Let’s be honest. Trying to figure out what’s going to happen with the Orioles over the next four months is like eating soup with a fork.
Memorial Day was supposed to be some kind of mile marker on the road to ruin that has been the 2018 season so far, but nobody’s talking about that anymore. The Orioles passed the mathematical one-third pole between Monday’s loss and the 55th game of the year Tuesday night, but don’t seem any closer to making any of the important decisions about the future of the team than they were a month ago.
Apparently, the goal posts have been moved a bit. Manager Buck Showalter deflected questions both Monday and Tuesday about the direction the team might take now that there appears to be little chance of salvaging this season. He pointed instead to the upcoming draft as the most pressing matter facing the front office at the moment.
“I know they’re all tied up in the draft meetings. … That’s really the focus now,” Showalter said.
That’s logical, because the draft starts Monday and that’s what all the other teams are going to be doing this week, but it’s still an open question whether ownership and the front office have a plan beyond that point.
The Orioles are positioned well to pick up some strong prospects in the early rounds. There’s a case to be made that it has become the most important day of the year, because it’s hard to imagine this season ending without the Orioles ramping up a partial rebuild that is already in progress.
The club already is infusing the major league club with young talent. Top catching prospect Chance Sisco is already playing regularly at the major league level. Rookie pitcher David Hess appears to have won a regular place in the starting rotation. Trey Mancini emerged as an everyday outfielder last year.
The Orioles also recently signed two veteran pitchers to solidify the starting rotation, so it’s unlikely they will try to unload everybody with a significant contract and start from scratch.
Still, when Showalter was asked Tuesday about the progress of some the players still in the minor leagues — speedy Double-A outfielder Cedric Mullins in particular — he was reluctant to get too deep into a discussion of players who might eventually replace the players he is currently writing into the lineup.
“I’m trying to stay focused here,” Showalter said. “Certainly, I know who Cedric is. I know who all these guys are and what they potentially could bring, but I don’t think it necessarily behooves necessarily for guys in our clubhouse to hear me talking about all these guys and trades and moves and what have you. I’m hoping we can put together a really good 10 days and start this thing in the other direction.”
Of course, that’s what he’s supposed to say. Nobody wants to admit defeat in late May and no manager wants to be doomed to the season-long tailspin that likely would result from the departure of Manny Machado, Adam Jones and any other well-compensated players who might be attractive to a contending team.
But it’s also fair to wonder how long Showalter can stand to watch this slow-motion train wreck. The Orioles entered Tuesday’s interleague game against the Washington Nationals 20 games under .500 and 20 games behind a first-place Boston Red Sox team that has the best record in the major leagues and is showing no signs of slowing down.
What’s a manager to do? Showalter opened the season with struggling Chris Davis in the leadoff spot and continues to look for ways to get more out of a lineup that has yet to develop any semblance of consistent offensive chemistry.
Tuesday’s lineup featured Jonathan Schoop at the top of the batting order, a move necessitated by Showalter’s desire to give Mancini a day off because of his banged-up knee. Schoop is the sixth hitter to occupy the leadoff spot his season, which is also a reminder that the Orioles have heretofore not been able to develop a true leadoff man since Brian Roberts.
Showalter often laments how tough it must be on a struggling player such as Davis to have great physical talent and not be able to express it. Well, imagine how tough it must be to fill out a lineup card when so many of the candidates are batting so far below their career averages.
Showalter isn’t looking for sympathy and he doesn’t appear to be looking for the exit, but something has got to give.
The Orioles can kick the can past Monday’s draft, but they can’t keep doing that forever.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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