Brandon Hyde figures it was 2013 when he and the rest of the Chicago Cubs’ front office looked down at the field housing a game between their team and the St. Louis Cardinals and thought about how far apart the rivals’ rosters appeared to be.
“We were talking about how much different their team was than ours,” Hyde said. “Like, ‘When are we are ever gonna look like that?’ ”
Hyde, now in his first year as the Orioles manager, has likely had similar thoughts float through his mind often this year. If so, they were especially prevalent this week, when he watched from the first base dugout as the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, the top two teams in the American League, won five straight games by a margin of 58-16 before Baltimore walked off a winner Sunday, a solvent for what was potentially the toughest week of the Orioles’ rebuild.
Even when the Orioles’ lost 10 consecutive games earlier this season, most were competitive. But this week was embarrassing on the field and off before Rio Ruiz, a former Houston draftee, provided Baltimore’s first walk-off victory of the year with a two-run shot after the Orioles blew their own lead in the top of the ninth.
The major league records the Yankees set or matched in their series at Camden Yards include most home runs in a three-game series, most home runs against one opponent and most home runs at an opponents’ ballpark. Of course, the series finale Wednesday featured Chris Davis and Hyde getting caught on camera barking at each other in the dugout, with Davis needing to be restrained before exiting the game and eventually the ballpark.
After Thursday’s day off, the Orioles seemed to move on from the undesired spotlight the altercation brought, with Davis and Hyde meeting for upwards of an hour Friday and the team losing 3-2 to the Astros in a game that ended their record run of 12 consecutive games allowing multiple home runs. But then came a 23-2 drubbing in which Houston set a franchise record for runs scored and the Orioles suffered their worst loss since 2007’s 30-3 defeat against the Texas Rangers.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” Hyde said before Sunday’s game. “When you’re in position like those teams, they’re coming in expecting to sweep. They’re coming in expecting to stay hot and beat us up, and we have to do a really good job of playing the spoiler and playing with nothing to lose.”
Houston, of course, represents everything the Orioles hope their rebuild turns into. The executives heading it, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal, are products of an Astros front office that took that team from three consecutive first overall draft picks to a World Series title in the span of five years.
Hyde saw a similar growth with Chicago. Two years after Chicago’s director of player development was among those questioning the future during that matchup with the Cardinals, he was the first base coach of a team in the National League Championship Series. The Cubs won the World Series the next season.
Saturday alone showed the dichotomy the organization is experiencing. As the major league Orioles got blown out, both 2018 first-round pick Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer, part of the package the Orioles got from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade, struck out 10 for their respective minor league affiliates, while 2019 first overall pick Adley Rutschman hit a walk-off single for Short-A Aberdeen.
No one in the Orioles’ organization has been afraid to say there is a great distance between them and competitiveness, with this week at Camden Yards showing just that. But thanks to Houston’s juggernaut and the Orioles’ ability to overcome it Sunday, it also displayed the brighter future Baltimore hopes becomes its own, even if stretches such as the week’s first five games make that kind of turnaround seem years away.
“There is a gap right now, but I think things can turn around quickly,” Hyde said. “There obviously has to be a ton of patience, but we’re going to get talent in this organization, and we’re going to sign the right guys, and we believe in development. You draft well and you hit on a couple trades, and next thing you know, you’ve got a talented club.”
What’s to come?
Having completed the home portion of their 13-game stretch against teams bidding for the postseason, the Orioles travel north to face the New York Yankees for four games, with a doubleheader Monday, then head to Fenway Park for the first time since April to take on the Boston Red Sox.
The Orioles have 45 games left in 2019, and entering play Sunday, their remaining opponents had a .509 winning percentage, the highest in the American League and third highest in the majors.
What was good?
In four starts this week, Jace Peterson slashed .467/.500/1.333, hitting his first two home runs in the majors this year and providing three crucial extra-base hits in Sunday’s victory. His RBI double in the first inning gave the Orioles their first lead of the week. He tied the game with a triple in the fifth and scored the go-ahead run on Hanser Alberto’s sacrifice fly as Houston ace Justin Verlander allowed a season-high four runs and nine hits. Peterson’s second double started the Orioles’ three-run rally in the ninth inning and raised his OPS to .698. It started the week at .389.
Despite their record pace for allowing home runs, the Orioles had yet to have a week like this one. The Yankees and Astros combined for 23 off Orioles pitchers, leaving Baltimore 17 away from matching the 2016 Cincinnati Reds for most home runs given up in a season. Even if that record falls on the road, the Orioles will have another to set when they get back to Camden Yards; they are 11 home runs shy for most allowed at home, a mark the Colorado Rockies set in 1999 before humidors were installed at Coors Field.
On the farm
A day before Rutschman’s walk-off, the Orioles’ second selection in the 2019 draft had himself a day in the Gulf Coast League. Shortstop Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore’s pick at No. 42 overall, hit his first professional home run Friday and added a triple for good measure. An 0-for-4 Saturday ended the 18-year-old’s seven-game hitting streak, but over the past two weeks, Henderson hit .323/.432/.548 with as many walks as strikeouts.