Major League Baseball keeps trying to proceed through the 2020 season as if there’s been the slightest tweaks to it rather than a complete overhaul.
The number of games, the restrictions in travel, the roster sizes, the taxi squads, the alternate camp sites, the rule change in extra innings, the expanded playoff field.
But other than that ...
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America is going to hand out its annual awards. As if it’s any other season, except with statistics attached to the winners that are going to remind us again of the abnormalities.
A 12-8 start from the Orioles already had some people speculating about Brandon Hyde’s candidacy for American League Manager of the Year. Twenty games into the season. Because it’s 2020 and that’s how it works.
It’s only premature to start ranking the leaders during summer training camp.
No matter what happens to the Orioles - and their six-game losing streak hasn’t strengthened Hyde’s campaign - he’s proving to be the good fit in a rebuild.
Players give him maximum effort. They’re held accountable. No one is tossed under the bus, but they aren’t coddled. Mental mistakes won’t be tolerated. And jobs aren’t secured simply based on the size of a contract.
The rebuild plan is understood and endorsed, but winning still matters inside the clubhouse. Hyde won’t let anyone think the games are secondary. He seems comfortable with the media - his patience holding up while asked daily about empty ballparks and the weirdness of a COVID season.
Hyde has provided explanations rather than excuses for the poor play, and yes, there’s a difference.
A team is held together during a period of encouraged separation. It’s relaxed but also focused.
“He’s doing a great job for us,” shortstop José Iglesias said in a recent Zoom conference call before landing on the injured list with a strained quadriceps muscle. “Him and Fredi (González), the whole coaching staff, is doing an excellent job moving pieces and communicating with the players. Everything is clicking.
“A good thing that we have is we communicate and he’s the guy, that regardless of his knowledge, he wants to get better and I respect that from Brandon.”
Field coordinator/catching instructor and close friend Tim Cossins says, “I’ve seen a lot of growth in terms of his ability to handle all the things that were coming at him for the first time last year. I’ve seen a lot of different abilities to manage those things.
“In terms of managing the game, I’ve seen him manage games for a long time, albeit at the minor league level, and I’ve watched him throughout his career in the major leagues, so it doesn’t surprise me. What is unique to see and fun to see is his ability to have some performance that shows up maybe a little more consistently than last year. So we can now see some of the moves paying off a little bit. I have seen some more comfort and more natural moves, and things are kind of starting to line up a little bit.”
Hyde keeps deflecting the credit, often citing the coaches and various instructors for any progress made by the younger players and expressing gratitude for the older ones who provide leadership.
“I just think we have a high-character group and I want to believe that’s a reflection on the coaching,” Hyde said. “What we look like does matter to me, how we play the game matters a lot and they get stressed that in spring training and over the course of the year. We talk a lot about our style of play and what we want this identity to be going forward.
“That kind of started, I feel like, the second half of the year, especially the offensive side of the ball. And now we’re continuing that and pitching better. So I just think it’s a combination of high character guys with a coaching staff that really cares.”
Iglesias vowed to serve as a mentor after signing his one-year deal that included an option for 2021. He got to work on it right away in spring training and expressed in a recent Zoom call his happiness at being with the Orioles and watching players like Rio Ruiz and Austin Hays taking the next steps in their careers.
“I think the coaching staff, they’re doing a great job letting players be themselves,” Iglesias said.
Perhaps the BBWAA needs to come up with another award.
Iglesias should be able to join the Orioles on the road trip that begins Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Fla. He’s eligible the following day. Hays is eligible Tuesday but isn’t expected to be ready.
“I think Hays is a little bit more of a question mark,” Hyde said.
“Iggy’s doing very, very well. I think after the off-day when he’s able to come off - I think it’s Wednesday - I think you’re going to potentially see him close to that date. Hays is still feeling that rib a little bit and so I’m not sure when he’s going to be back.”