Don’t do the math.
It’s the best piece of advice for Orioles players who will stay on the roster in the second half and finish out a season that’s exceeded their worst fears.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was digging for a positive nugget while a couple of reporters stood at his locker in Minnesota. Just as easily as the team has lost, he said, it could turn around and suddenly win 20 in a row. Keep the faith.
It’s doubtful that Schoop really believed that the Orioles could go on such a run, but the sad reality is a 20-game winning streak still would have left it 20 below .500. There are holes and then there’s the Grand Canyon.
Try to crush the opposition without crunching the numbers.
“At this point I don’t think you can really think about things like that,” said Kevin Gausman. “I think you’ve just got to go out and compete. I think everybody here has been embarrassed by how we’ve played this year in the first half and how far back we are, so we’re playing for our pride.
“We can’t really focus on things like that. You can’t really look at our record because there’s really nothing that you can do at this point. Our playoff hopes are done. It’s about surviving and trying to build something going into next season. And obviously, we’re going to have some different guys around here the second half than we had the first half. We’ll adjust from that and see where it takes us.”
Players search for answers to why the 2018 season crumbled like feta cheese. The lack of scoring, the inconsistent pitching and defense, the slew of injuries, the rotten luck. All good starting points. None that were easily detected within the clubhouse at spring training.
“In spring you always have high hopes,” said Mark Trumbo, “and I think we looked really good in most facets, especially the hitting, which I think has probably been one of the big reasons we haven’t done quite as well this year. And that’s something, you just can’t predict that.”
There were various gambles as the Orioles broke camp. Carrying three Rule 5 picks, including relievers Pedro Araujo and Nestor Cortes Jr. The lack of a true utility infielder. Players who could move around the field, but were valued more for their bats. No true leadoff hitter.
But the Orioles still figured to score runs, they spent on pitching with Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman - the latter on a deal guaranteeing $3 million while other teams dangled minor league offers - and they were confident in their bullpen depth while waiting for closer Zach Britton’s recovery from Achilles surgery.
Colby Rasmus was supposed to upgrade the outfield defense and, in his comeback bid, provide more balance in the lineup from the left side.
Players were geared toward competing for at least the second wild card spot. They weren’t supposed to carry the worst record in baseball leading up to the break.
“Yeah. I mean, for sure, especially if you look at where we were the first half last year,” Gausman said. “The first part of last season, we were in first place for a good bit and winning a lot of games and playing really good baseball. Obviously, besides myself. I was kind of pitching really bad but everybody else was pitching pretty well and we got off to a great start last year.
“Obviously, this year it’s tough to see a group of guys have like career-low years. That’s tough to see, especially with all the expectations.”
“Obviously, it’s been tough for all of us,” said Trey Mancini. “Luckily, we still have a lot of baseball to play and we all take so much pride in what we do. We are very lucky to get to do this every day and winning is a lot more fun than losing. As evidenced (Saturday) night. I mean, that was a great win for us and no matter what our record is, we’re still wanting to come out here and win games.
“Hopefully, we can have some fun here and put a good second half together.”
It isn’t fun to get your brains bashed in, but the veteran core didn’t elevate the club to contender status.
“Honestly, I don’t think the morale is shattered by any means,” Trumbo said. “The won-loss record is bad, but I think at the same time there’s a lot of guys who are motivated to have a good second half and kind of right the ship as much as they can. Obviously for the team, but personally, too. Some of the younger players that are kind of fighting to establish themselves. As players that’s motivation in of itself.
“Everyone’s always fighting for something, even if the overall picture is not always what you want.”
The Orioles have a message for fans who say they’ve quit. Please stop.
Teams that are rolling over don’t usually score five runs over the eighth and ninth innings to tie the game.
“I think a lot of times on social media it’s a select few people that can be on there and say things like that. I don’t think the fan base for the most part thinks that,” Mancini said.
“Obviously, we care about winning a lot, it just hasn’t happened. There’s a difference between wanting to win and winning. Nobody here wants to lose. It’s pretty brutal to lose, especially losing as much as we have, so we all want to win very badly. It makes life a lot better when you win, it makes your day a lot better when you win. So, no matter what our record is, we want to go out there every day and win.”
“I think that’s precisely why I don’t read a lot,” Trumbo said. “From doing this enough, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone that really didn’t care when they go out there. No one who steps between the lines is looking to get embarrassed despite how bad things may look at times. But there’s just no breathing room up here. A guy hits a little bit of a skid and the next thing you know it’s nothing but top-tier pitchers for a week and a half and it can get pretty bleak, but if you put the work in, I’ve always believed there’s better things ahead.
“Kind of how the season works, you get a break here for four days and sometimes that’s enough to kind of get someone’s mind on things enough and when the second half starts you feel refreshed and maybe have a little bit new attitude. It can really prepare you to do a better job.”
Perhaps no team needed that break more than the Orioles, who weren’t tanking and didn’t concede before opening day that they’d be ill-equipped to contend. The mindset separates them from the rest of the losing pack.
“I don’t know how much relaxing I’ll do,” Mancini said before the last game. “It’ll probably be a lot of reflection and figuring out how to turn it around.”
Just don’t become preoccupied with the math.
“You can’t do that at all,” Mancini said. “Just like you can’t do that hitting-wise. A lot of times you go up there and try to get five hits in one at-bat. It’s impossible. So, you just go out there. And you can only win one game a day unless it’s a doubleheader.
“You can’t think too far into the future. You’ve just got to put some good games together and then look up after a while and you pile a good record together and then you can kind of look back and be proud of that and reflect, but that’s not anything you can think about right now, that far in the future.”
Meanwhile, the interest in Britton is intensifying and he should be the next Oriole out the door. The Braves reportedly have joined the list of clubs expressing interest. The Cubs, Astros, Phillies Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Giants also have been in the mix.
“There’s a lot of interest in Zach,” said executive vice president Dan Duquette. “He’s improved his velocity and his sink and his last seven outings have been vintage Britton.
“A lot of interest in Zach. There should be. He was the best pitcher in the league in ‘16.”
The Padres traded Brad Hand to the Indians this week, removing one team and a left-handed late-inning reliever. More focus shifts to Britton.