Usually when a team is in the midst of a losing season, there is at least a couple of bright spots for them to embrace. In the case of the 44-108 Baltimore Orioles, it’s remarkably challenging to find something to look forward to past the 2018 season.
At 44-108, the Orioles own the worst record in Major League Baseball; it has been a historically and inexplicably bad season. In fact, to begin the year, there was a case to be made that the Birds could make a run at an American League Wild Card spot. They had a number of proven players in their lineup, such as Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop, Chris Davis, and Tim Beckham, as well as the emerging Trey Mancini. After their starting rotation was one of the worst units in the sport in 2017, Orioles president Dan Duquette went out and signed veteran righties Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb to put a band-aid on their starting rotation.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, the proven commodities in their lineup and rotational upgrades weren’t enough to get them back in the playoff hunt.
Given their struggles throughout the first three months of the season, the Orioles made the difficult decision to undergo a fire sale, trading Machado (their franchise player), as well as Schoop, righty Kevin Gausman, closer Zach Britton, and reliever Brad Brach. And while they certainly would’ve helped the Orioles in terms of wins and losses, those players were a part of what has been a nightmare season — which warrants blame to both their lineup and pitching staff.
Going into Thursday night, the Orioles were 28th in runs (581), 25th in hits (1,228), 26th in batting average (.238), 30th in on-base percentage (.297), 25th in slugging (.390), and 26th in OPS (.687). Outside of Machado (before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Jones, manager Buck Showalter‘s lineup has been unable to pose any consistent threat at the plate. Mancini has endured a discouraging second full season in the big leagues, as he’s currently hitting .241; Davis is having a historically tragic season; and Mark Trumbo has struggled to stay healthy. Jonathan Villar has played well since being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Schoop, and Cedric Mullins has impressed since getting the call up from Triple-A. But, overall, this is an offense that hasn’t been able to provide its starting pitching with run support — though that facet of the Orioles has been no better than their lineup,
Going into Thursday night, the Orioles were 30th in ERA (5.16), sixth in walks surrendered (549), 28th in strikeouts (1,131), and 30th in opponent batting average (.278). Cobb owns the best ERA in their rotation at 4.90. Think about that. While he has pitched much better over the last five weeks, the righty’s four-year, $57 million deal has not payed off for Baltimore so far. Neither has Cashner’s two-year, $16 million deal.
After being considered the best starter in the Orioles rotation going into the season, Cashner has endured arguably the worst season of his career. Currently owning a 5.29 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, he has been an unreliable presence on the rubber every fifth day. Dylan Bundy began the 2018 season looking like he may blossom into the ace the Orioles have been deprived of over the last several years. Then, he fell off a clifff. Bundy began to put runners on base all too often and today he currently owns a 5.37 ERA and 1.40 WHIP and has surrendered an MLB-high 38 home runs this season. David Hess and Yefry Ramirez have also struggled in what’s their first season in the big leagues.
The Orioles could look to their farm system for optimism, but nearly any team that misses the playoffs could say the same. Sure, some players within the Orioles system will come up and be vital elements of their team in the coming years. Maybe Yusniel Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle, or DL Hall come on the scene and grow into a player who the Orioles can build around. But sending up all your top prospects, or ones who you think can have success at the MLB level, isn’t going to assist a return to relevancy.
It’s highly unlikely that the Orioles will be this bad again next season based on the logic that it would be difficult to be any worse than they’ve been this season. The Orioles are going to continue to trust their youth, and perhaps look to add a top-of-the-rotation starter. But even if they add a reliable starter who can pitch deep into games and management trusts their youth, the Orioles are still, at best, the fourth-best team in the American League East. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are each complete teams with rosters constructed to cruise their way to the playoffs. And the Tampa Bay Rays are going to finish with about 90 wins this season while their young core continues to grow.
When you’re the fourth best team in your division and have one of the least talented rosters in the sport, your future is gong to be murky. Machado is gone. Jones may soon be gone as he hits the open market in the winter. Showalter and Duquette’s contracts expire after this season. More faces will be leaving Baltimore, and it’s unclear what talent the Orioles will be able to lure to Camden Yards in the offseason. When you trade away or let your veterans walk in free agency — no matter the circumstances — it’s difficult to add talent to your team. And if you bring in a new manager, it only adds more confusion to the current state of your team (if the Orioles don’t renew Showalter’s contract).
It began as a year filled with some playoff hope. It became a historically bad season; it’s a rough road ahead for the Baltimore Orioles.