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Orioles' recent run of bad losses might not end soon, and a rebuild doesn't make that OK

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

If the transition the Orioles’ season has made in the past week — from a little charming to downright chastening — grows permanent, the recent mind-melting losses can offer some guidance on how to approach it.

No one watching has to like one bit of it, because the Orioles don't either — even if the assessment of how the losses have come about doesn't give much hope that they'll change soon.

"I'm seeing some things at the big league level that I haven't seen in a while, but that's why we're here. We’ve got to get better," manager Brandon Hyde said after a total collapse turned an early five-run lead into a 10-7 loss to the New York Yankees on Monday. Starter Andrew Cashner called it one of the toughest of the season.

It has fresh company. On Thursday, they led 5-1 in the third inning and lost 14-7 to the Cleveland Indians. On Saturday, Trey Mancini's home run was their only hit in a 4-1 loss, and they had five hits and struck out 15 times in a 10-0 thumping Sunday.

Those who subscribe to the same data-based theories that will drive this Orioles rebuild like to note the sequence of events can impact the ultimate outcomes, even if the events themselves play out as they're expected to.

Four losses of relative ignominy in five games don't mean there will be four more in the next five, or 40 more in the next 50. There might not have been four like these total in the 42 games that preceded this run, even if they all blend together.

The problems that Hyde attributes nights like Monday to have been present through it all, however. They aren't going to be mitigated by extra pregame drills Tuesday or even a season of the laudable, hands-on approach to daily improvement Hyde's coaching staff brings to the ballpark each day.

“A night like tonight, you see how long of a way we have to go,” Hyde said.

The presence of a proven long-term plan and the progress on it allow fans to enjoy the standout performances and the wins in a way that was prevented by the preceding fear of the dismantling of the past decade’s beloved core and the collapse of last year.

Mancini is to be treasured, whether he's an Oriole for two more months or two more years.

Every time they win because their young pitchers get the job done, or because a Richie Martin or a Rio Ruiz or a Dwight Smith Jr. has a big day can be celebrated without a qualifier about the organization's impending doom or lack of direction.

It's what made their one victory in the past week — Friday's 5-1 win over Cleveland — feel validating. It was fueled by a bounce-back start from Dylan Bundy, home runs from Jonathan Villar and Stevie Wilkerson, and then shutdown relief from relievers Branden Kline, Shawn Armstrong and Mychal Givens — the same group entrusted to protect Monday's lead, even if this collapse wasn't all on them.

It was opportunities taken, improvement shown and work paid-off. It just doesn't happen like that every night in the big leagues, especially with the roster of cast-off position players and unproven arms the Orioles assembled as the first representation of their long rebuilding project.

The difference between the reliable, sometimes All-Star relievers that made the Orioles good for so long and the kinds of arms they rely on now is that the former group might fail to get the job done only once a month, where the latter seems to feature arms who endure that fate once a week. Outside of Mancini, it's a lot of hitters who might have one productive night in a series instead of two or three. The cocktail of those two factors and some up-and-down starting pitching have meant many of their losses have had little to do with the effort they gave.

More often than not, the other team is just better than them. What stings Hyde on a night like Monday, and is growing frequent in this recent stretch, is the Orioles are making things harder on themselves when their built-in disadvantages are hard enough.

They left the bases loaded with one out in the fifth inning with a 5-1 lead and saw the Yankees chase Cashner with two runs in the sixth.

With runners on first and third and one out in the seventh, and one run in, Armstrong took over for Kline and got a fly ball to left field for the second out. But Smith fell for a deke toward home by Cameron Maybin and air-mailed the resulting throw for an error that brought a run in.

Brett Gardner was on first after a leadoff single in the ninth, and drew an ill-advised throw to third from Joey Rickard on Maybin's ensuing single that allowed the Yankees to put the go-ahead run on second base. It and two others scored when, after a sacrifice fly tied the game, catcher Pedro Severino lost a popup near home plate to allow Luke Voit to walk on the next pitch and Gary Sánchez to homer three pitches after that.

Hyde chalked it up to the team's inexperience in big moments against a good team and having the game speed up on them.

"That's learning by teaching, and by us talking to them and us trying to get into what they were thinking at the time and give scenarios on what to do better next time, and just have them understand — and that goes back to development, player development," Hyde said. "We're doing a lot of that here."

It's not as unique as it's presented for such development to happen at this level, even if the scale is much more significant in Baltimore than elsewhere. Talented young players race through the minors and have to learn on the fly all the time, often with better outcomes.

And besides, so many of these Orioles are in the majors explicitly because they have extensive high-minors track records spanning seasons that it can ring hollow to say they're anything but prepared for what's being asked of them.

The problem is they're being asked to play 162 games with a roster geared toward player development while facing a playoff aspirant on seemingly a nightly basis. It's absolutely the right attitude for an organization that's transparently building toward the future and only asking for the best that the major league roster can give them every game.

That expectation, though, won't change until the talent base is improved to the point that executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias is seeking. The problem is there will be more games like Monday until then, and thus more nights for anyone invested in the Orioles to feel the way their manager did on this occasion.

"The hardest part on a day like this?" Hyde said. "Well, I don't like to see our team struggle. You wish you could help it some way. Those last two innings were hard, because I know how much guys are putting into it. Guys are invested.”

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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