It started out pretty well. Cedric Mullins turned around a 96 mph fastball and hit it out 405 feet. A few innings later, DJ Stewart got his first big league hit, and two errors later it turned into a Little League homer. Dylan Bundy was looking at times like Dealin’ Dylan again.
But this being the 2018 Orioles, a pothole is around every corner. Some are more the size of craters. They all seem to lead to disappointment and heartache. The Orioles defense would come up short yet again. This time Steve Wilkerson, playing his first game for the club since July 1, was involved in critical plays. Of course he was. The Orioles allowed four unearned runs in losing a four-run lead. Of course they did.
That’s how they set a team record for losses. Yep, of course.
The season has been tough, brutal, painful - all of that and more.
The hope is that this season is rock bottom and things will start to get better. Some fans who write to this blog have fears that it is going to be tough, brutal and painful again next year, and maybe for the forseeable future. Let’s hope that doesn’t come true.
There could be at least a few reasons for some measure of hope. For one thing, the Orioles in 2019 will likely have the No. 1 pick in the draft for the second time ever. By this time next year they will potentially have added the top player in the draft, and maybe the top international amateur if they get Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa. The club is back in the business of signing international amateurs. Another reason to have some hope. It may take a while for this to have an impact at the big league level, but it’s a big plus for a rebuilding team. It’s hard to have a top-10 farm system that has little international impact among its affiliates.
For another reason, we have yet to see what many of the Orioles’ current farmhands can do. At some point in the next year or two we should begin to see if players such as Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, DL Hall, Yusniel Díaz, Cadyn Grenier, Dean Kremer, Branden Kline, Alex Wells, Adam Hall and many others can add to the big league club. Will some of those players be on the next good Oriole team? This is just a partial list of potential home-grown talent.
I think that, for a year or two (maybe more), Orioles fans will have to find a way to focus less on wins and losses and more on individual gains and progress from players, both on the farm and at the big league level.
Last night’s game is the latest example of how defense has gotten away from this organization. Not so long ago, the Orioles played solid defense while making the postseason, and were an organization built on great defense over the years. It’s time to start getting back to making some plays out there.
Perhaps the Orioles need to consider defense first in almost every acquisition, draft pick and international signing. Can this player play at least solid-average defense? If no, why keep adding such players? Drafting Grenier in June was a start.
There are 11 games to go before the Orioles’ worst season ever will be over. Not long after the last pitch, perhaps, we find out about the team’s management. Who is in and who is out? If changes are coming, here’s a hope they happen swiftly. There has to be a sense of urgency here that starts at the top and filters down.
I watched this team lose for 14 straight years, and many fans never once turned their back on the team. The passion for Oriole baseball runs deep around here. But this year eroded some of that. How could it not have done so?
It’s time for the Orioles to start making decisions and doing things on the field that show their fans there is a means to an end. In the clubhouse, players will earn fans’ respect if they admit it when they are playing poorly, own it and make efforts to change and improve. Baltimore fans love to see effort, desire and hustle. The worst player on the team can do that.
If rebuilding a baseball team was a nine-inning game, the Orioles are in the first inning right now. But they need to play the next eight innings better than the 2018 Orioles would.