Adam Jones often reminded Trey Mancini of September 2011 when an Orioles team that finished with 95 losses won 14 of its final 22 games. It was that season-ending stretch, the veteran outfielder told his younger counterpart, that jump-started Baltimore to a playoff spot in 2012.
An alternate experience offered Mancini another example of September’s importance. The 2017 Orioles began September with three walk-off wins in five contests and sat one game out of a wild card spot. They then went 4-19 to end the season, precipitating last year’s franchise-worst 47-115 record and the losses of franchise icons such as Jones, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.
For those reasons, Mancini sees great importance in the final weeks of the Orioles’ 2019 season, and they certainly have something to play for this weekend in Detroit. This four-game series between baseball’s two worst teams begins with the Tigers trailing the Orioles by 3 1/2 games and thus having the inside lane to the 2020 draft’s first overall pick. It could prove better in the long term for the Orioles to be in that position, but the players currently on the team have no interest in holding baseball’s worst record.
“I know the players on both teams don’t enjoy losing, and we don’t like where we are right now, but I think that’s definitely motivation,” Mancini said. “This series might have a lot of implications on the first pick of the draft, but as players, you obviously don’t want your team to have the first pick in the draft. It’s not a great feeling.
“I definitely think that’s a motivator, and no matter what situation you’re in, whether you’re battling for a playoff spot or battling to not have the worst record in baseball, I think we all have enough motivation to win games every day, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Although the 2020 draft seemingly doesn’t feature clear-cut, top-end options like the Orioles’ choice this season between Adley Rutschman and Bobby Witt Jr., the difference between the first and second overall pick could prove impactful, especially when considering the bonus pool differences that could be a major factor when it comes to signing selections from later rounds.
But as Mancini noted, playing well in this series and the final four that follow could bode well for the 2020 team and the young players already in the majors who might contribute to Baltimore’s next winning team.
“I think you want to get a lot of momentum going into the offseason,” Mancini said. “I think September, a lot of times, can really carry into the next season.
“A lot of guys here and getting opportunities to showcase what they can do, and a lot of guys are showing that they belong here. I think that’s extremely important for everybody’s personal level and for a team level, too.”
Players capitalizing on their opportunities are manager Brandon Hyde’s largest focus in these final weeks, as well. He’s started shuffling the names in his lineup daily to give various players ample at-bats during what he called “a total evaluation month while trying to win.”
Off to a 2-9 start to September and facing a Tigers team rebuilding like they are represents a chance for the Orioles to enjoy a late-season spark. It also allows them to avoid being baseball’s worst team.
“In our situation, I care about how we play,” Hyde said. “We just played a series [against the Los Angeles Dodgers] where we had the opportunity to win a couple games by just playing a better brand of baseball and not making mistakes, some things that we just talked about as a club of the importance of not making outs on the bases and catching the ball on defense, little things that we’ve harped on all year long. To play these last two weeks with some clean baseball, that will lead to some wins, and that’s what’s important to me.”