It’s entirely possible — make that very likely — your fresh-faced Orioles are experiencing delusions of adequacy right now, and that’s just fine.
They have gotten off to a surprisingly upbeat start, which is a much better way to arrive at Thursday’s home opener against the mighty New York Yankees than the alternative.
Young slugger Trey Mancini is getting some payback for all the line drives that were caught during his disappointing 2018 season. He has doubled down on a handful of fortunate hits with some big swings that are reminding everyone of his terrific rookie year.
Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., who was not even a twinkle in the eyes of Orioles fans a month ago, has earned an important place in the lineup and has been a spark plug for an offense scoring just enough runs to win.
Infielder Jonathan Villar also has come out swinging and seems determined to inject his particular energy into every aspect of the game.
The result has been a pair of unlikely series victories over the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays on their season-opening road trip.
Does this mean the Orioles won’t lose 100 games this year? Maybe.
Does it mean the experts who dump on the Orioles every spring are going to be proven wrong, as they were several times during the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era? Probably not.
The Orioles are doing exactly what new manager Brandon Hyde preached all through spring training. They’re playing as hard as they can and using the low expectations of them to stay relaxed and keep a constructive chip on their collective shoulder.
Make no mistake. There are going to be tough times ahead, but Opening Day at Camden Yards has long been a happy rite of spring regardless of the prospects for the team.
It’s what happens after the Orioles play the Yankees on Thursday and over the weekend that will determine whether this is a successful season. And that almost certainly won’t be measured by how many games end up in the win column.
Unless you’ve been in a cave somewhere the past six months, you already know this is the start of a long rebuilding process that’s expected to feature a lot of pain before the Orioles produce their next playoff-caliber team.
They could shock the baseball world. Stranger things have happened around here. They almost did that under similar circumstances during their delirious “Why Not?” season in 1989. They reached the playoffs against all odds in 2012 after Duquette promised to produce their first winning season in 15 years in his first as executive vice president.
The likelihood of anything like that happening this year is reduced by the fact that the team’s new leadership is making no bold predictions. The front office showed trying to win right now is well down the priority list with a series of surprising spring roster decisions, assigning top prospects to the minors after good spring performances.
That’s not an easy thing to admit to your fans after you just drew the lowest total attendance (1,564,192) in a nonstrike-interrupted season since 1978. But that’s exactly what new general manager Mike Elias made clear from the day he was introduced to local media in November.
The biggest challenge for the team is persuading fans to stick around while this multiyear process takes root. The Orioles have seen attendance decline in each of the past four seasons, including two before they dipped below .500 in 2017 and fell off a competitive cliff last year.
It’s already apparent that a lot fans are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the rebuild. Opening Day has generally been an easy early sellout, but this year the Orioles advertised “limited” ticket availability on each of their first five Mid-Atlantic Sports Network game broadcasts.
No doubt, the ballpark will be hopping Thursday. But it’s what happens after the Yankees leave town Sunday that will demonstrate how much the Orioles fan base is willing to invest now in the possibility of a brighter future.
If losing a team-record 115 games last year created the ultimate marketing nightmare, the guys on the field spent the past week making the case that — win or lose — they will be a lot more fun to watch than last year’s model.
Of course, how could they not?
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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