The Orioles remain in full plummet and it’s fair to ask how much longer they can go on like this before somebody is offered up as a sacrifice to the baseball gods, the angry fan base or an impatient ownership.
This would normally be the point in a disastrous season when everyone is on full alert and no one is safe.
It appears, however, that the situation deteriorated so quickly and so completely that trying to pin the blame on anyone in particular for the collapse might actually compromise the franchise’s ability to embark on a new course and position itself for a brighter future.
The Orioles organization, as we all have known for many months, is at a crossroads. Several key members of the team are headed for free agency, and the contracts of manager Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette expire at the end of this season. There are so many plates spinning in the air right now that any sudden disruption could be counterproductive and – with hope of salvaging this season already lost – pointless.
The focus now needs to remain on exploiting the team’s solid position in the draft, which runs Monday to Wednesday, then maximizing the return on its pending free agents who almost certainly will be traded over the next few months.
For all the speculation about the future of Duquette – and all the frustration that has been focused on him from outside the organization – he remains the main man when it comes to the draft and whatever trade talks might be in the works. Who knows if he’ll be in the same position next year, but the last thing the Orioles need right now is any doubt about who’s in charge in those two areas.
If Showalter’s status seems similarly uncertain, there also is more logic at this point to it remaining a nonissue while the organization figures out just how much rebuilding is going to take place over the next six or seven months.
The more good young players the Orioles bring in during their potential free-agent fire sale, the more it will make sense to stay with a manager who is a stickler for instruction and strong fundamentals.
Showalter’s contribution to the revival of the organization is undeniable and fans should endeavor to have a long memory – at least one long enough to remember the Orioles had endured 14 straight losing seasons before they reached the playoffs three times in the first five years of the now-endangered Showalter-Duquette era.
This season has gone so badly it would be easy to conclude any change might be a positive one, but abandoning hope during a short-term downturn is not a strategy for long-term success. It is becoming fairly obvious that this season was doomed from the start and Showalter had little to do with the factors that contributed to his team’s implosion.
There are veteran players in the clubhouse who say privately that it was apparent from the start of spring training that the team chemistry that once carried the Orioles to the best regular-season record in the American League over a five-year period was no longer in evidence.
Maybe there was too much early emphasis on the likelihood that the band would be breaking up after this season. Maybe it was the offseason injury to closer Zach Britton and the departure of infield cornerstone J.J. Hardy. There obviously was anticipation that this would be a season of instability and transition, which might have bred the feeling that this year would be an every-man-for-himself proposition.
Showalter obviously sensed he would need to do something dynamic to get the offense in gear, but starting the season with struggling Chris Davis in the leadoff spot only contributed to an offensive malaise that has yet to subside.
Hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh can’t be feeling too comfortable, especially with the Orioles struggling to average one run per game over the past week, but even he should be insulated by the offensive performance during his previous three seasons with the club. Remember, this is a team that used to have a 20-homer threat (Hardy) batting ninth and now features four or five guys batting under .230 almost every night.
Coolbaugh can’t be expected to cure Davis of his chronic ineffectiveness or turn Triple-A guys into .300 hitters.
This team and this season do not appear to be fixable, so the Orioles should be wary of muddying up the situation with a quick fix.