A few observations, thoughts and random musings - they tend to have the same characteristics - while waiting for the start of a three-game series at climate-controlled Tropicana Field in the third-to-last road series of 2018:
* The Orioles didn’t bring back a major haul for second baseman Jonathan Schoop and pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day at the non-waiver trade deadline. It was more about salary relief, international signing bonus slots and minor league depth. But second baseman Jonathan Villar has been a really nice addition.
Villar could have pouted after leaving the contending Brewers and going to the team with the worst record in baseball, but he saw an opportunity to play every day and breathe new life into his career. He brings some skills that are needed, including the ability to steal bases, and his energy is noticeable from the third deck.
There have been some reckless moments on the basepaths. He got thrown out trying to steal third base with no outs. He should have been out twice at second base in the Mariners series - trying to advance on a fly ball to left field and nearly getting picked off - but he’s become a master at avoiding tags.
This guy is quite the escape artist. The Mariners still can’t figure out how they missed him.
The Orioles must settle on a position for Villar and plot how to fill the other spot. He has more experience at shortstop but mostly has played second base with the Orioles. And his defense has improved before our eyes.
Villar has hit six home runs and posted a .329 on-base percentage in 32 games with the Orioles. He’s 27 and under team control through the 2020 season, which could make him a trade chip next year during this rebuild. Who knows? But he has impressed.
* Chris Davis has raised his average to .180, and before dripping sarcasm floods this blog, no one is celebrating it. It isn’t worth $161 million. He won’t get a contract extension. A statue and parade down Pratt Street are on hold.
However, Davis is 6-for-16 this month and has gone 15-for-47 (.319) in his last 15 games, and his average has reached its highest point since May 11 (.181). He topped out at .186 on May 4.
Players don’t have much incentive these days beyond maybe resisting a contender’s playoff push and finishing on a positive note. Davis is trying to avoid posting an average below .179 that would be the lowest in major league history for a qualifier, dumping him beneath Rob Deer and Dan Uggla. That, my Deer, is freakin’ Uggla.
The lockers won’t be covered in plastic after the final game if he dodges the record, but it would be an accomplishment given how far he’s fallen. Give the man a little credit. It won’t kill you.
Davis’ .572 OPS is the highest since reaching a season-high .574 on April 20. And as long as we’re measuring modest gains, he’s struck out only four times in the last five games and has only one multi-strikeout game since Aug. 27.
* The Orioles didn’t protect left-hander Luis Gonzalez in last year’s Rule 5 draft and were thrilled that he wasn’t picked. He remains an intriguing prospect, rising to Triple-A Norfolk this summer after posting a 2.17 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .167 average against in 28 games at Double-A Bowie and striking out 58 batters in 45 2/3 innings.
Gonzalez’s 5.04 ERA in 14 games with Norfolk was born from the 10 runs he allowed in his last six appearances over eight innings. Maybe he hit a wall.
It would be another gamble to leave Gonzalez exposed, and the club has a tough decision to make, considering the number of players who need to be added to the 40-man roster beyond the group acquired in non-waiver deadline trades who already have been promoted. The dice may have to be rolled again.
The list includes pitcher Dillon Tate, acquired from the Yankees in the Zach Britton deal, and reliever Branden Kline, the second-round pick who’s recovered from Tommy John surgery and absolutely in the mix for a bullpen spot in 2019. Left-hander John Means could be protected and former first-round pick DJ Stewart is in the group.
The Orioles don’t need to protect outfielders Yusniel Díaz and Ryan McKenna, pitchers Keegan Akin, Cody Sedlock and Zac Lowther and third baseman Ryan Mountcastle, in case you were wondering or missed Steve Melewski’s recent blog entry on the subject.
Catcher Martin Cervenka is eligible for the Rule 5 draft and set to become a minor league free agent, but the Orioles will re-sign him. He has lots of supporters in the organization and is regarded as a contender for a backup job despite the presence of Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns.
As I’ve written, the Orioles want to include Cervenka on the Glendale Desert Dogs roster in the Arizona Fall League.
Garabez Rosa is once again eligible for the Rule 5 draft and can leave the organization as a minor league free agent. And he’ll probably re-sign again and set a record for most years and games played in one farm system.
Call up this guy on the final day of the season and let him have one at-bat. Or at least let him run the bases with the kids after a Sunday game. Let him take home the next raccoon who sneaks into Camden Yards and survives on Sidney Ponson’s old shirt crumbs. Any sort of reward for his loyalty and perseverance.
* The Orioles are close to shutting down young left-hander Josh Rogers, also part of the Britton trade with the Yankees. He’s getting another start next week against the Athletics unless Alex Cobb is pushed back from Sunday’s assignment at The Trop due to a recurring blister. Either way, Rogers will get the ball again, perhaps for the final time this year.
Rogers has made only two starts and allowed five runs in 10 2/3 innings. He was better in his second turn despite the loss. But more than anything, he’s earning praise within the organization for his confidence and demeanor.
It doesn’t come across as overly cocky or arrogant, just ... confident. Like he belongs. He ain’t scared, as Showalter likes to say. And he certainly has a clue about how to pitch, getting by without a blazing fastball. It sat at 88 mph in Seattle and he wasn’t bludgeoned.
* Votes have been collected for Most Valuable Oriole, which again seems a little early to me, but whatever. And the winner has to reside within the organization, so no write-ins for Manny Machado.
Mancini’s second half surge thrust him into the conversation. He was invisible on June 22 with his slash line at .219/.291/.361. He closed the month with nine hits in 24 at-bats and is hitting .292/.319/.515 since the break.
With 21 home runs in 134 games, Mancini is second to Machado for the team lead and obviously first among MVO qualifiers. How the heck did that happen?
I keep fielding the question in various interviews and figure it’s just Mancini reverting back to form. He’s hit at every level. He didn’t suddenly forget how to do it.
There’s also the chicken-and-the-egg debate. Is Mancini more productive because he finally relaxed, or did he finally relax because he became more productive?
* No one is handing third baseman Renato Núñez a Gold Glove, and not for fear that he’d drop it on his foot. He’s a defensive work in progress. But he made three more plays Wednesday night that grabbed my attention. Going to his left and right.
Núñez was pretty bad in his early days with the Orioles. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. But you can see the gradual improvement, to where he seems more confident making throws across the diamond and is handling ground balls and sharp one-hoppers that were tying him up.
So much credit again goes to third base coach Bobby Dickerson, who remains one of the best infield instructors in baseball. (I’ll specify the sport even though I’m pretty sure that one isn’t needed in the NHL.)
Early arrivals to the press box often will look down and find Dickerson on the field offering instruction to various players, whether at one of the corners or second base. He’s a keeper. Just ask Machado and Schoop. Start there and work your way around.
* Breyvic Valera, part of the return from the Dodgers for Machado, has played in three games with the Orioles and already committed three errors. The bounced throw to first base while trying to turn a double play in Seattle was brutal.
This is no way to gain a manager’s confidence or make a solid argument for the utility job next spring. Dickerson has more work to do. It never ends.
The Orioles will give Valera plenty of chances. They tried to acquire him previously and missed out. They’ve done their homework on him. And he’s 3-for-10 with the Orioles, so he hasn’t been a total flop. But yes, defense is what really matters here.
* And no, I don’t know if the Orioles will reveal their plans for executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter immediately after the season or wait until the conclusion of the World Series and after contracts have expired.
Decisions may still be pending, but the sense remains that changes are coming in some form.