Orioles need to regroup - and a whole lot more

OAKLAND, Calif. - The schedule can be torturous for teams and the Orioles have felt the effects of its cruel nature over the years. Too many consecutive games in a row, playing until late at night before changing cities, oddly timed West Coast excursions. But the arrival today of another break should be embraced like a loved one.

Wrap both arms around it, squeeze tightly and fight back the tears.

The Orioles desperately need to regroup and revisit their level of patience with a team that’s 18 games below .500 and carrying a winning percentage of .235 that would fit in a change purse with room to spare.

Is Memorial Day still the marker?

Losing 20 of 24 games will leave a mark.

Machado-Points-Sky-White-Sidebar.jpgAn important factor to keep in mind regarding any talk or speculation about trading Manny Machado: The Orioles still won’t give him away. It takes two to tango and to consummate a deal. It takes six to sit on the panel of The Match Game.

At least one elite pitching prospect is required for Machado. The Orioles sought two young, controllable arms during the Winter Meetings and beyond. They gain nothing by handing him over simply because they share the worst record in the majors with the Reds.

A contender will need to step up, not soil its pants over his pending free agency and part with prospects. An outfielder or infielder are desirable, as well. It’s not just arms.

And please don’t refer back to former executive Andy MacPhail’s major rebuild. The Orioles aren’t resigned to taking that many steps backward. They aren’t putting everyone on the table.

There’s going to be growing speculation, and especially this week, about changes coming in some form beyond the 25-man roster. I’ve heard the same buzz as others. I’ve looked into it. I haven’t gotten a confirmation.

Very little would surprise me, but I’m not going to speculate and have it mistaken for fact.

The Orioles know the root of their problems on the field. They aren’t hitting, the pitching is inconsistent and the defense is abysmal. Guys are pressing. Clawing in a frantic manner only deepens the hole.

“Of course they are, but they aren’t the only people striking out in baseball, OK?” said manager Buck Showalter. “But I really don’t care about anybody else but us. But of course they are, I hope they are. But the difference between pressing and trying to ...

“It’s hard to do. It’s something that it’s very easy to sit up in an ivory tower, me included, and critique it and I try not to. I know that they’re pushing as hard as they can. Sometimes, that can work against you.”

They haven’t quit and the accusation never ceases to amaze me. No one, and I repeat, no one has bailed and already made vacation plans. But poor play leads some people to that conclusion. It’s just bad baseball. It’s not disinterest or a revolt or a devious plan to get anybody fired.

It reminds me of the misguided winter narrative that the Orioles didn’t care or were unaware that they only had two returning starters. Meanwhile, they were in negotiations with agents throughout the winter and spring. They were trying to get a deal done earlier with Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb and Chris Tillman. They were trying to coax Lance Lynn into signing with them. And there were plenty of others on their board.

Every player I’ve talked to points the finger at himself, to the group as a whole. They bear the responsibility.

The defensive breakdowns, which feel like they come on a nightly basis, really seem to be eating at the club. It goes against Orioles tradition and the offseason vow to get better. And the decision to move Machado to shortstop will continue to bring a heated debate among fans and anyone else who’s paying attention.

Machado has made some absolutely spectacular plays. He’s also provided a reminder that J.J. Hardy’s steady nature was worth every dime he received. But more than anything, it’s the ripple effect. It’s having others at third base who can’t fill his spikes - as if this should be a shocker.

It’s no longer having a difference-maker on the hot corner.

The plan breaking camp never included a time share at third base between Danny Valencia and Pedro Álvarez. They provide value in other ways. But Tim Beckham, who was fighting his own battles at his new position, is down in Sarasota rehabbing from core muscle surgery.

Machado has been guilty of making some “errors of aggression,” as it’s been termed around here.

“The thing I think that people make a mistake with a guy like Manny is you take away their imagination and try to make them robotic,” Showalter said. “You have to let them have some ... I want our guys to think, hey, if you see something, you feel something, go for it. If you’re always walking around, ‘Gosh, I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that,’ you’ve got to trust yourself. I want him to have that freedom to go for it.

“There’s a lot of things you’d like to take back after the fact, but no one talks about, he has great imagination on plays. About (how) you see him go after a ball and you think, ‘Gosh, how’s he going to make a throw from that angle?’ And he’s got a feel for it. He’s made some plays at shortstop already that I don’t know if anybody makes.”

Machado is hitting and that alone should bring the same embraces as the off-day.

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