It was a far different Orioles team that took the field Tuesday at Camden Yards to lose for the club-record 108th time than the one that started the season with modest but reasonable playoff ambitions, yet the result was the same.
However they’ve tried this year, be it with the mostly intact husk of their recently successful rosters or the newly made-over version without any of the pedigree or star power, these Orioles have lost more often than any other team to wear the colors. By the end of the season, only a handful of teams in baseball history will have lost more.
But for all the talk of the club’s future — the investments in facets of the game they’ve long ignored to throw money at the major league roster, the new faces they hope to bring them forward, and the benefit of this month’s games to build toward that — Tuesday’s 6-4, come-from-ahead loss to the Toronto Blue Jays solidifies that all 55 players who played for them this season will be part of a record that not even a seismic turnaround going forward can erase.
“It’s nothing that you ever expected coming into this year, and you just kind of look back at everything that’s gone wrong — it’s definitely embarrassing,” Trey Mancini said. “I mean, you don’t want to be a part of history in that way.”
Added Adam Jones: “You’re always going to be on the team with the worst record, but I’ve been a part of a lot of great moments here, so a couple of bad ones aren’t going to hurt nobody. You lose, you lose.”
And lose they have. By the time the season ends Sept. 30, they have a chance to tie the 2003 Detroit Tigers for an American League-record 119 losses should they not win again. More reasonably, they could be the 13th team in baseball history to lose over 110 games in a season. Just three have since World War II.
“It definitely wears on you,” starter Andrew Cashner said. “It’s definitely frustrating. I’ve never been a part of anything like this, and I think that at some point, it does become tough because losing is every day, and it’s not a part of who we are as players coming up.”
Though the losing has come regularly this season, the season is pretty evenly segmented. They began the season a team that harbored legitimate playoff hopes with the likes of Cashner and Alex Cobb signed to fortify the starting rotation, and the likes of Manny Machado and Adam Jones back for their free-agent walk years.
The beginning of the season was a nightmare of injuries to the likes of Jonathan Schoop and Colby Rasmus, and ineffectiveness from Tim Beckham and Cobb. By the time the team reached the Memorial Day marker set by executive vice president Dan Duquette for determining the club’s direction, they were 17-37 — 20 games under .500.
So began a process of selling off their veterans, cutting payroll and acquiring possible future assets. Machado was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the All-Star break, with closer Zach Britton following a week later in a trade to the New York Yankees and Schoop, Kevin Gausman, and Darren O’Day leaving at the July 31 trade deadline. It’s the losing with those players that rankles the remaining veterans more than the losing that’s come since.
“You look at the people we had on our team, you wouldn’t imagine the season we’re having,” Opening Day starter Dylan Bundy said.
“We had paid guys,” Cashner said. “We weren’t producing. We had the players. We were actually sitting talking the other day about the players that we had, and it’s just: We didn’t get it done. At the end of the day, we didn’t get it done.”
Since then, the makeup of the team has changed. Fourteen players have made their major league debuts for the Orioles, and five since the All-Star break. They have 19 rookies on the roster. And even with the fresh faces, the losing wears on.
“Anytime you’ve got a bunch of young guys on the field — obviously, everybody that’s in the big leagues is good enough to be in the big leagues,” infielder Jace Peterson said. “You get here for a reason. But I think winning is earned at this level, and you’ve got to kind of put in your time. It’s hard to win a lot of games with a really young ballclub.
“You look around and the veterans, it’s Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, then after that, the tier drops down to guys that have been around but have not nearly as much experience as they have. After that, we’ve just got a lot of young guys. Winning is earned at this level, and up here, everybody’s good. It’s just a process that you’ve got to let play out.”
That’s something that members of the team’s previous record-setting loser recognized, too. Vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson was a rookie who was traded to the 107-loss 1988 Orioles midway through the season, but took out of that the idea that an individual can’t be bogged down in a team’s futility.
“I was on the team that previously lost , but I just always think that there’s always one thing an athlete can always ask themselves—or any human, actually, can ask themselves when things don't go as one had hoped. And that is: Can I make it through a long, difficult journey with honor?” Anderson said. “I believe in that concept very deeply, as a baseball player. You continue to prepare mentally and physically, often single-mindedly, knowing that your career is going to end soon, sometimes unexpectedly, and you’re not going to always make the playoffs. But there’s always one more game. There’s always the next game to achieve that success that can lead to something.”
Manager Buck Showalter’s frequent refrain that the good ones find a way to show that’s what they are holds true here, and he hopes the players who will be here long-term absorb the dismal environment — bad baseball in front of sparse crowds — and disavow it.
“I want them to realize, this is not what you want,” Showalter said. “Let’s do everything possible to not have this going on in September. I hope that’s what they’re seeing. I look at it the other way and I remind them. We had an advance meeting not too long ago where we played some of the stuff for the playoffs, games where the place was full, and this was what can be. It’s up to us. You just understand that there’s a different side of this, especially in our hometown. … Our fans are waiting to embrace it, very much like when I first got here — if we can stay consistent to an approach and a plan, know who we are, know who we’re not and grind the heck out of it. Because our town is that type of town.”
That’s the outside perception, too. ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe, who pitched for the Orioles in 1992 and 1993 and had the distinction of starting the first game at Camden Yards, said the seas of green seats visible on television highlights are what many people around the game and the country notice. As someone who saw the opposite, and knows what the city is like when they have a team to get behind, it’s striking.
“I’ll be honest with you: On TV, it crushes me to not see that place packed,” Sutcliffe said. “Obviously, the two years I was there were the first two years, but I never played in front of an empty seat, and it was just alive. It was really so much more than just a baseball game. To the Orioles fans, the team matters a lot. … Everything about that [place] was about the fans, and the toughest part for me is not seeing somebody in all of those seats, because when the Orioles are relevant, there’s just not many better places to be.”