Since gambling is becoming so tightly attached to Major League Baseball that it’s almost cutting off the circulation, with advertisements running every half inning, coming at us faster than Rickey Henderson in his prime, it’s fitting to point out that the Orioles are playing with house money.
They weren’t supposed to be above .500 in the middle of August or to be chasing the wild card, holding the third position for a brief period over the weekend. After earning the first pick in the draft, tying the Diamondbacks for the worst record? No way.
To ask, “why not?” would risk exposure to an hour-long lecture.
John Means’ season-ending elbow surgery didn’t create this perception. It existed before he received his scar.
They followed two straight losses at Tropicana Field with last night’s 7-3 win in Toronto. It was so Orioles. Just when you think they’re out, they pull themselves back in.
Manager Brandon Hyde admitted on Sunday that it would be a disappointment if the Orioles fell short. He meant it, of course. But he isn’t going to claim that he’s just happy to be in the conversation. He isn’t going to say he’s just glad to get a prom date, and it doesn’t matter if he’s voted king.
“I think that we’ve fought for 4 ½ months and we’ve put ourselves in position,” Hyde said, “and proud of our guys for what they’ve been able to do so far.”
What they’ve done is reach a win total that already exceeds the last four seasons, and we haven’t gotten to September. Toss out the truncated 2020 season and it’s still wildly impressive. And now it doesn’t feel like it’s enough.
Greed is good, I suppose. The movies don’t lie.
Ask Hyde in January if he’d be thrilled with contending until the last few days and maybe the answer is different. Compared to what he’s endured in his first three seasons? Absolutely. But now that there’s a whiff of postseason baseball, appetites are raging.
Staying home for the playoffs, and not as hosts for the wild card round, would deflate these guys. Reflection on what they achieved would have to come later. They don’t want to hear about house money.
Neither do some fans, judging by the comments on social media. The thrill of hovering around .500 has been replaced by anger over a series loss in St. Petersburg. Hyde’s lineups are dissected like a frog in biology class.
He isn’t catching Adley Rutschman every day? Rougned Odor is starting against a left-hander? Ryan McKenna is starting again instead of Cedric Mullins?
McKenna had his first career three-hit game last night, so, yes.
These aren’t your 2019-21 Orioles.
Hyde will take that, too, over the apathy that routinely set in as the Ravens began training camp. Passion is a double-edged sword, but it’s better than a plastic knife.
Because a timeline wasn’t attached to the massive rebuild project, we really don’t know whether the Orioles are ahead of schedule by contending in 2022. We can make assumptions, that it’s caught everyone by surprise, but there’s nothing concrete to lean on.
The wild card race didn’t create a detour for executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias at the trade deadline. He still moved Trey Mancini and Jorge López for prospects, refusing to ignore the future by becoming infatuated with the present. But he also made attempts to add major league talent. To keep his club moving toward its first playoff berth in six years while also seeking controllable players through 2023.
The present and the future.
That dynamic played out last night. Kyle Bradish was removed after 4 2/3 innings with the Orioles leading 7-3, preventing him from qualifying for the win. Bryan Baker stranded two runners, and the bullpen didn’t surrender a run.
Let a young pitcher try to work out of a jam, which is good for his development. Or manage to win the game. Push Bradish past 96 pitches because he’s a starting pitcher in a pennant race and this rotation needs to start clearing the fifth and sixth. Or protect a 25-year-old rookie’s arm.
(We share a birthday on Sept. 12, but I don’t think we’ll blow out the candles on the same cake.)
The wild card round runs from Oct. 7-9, with the top seed hosting all three games, if a third is necessary. The American League Division Series begins Oct. 11, and the AL Championship Series Oct. 19.
Game 1 of the World Series is Oct. 28, with Game 7 set for Nov. 5, if you want to start clearing your calendar.
House money spends. Get yourself a T-shirt.