torres looks like he’s trying a little too hard. Luke Voit has had an incredible year. It looks like being more aggressive early in counts has helped him put some good numbers together. “If they get a lead, they can kind of do what the Braves and Rays do with their bullpen. I know Chapman isn’t quite the Chapman he used to be, and Britton’s stuff is down a couple of ticks, but it’s still a good group at the end of games. I’ve also been impressed with what I saw from Jonathan Holder. He looked really good in the outings he had against us. It seems like his changeup is a better pitch for him this year than it had been in the past.” Laurila: That would would make your list 1. Rays, 2. Braves, 3. Blue Jays, 4. Yankees, 5. Phillies. Miami Marlins fans may have an issue with that. Arnold: “We played the Marlins very early, and I think that’s part of the problem. It’s lack of recency bias more than anything. Plus, when we saw them they had 17 new players on their team, having come to us after their COVID thing. So it’s really hard for me to grade the Marlins. They could potentially be four or five, so I guess I could put them No. 6 with an asterisk. “I do know they’ve played some good baseball since we saw them. And they did some buying and selling at the deadline, which was interesting. They’ve made some decisions to try and go for things, and also gotten some of their key [prospects] some reps to help make them big-league ready when their rebuild comes to a close. They’ve pushed some different buttons while having a lot of challenges thrown their way. You have to give Don Mattingly a lot of credit — their front office as well — for how they’ve been able to handle things.” Laurila: Which team do you feel has most exceeded expectations? Arnold: “The Orioles would have to be at the very top that list. The way they’ve played… Anthony Santander was incredible until he suffered the oblique injury. He just really understands what parts of the strike zone he’s good at, and takes great swings. He was so much fun to watch, because every time he came up to the plate you thought something good was going to happen. It’s kind of that way with Ryan Mountcastle. When he comes to the plate, you’re excited to see what he’s going to do. “José Iglesias has had a big year. His OPS… he finally hit his first home run the other night, and it’s one of the weirdest stat lines you’re ever going to encounter — his [.903] OPS and the number of home runs he’s hit. Renato Núñez has looked really good. DJ Stewart has been unbelievable in the month of September, Hanser Alberto finds a way to hit, no matter where you put him. “I think Brandon Hyde has put everybody in as good a spot as he possibly can. When you’re dealing with a lot of pitchers who don’t have a whole lot of high-leverage experience, trying to do that dance isn’t so easy. And you also have to give a lot of credit to Doug Brocail and Darren Holmes, our pitching coach and bullpen coach, for what they’ve done. So if you’re looking at surprise teams in the East, I think the Orioles have to be at the top of the list. And the Marlins aren’t too far behind. I don’t think most people were expecting them to compete.” Laurila: Which team has been the biggest disappointment? Arnold: “I’d say the Yankees. I think everyone thought they were going to be better than what they’ve been. Of course, they’ve had a bunch of injuries. And while Gerrit Cole is starting to look better, he hasn’t always looked like the Gerrit Cole everyone thought he was going to be. At the same time, he did throw a complete-game shutout against us; I think he’s started to turn the page. But can [Giancarlo] Stanton and [Aaron] Judge stay healthy? That’s always a question mark. So the Yankees would have to be the most disappointing. They haven’t looked like that team that was supposed to win the AL East.” Laurila: Who are the top players in the East? I’m looking for a top five. Arnold: “I’ll go from five, down. Michael Conforto will be five. Offensively, he’s been tremendous. I was impressed by how he used the opposite field when we faced them. It looks like he’s established himself as a hitter who is here to stay. He’s just really dangerous. He also made an incredible catch against us — I know theres’s a little bit of bias in that — but it wasn’t the only good play he made against us, either. “After Conforto, I would say Luke Voit. He’s driving the ball well. His run production, without having Stanton or Judge there, has been pivotal to the Yankees. He’s carried the offense for them at times. “At No. 3, I’ll go with DJ LeMahieu. He’s the guy that sets that table. He can pretty much hit anything, plus he can move around the diamond, which gives Aaron Boone a lot of flexibility positionally. I like the way he hits out of the leadoff spot, and there’s not an easy way to get him out. “No. 2 would be Freddie Freeman. I don’t know how you get him out. We were talking on our broadcast the other night how there’s no great way to pitch him, and I think a lot of it is because he’s got this really short swing. He can find a way to barrel pretty much anything, in any spot. He’s just he’s so hard to get out. “No. 1 — this is even though I don’t get to see him very much — would have to be Juan Soto. He can hit for power, and he can hit for average. Defensively, he’s maybe a little better than people give him credit for. He’s a decent outfielder with an unbelievable bat. He’s an exciting player to watch play.” Laurila: Ronald Acuña Jr. wouldn’t make your Top Five? Arnold: “I kind of went off of just this year, and what I’ve seen. If we’re taking into account more than just that, I would probably have to put Acuña on there. It’s also hard not to include Bryce Harper. And I’m not even considering pitchers. That would make it even harder.” —— Texas Rangers broadcaster Dave Raymond recently ranked The Best of the West, and Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster Joe Block The Best of the Central.