During the first two months of Orioles Rebuild 1.0, the youthful club won a few games, lost a lot more and generally was prepared to spend the season looking up at the rest of the American League.
No one said it was going to be easy, but no one in the Orioles clubhouse thought it could get this bad.
Well, it has. The Orioles dropped 30 games under .500 on Monday night and already were solidifying their place at the bottom of the major league standings.
Manager Brandon Hyde has tried hard to keep the focus on the future and keep the players focused on the purpose of their presence. This year isn’t about winning, but it is about making the most of an opportunity to carve out a place in what everyone hopes will be a much brighter tomorrow.
Sounds like a fine intellectual concept, but every one of the players in that clubhouse has spent most of his life being the best player on his team. Most of them came from winning high school and college programs. Getting punched in the gut every night is a new experience.
“It’s definitely not easy,” said All-Star candidate Trey Mancini, who is having a career year nonetheless, “especially because we’ve had so many games that we could have won, I think, and our record could be significantly better than it is. That’s the toughest pill to swallow.”
That’s true. Of their first 53 losses, 22 have been by one or two runs, but there also have been 15 games in which they’ve lost by seven runs or more.
Though the young players are reluctant to admit it, that kind of losing clearly takes a toll and leads to the kind of mental fatigue embodied by the strange plays and rookie mistakes that have become more common as this difficult season grinds on.
Third baseman Rio Ruiz was still beating himself up Monday for the throwing error he committed the day before that cost reliever Mychal Givens two unearned runs and helped the Boston Red Sox score five times in the 10th inning of a particularly galling loss.
“I definitely didn’t help the cause there,” Ruiz said. “Making that error behind Givvy, that was tough. If I make that play, it’s a one-run game. Definitely, there are some learning things that we’ll be able to work through and we’ll get those wins soon.”
In the meantime, piling up all those losses makes it hard to enjoy your first opportunity to play regularly in the major leagues.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re like Boston and you’re the defending world champs, losing sucks, period,” Ruiz said. “You never want to lose, especially some of the tough ways that we have been losing … especially games we’ve been in the whole time. It’s just not fun to lose.”
Catcher Chance Sisco found himself in middle of several plays Monday night that seemed to support the idea that the young players are trying too hard to change the narrative.
He was thrown out at second in the first inning on the back end of a two-out double-steal attempt initiated by Mancini that made no fundamental sense. Two innings later, he rushed a throw to first base that skipped past first baseman Chris Davis and allowed two runs — including the eventual game-winner.
Hyde has been saying for a while now that since the Orioles are facing superior talent in almost every game, they have to play almost perfect baseball to win. He said after Monday night’s game that both the double-steal and the throwing error were examples of inexperienced guys trying to do too much.
Sisco, who also missed a tag at home plate that allowed that decisive run to score, acknowledged that everybody wants badly to make something positive happen, which can have negative results.
“Definitely, if you’re pushing, it’s going to make it harder to make plays,” he said. “We’re just trying to go out there and get back to playing hard and being aggressive and not really being afraid to make mistakes … but playing smart as well.”
Still, the losses keep piling up and the players have to make peace with the idea that it’s all part of a greater plan. That’s just hard to do when the drive and talent that got you to the major leagues makes it so painful to accept defeat on such a regular basis.
“Obviously, coming into the year, the odds were against us,’’ Mancini said. “People from the outside didn’t have big expectations, but we knew we had a more competitive and talented team than people thought. I think we’ve shown glimpses of that, but overall, especially lately, it’s been disappointing losing some games we could have won.”
Of course, there’s the school of thought that — organizationally — the more losses the better the draft position next year and beyond. But that can’t be much consolation for players who might not be around for the renaissance.