In the wake of his second home run in four games and the Orioles’ first win in Houston since 2015, rookie shortstop Richie Martin offered an intriguing belief Saturday.
“We have such a good team,” Martin said. “Think of all the one-run games, close games that could’ve gone our way. Think if we win half of those, and we’re right in the mix.”
After going 2-4 in their road trip through Texas, the Orioles are 20-45, tied with the Kansas City Royals for the worst record in baseball. They are 20 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East standings, and they sit an only slightly less cumbersome 14 1/2 games out of the second AL wild-card spot. It is a large leap from where they are to playoff contention.
So, how true is Martin’s statement? That depends on what’s classified as a close game. In one-run contests, the Orioles are 6-9, with three of those losses coming on this Texas road trip, so flipping roughly half of those defeats would optimistically be five more wins. Although those victories would keep the Orioles from being the worst team in baseball, they would still be in the majors’ bottom five.
That’s not nearly enough to justify “right in the mix.” The Orioles, though, have suffered 10 losses by two runs and six by three runs, so 25 of their 45 defeats have been in games decided by three runs or fewer. Turn 13 of those into wins, and the Orioles would be 33-32. They would go from fifth to fourth in the AL East and still have three teams between them and the second wild-card spot, but that’s certainly a more competitive outlook in the standings than where they are now.
This can be stretched a little further, still. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has said a couple of stouter middle relievers could’ve led to at least seven more wins for his team. Of their 20 losses by four or more runs, the Orioles trailed by only a run after six innings in four of them. Lump those games into the close losses, divide by two, and the Orioles would be 35-30. They would hold the second wild-card spot and be 5 1/2 games back in the AL East, a solid place to be through 65 games.
Of course, this is strictly hypothetical and occurs in a vacuum, one in which other teams’ records aren’t affected. In reality, the Orioles lost all of those games, and awarding them wins in half of those contests is extremely optimistic. Still, Hyde views it as a good sign that his club is within striking distance of a victory as often as it has been.
“Obviously, a lot of these guys can get a lot out of the kind of games we’re playing in,” Hyde said. “It’s a great experience for a lot of these guys to play in these close games on the road. We’ve been playing in a lot of close games really all year long, and I love that about our guys.
“We just have a hard time getting over the hump and winning close games. I think down the road when we continue to develop and continue through this process that we’re going through right now — we’re still early on in this process of starting something special — I think they’re gonna get better, and they’ll be better for it in the long run.”
Martin, a 24-year-old Rule 5 draft pick, is a player to whom this applies. Even if it takes some extremes to get his comment to be accurate, it’s a positive that he, a young player who has mostly struggled for a team at the bottom of the standings, hasn’t lost confidence in himself or the Orioles.
What’s to come?
It’s a week full of division rivals at Camden Yards. Monday’s day off preceded a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays, who the Orioles haven’t faced since their season-opening road trip. John Means and Gabriel Ynoa, neither of whom were in the rotation to begin the season, will pitch the series opener and finale, respectively, with the middle game belonging to David Hess, who pitched 6 1/3 no-hit innings against the Blue Jays on April 1 but has an 8.20 ERA since.
It’ll also be Baltimore’s first look at promising Toronto rookies Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio, both sons of Hall of Famers.
Then, the Boston Red Sox return to Camden Yards. The Orioles are 3-4 against them.
What was good?
Much of the Orioles’ early-season pitching struggles could be attributed to their rotation. They didn’t pitch well, which meant short outings, which meant taxed relievers, which meant they also didn’t pitch well.
This past week, though, Baltimore’s starters were at their most effective. On the road trip, they had a 3.34 ERA, with a quality start in the final five games. The lone exception was Dylan Bundy’s five-inning, three-run outing to open the trip, arguably his worst start among his past seven. Means has been a revelation and has become a borderline All-Star candidate. Ynoa has pitched effectively in the rotation. Cashner rebounded from a couple rough outings, and Hess’ quality start was his first since the no-hit bid in Toronto.
That meant long reliever Dan Straily, once a member of that struggling rotation, did not pitch this week.
After the Houston series, Hyde did not hesitate to say how valuable it would be for the rotation to continue to pitch at this level.
“It would mean everything,” he said. “I love the way our starters are throwing the ball and getting deep in the game. I was really encouraged by our bullpen this series. I thought we pitched great this series. I thought it was our best series of the year from a pitching standpoint. It’s very encouraging going forward.”
Although there have been occasional injury issues throughout the season, as there are with any team, the Orioles have to be thankful they will not play at Globe Life Park again.
In the final two games of their series with the Texas Rangers, the Orioles had five starters suffer some kind of injury. Dwight Smith Jr.’s concussion and DJ Stewart’s sprained right ankle landed them on the injured list. Pedro Severino (head) and Jonathan Villar (finger) missed a couple of games each. A foot injury didn’t keep Trey Mancini out of the lineup, but he was limited to designated hitter duty.
Cashner didn’t start against his former team in Arlington because of leg soreness and had his start pushed back two days. He exited after 87 pitches Saturday because of a “hot spot” on his middle finger, though both he and Hyde expressed confidence it would not cost him any time.
In a season in which so much else has gone wrong, this week it was health.
On the farm
Outfielder Austin Hays’ march back toward Camden Yards continued this week. He was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday and delivered two hits, then homered Sunday.
Hays is getting his first taste of Triple-A after bypassing the level in 2017 when the Orioles called him up to make him the first player in the 2016 MLB draft to reach the majors. He struggled there and dealt with injuries throughout last season, then began this year on the shelf because of a sprained thumb suffered late in a strong spring training.
Both Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias have said the Orioles would like to see players enjoy sustained success in Triple-A before they get called up to the majors. Hays is off to a good start.