If you’re an Orioles fan, it obviously is hard to get excited about a team that’s being dominated by its division rivals on an almost-daily basis and will likely hit the wrong century mark sometime in early September.
Rebuilding is never pretty. It certainly isn’t how anybody in Baltimore was hoping to spend the second half of the 2018 season.
It is, as the verbally unimaginative like to say, what it is.
The Orioles are holding open auditions for next year and taking the lumps that come with putting a bunch of unproven players on the field against opponents that — in a lot of cases — are headed for the postseason.
Of course, they’ve been getting pushed around by just about everybody in this, the worst of all possible Orioles seasons. They were an even less exciting offensive team when Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop were still at the heart of the batting order before the nonwaiver trade deadline.
So, this question hangs over the fan base like a low-quality curveball: Why should anybody keep watching this train wreck?
The Orioles aren’t even a good bet to end up with 50 wins this year. The clubhouse is now heavily populated with players you had never heard of a month ago. The franchise’s cornerstone player is only here because he refuses to leave.
At the moment, the Orioles are getting knocked around by the New York Yankees in a four-game series that includes the irritating presence of thousands of visiting Yankees fans, which is a reason to stay home if there ever was one.
Still, there’s an argument to be made that this is actually a good time to refocus on the team and see where this rebuilt train is actually headed.
Though the suspense of the midseason trade deadline has evaporated, there are still plenty of interesting storylines to play out over the next six weeks … and much more intrigue to come during an uncertain offseason.
Right now might be a good time for disenfranchised Manny and Schoop fans to scout a new favorite player or for Adam Jones fans to prepare for the possibility of his departure by hopping on the Cedric Mullins bandwagon.
Mullins, 23, is making a great first impression and he dazzled fans of both teams in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader when he showed how high a 5-foot-8 guy could fly, stealing a home run from Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton. He also continues to swing the bat consistently, hitting safely in 10 of his first 14 major league games after finishing with three hits in Game 1 on Saturday.
Second baseman Jonathan Villar, 27, is not a rookie, but he came over in the Schoop trade and — along with Mullins — has added speed and on-base potential to a lineup that didn’t feature much of either before the midseason roster shuffle.
There is no guarantee that any of the new players will bloom into stars, but the Orioles have a right to be excited about several of the prospects they acquired in their flurry of pre-deadline deals. Not all of them will be here this year or next, but the developmental system is deeper than it was a month ago and it should be deeper a year from now thanks to a favorable draft position in 2019 resulting from the team’s current struggles.
The heavy emphasis on youth will not be exclusive. The Orioles will still have a few quality veterans to hang some hope on. Starting pitcher Alex Cobb has shown over the past six weeks just what kind of pitcher he might be with a full spring training next year. His 2.24 ERA over his past eight starts is not a fluke.
Designated hitter Mark Trumbo, who won the major league home run title in his first season with the Orioles, has struggled with a knee injury for much of this season, but should be fully healthy for the final year of his contract.
And don’t be totally surprised if Jones sticks around for a while. Though the team seemed frustrated with him after he nixed a deadline trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, Jones apparently wants to stay and his leadership would be an asset on a young team. Probably at a reasonable price.
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, but the Orioles finally have a road map that could lead them to some brighter days.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
Become a subscriber today to support sports commentary like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.