The only thing left to be determined is how many games they will end up winning this year and whether the pundits and preseason prognosticators can finally beat their chests about correctly predicting a losing season in Baltimore for the first time in six years.
It appears the franchise is on the way to its first sub-.500 finish since 2011 after winning more regular-season games over the previous five seasons than any other American League team — a distinction that has been a source of great pride for the Orioles front office under baseball operations chief Dan Duquette that reversed a string of 14 straight losing seasons.
That renaissance also included three playoff appearances and returned the organization to respectability for the first time in this century, so it’s understandable that manager Buck Showalter would like to do everything possible — within reason — to get his team back to sea level.
Still, there comes a time when you have to wonder whether it really makes any difference whether the Orioles win 79 games or 82 … or whether it makes any sense to keep sending young pitchers to the mound who might be showing late-season signs of fatigue.
Showalter was pretty adamant during his pregame media session Tuesday about the difference between a winning season and a losing season, even when the difference might be only two or three wins.
“Yes, because that's three more games the Orioles had won and didn't lose,’’ he said. “That's the way I look at it. It makes a difference.”
The issue came up in the aftermath of a game Monday night in which Dylan Bundy didn’t look like himself for the second time in the three starts since he pitched a one-hit shutout Aug. 29. Showalter and Bundy conceded that fatigue is a factor at this time of year, but Showalter indicated that Bundy will make at least one more start before the end of the regular season.
No doubt, there are other managers grappling with the same issue, as well as trying to strike the right balance between playing their regulars and getting a look at some of the top prospects who have gravitated to the expanded rosters.
Showalter said Monday night that the coaches and training staff are carefully monitoring the workload of Bundy and the team’s other young pitchers and that he’s confident they’re not being overused.
The minor league call-ups — particularly outfield prospect Austin Hays — have gotten opportunities to play, but Showalter remains in pennant-stretch mode even if the odds against climbing over five other teams and making up 5½ games on the second wild-card leader are somewhere between slim and Powerball.
“The tough thing is you're always trying to put your best foot forward and trying to win a game,’’ he said. “I don't know how many people come here or tune in [to see the minor league players]. I think they have some curiosity about a Chance [Sisco] and about [an Anthony] Santander and about a Hays because it may bode well for the Orioles that they're potentially going to be impactful. We'll see.
“But we're at the point where people don't come to see the venue unless you're a Red Sox fan or something. … You come to see the Orioles win. That's why they come. But you're also trying to present the present as good and present the future as good.”
There are other considerations that blur the distinction between competition and public relations. The Orioles entered Tuesday night’s game just 2½ games out of the AL East cellar, and that’s where the difference of a few wins could have a real impact on the perception of the team and the ability to sell next year’s club to the fans.
“And I'm sure some people up in marketing and ticket sales and whatever, I understand that a lot of people's ability to do their job rests on the presentation of the product that we have on the field,’’ Showalter said. “All that other stuff is one thing, but it's about the product on the field. So, yeah, does it mean something about next year? You could debate that. I'm a big believer in you seek your level and you are who you are in this game. … Nobody's got to tell us how we're doing. There's a scoreboard and the standings sitting there every day. “
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.