The All-Star Game is over and baseball’s idle time stretches to Friday night, when the Orioles host a four-game series against the Rays. They have a doubleheader on Saturday.
The 2019 season isn’t about wins and losses, but it’s still a hard sell for the manager, his coaching staff and his players. They understand the plan and support the direction, but they aren’t going to lay down.
The Orioles aren’t running away with the first overall pick in next year’s draft. They own the worst record at 27-62, but the Royals are next at 30-61 and the Tigers are right behind them at 28-57. And the Orioles won five of their last nine games, taking the series against the Indians and Blue Jays.
Good starting pitching, dependable relief, timely hitting and steady defense have a tendency to improve the results. You can look it up.
The Orioles didn’t sweep a series of two games or more in the first half for the first time since 1991, according to STATS. They also failed in 1955 and 1988.
Lean years for sure.
Three teams didn’t sweep a series of two games or more before the break last season - the Marlins, Padres and Royals.
The Orioles used 46 players, a club record for the first half and 10 short of the season record set in 2018, and a 47th is coming after they claimed pitcher Aaron Brooks off waivers from the Athletics. They keep providing opportunities and wondering who’s going to seize them. They won’t stop checking the waiver wire to fill spots and improve the depth and talent level. They’re going to focus harder on finding trade partners now that the amateur draft and start of the international signing period have passed.
Outfielder DJ Stewart remains on his injury rehab assignment and the Orioles will have to decide whether to return him to the 25-man roster or option him to Triple-A Norfolk.
“I think we’ve gone through quite a bit these first 80-something games and it hasn’t been easy and we knew it was going to be a tough road and we knew where we were obviously starting this process out, our shortcomings and a lot of things. Playing in a tough division against a quality opponent almost every single night,” manager Brandon Hyde said last week.
“We’ve assessed a lot so far and we’re going to continue to. I would love to get back to games we were playing the first couple months where we were really playing competitive baseball. Now I think we have more experience and we know our guys a little bit better, I think that we would win some of those closer games that we played early on. I think we’re going to continue to get young, too.
“I think Santander’s going to play a lot the second half, Sisco, these types of guys. We’re going to be throwing a lot of 24, 25 year olds out on the field and let them develop at the big league level.”
This is where we’ve heard two organizational theories over the years. The minors are for developing, not the majors. But rebuilds can allow for a few exceptions.
Caution is exercised more with the pitching. The Orioles would rather scavenge for arms than push a prospect a level beyond his readiness. But they also waited a while on Sisco and Santander and optioned outfielder Austin Hays toward the end of spring training despite his outstanding overall play. They haven’t brought up Ryan Mountcastle, who’s batting .307/.329/.505 with 18 doubles, a triple, 15 home runs and 51 RBIs in 80 games with Norfolk.
Hyde can more easily manage if a starter works at least into the middle innings. If a reliever throws strikes and doesn’t keep walking the first batter. If more than half of the bullpen isn’t needed every night.
“I was looking at our pitching numbers,” Hyde said. “I’d like to see that really, really improve.”
The Orioles’ 5.59 ERA is the highest in the majors and a significant distance from the Rays, who rank first at 3.32. (ESPN’s baseball site lists the Orioles with five more earned runs and a 5.65 ERA).
They also were last in 2018 with a 5.18 ERA.
Rookie John Means is the best story of the first half with his 2.50 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .220 average-against and selection to the American League All-Star team. An unlikely ace.
Andrew Cashner has been substantially better in his second season with the Orioles, registering nine wins with a 3.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and .234 average-against. He’s allowed only five earned runs in his last five starts over 32 innings.
Dylan Bundy is 12-26 over the past two seasons after going a combined 23-15 in the first two, but a record does little to illuminate a pitcher’s success or failures. His ERA has dropped from 5.45 last season to 4.65 and his WHIP from 1.410 to 1.297. His WAR has increased from 0.1 to 1.5 per Baseball-Reference.com.
Gabriel Ynoa came out of the rotation, though he could reenter it, after going 0-6 with a 6.10 ERA and 1.529 WHIP in 17 games. His seven starts have produced a 6.55 ERA and 1.485 WHIP in 33 innings and teams are batting .284/.345/.567.
Asher Wojciechowski has allowed seven runs and nine hits with five walks and 12 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings in his two starts. Hyde could give him another chance in Saturday’s doubleheader or go back to Ynoa.
Whichever direction Hyde chooses with the start, he’s still braced for more bullpen usage that’s often brought frustration and disappointment instead of relief.
“We have a lot of guys who are having some tough years on the mound and you’ve got to be able to pitch to win in this league,” Hyde said. “You’ve got to be able to pitch to keep games close in this league. I think our starters have done a pretty good job for the most part, especially recently, and I’d just like to see our bullpen guys start to keep us in games a little bit more.”