Maybe the Orioles have turned in a new direction, but you’d never know it by their performance in the first two games after they packed Manny Machado off to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They lost Friday night because of two middle-infield breakdowns in the 10th inning. They lost Saturday because they handed the Toronto Blue Jays four runs — three of them unearned and the other on a balk by veteran starting pitcher Alex Cobb.
What exactly did anyone expect? Machado was pretty much the heart and soul of a team that has not had nearly enough of either during this inexplicably horrendous season. The deal that kicked off a much-needed rebuilding project figured to have an emotional backlash, and that appears to be what’s going on at the moment.
Not that there was a lot of inspired baseball being played before executive vice president Dan Duquette finally got real about what’s going to happen around here over the next few weeks. The Orioles have never played worse in their 64-year history, so pulling the best player out of the middle of the lineup and the middle of the infield didn’t figure to manifest itself as a wake-up call.
It simply sent a definitive signal to the fans that they are going to have to reset their expectations for at least a couple of years. The team will be selling the future from here on and — right now — it would take the Hubble Telescope to get a really clear view of it.
Manager Buck Showalter already has spent a lot of time explaining that this is the natural order of things in a sport full of haves and have-nots. He’s been telling anyone who will listen for the past few months that the Orioles had their nice half-decade run and now is the time that a middle-market team has to take a breather and start over.
The Orioles were hoping that their window of postseason opportunity would remain open a crack this season, but it slammed shut with such force that it probably wasn’t necessary to finally raise the white flag in front of the fan base. By the time Duquette closed the deal with the Dodgers, you had to believe that most fans were ready to rip off the rear-view mirror and recognize that every long journey begins with a single step.
What exactly will it all look like?
The Orioles still have a bunch of trades to make, so the next 10 days should be fairly suspenseful. Nothing will match the intrigue of the past month, but closer Zach Britton remains a hot property who could bring another handful of minor league prospects. Set-up man Brad Brach’s value probably has dropped because of his recent inconsistent performance, but center fielder Adam Jones has a lot to offer a contending team.
Those are just the pending free agents. It’s entirely possible that the front office will not stop there, especially if Duquette really intends to perform a sweeping renovation of the organizational roster.
In the meantime, the Orioles appear ready to step up the process of assimilating some of their top minor league players into the major league mix. Outfielder Cedric Mullins is being groomed as the center fielder of the future and should be here soon. He figures to move right into center if Jones is traded and could end up there in any case if Jones is willing to move over to make room for him.
Though it’s unlikely any position players currently in the minors are really ready to be an everyday major leaguer, the Orioles have little to lose by letting a few guys play above their skill levels during the final throes of a lost season.
The fans aren’t likely to object. They don’t need to see the end of the horror movie they’ve been watching the past four months.