In the middle of the 2011-2012 season, the Washington Capitals, who were suffering from a mid-season collapse among a string of successful seasons ended by post-season failures, made the ultimate decision to fire their head coach, Bruce Boudreau. Despite coaching the team to three straight Southeast Division titles and a Presidents Trophy in 2010-11 for having the most points in the entire NHL, the Caps front office recognized a situation in which the players and coaches were no longer working on the same page. Boudreau, who had created an expectation in Washington that the franchise was expected to do nothing less than win dominantly, found himself on the outside looking in while the Capitals made a conscious move to not settle for “good enough”.
In Baltimore, the 2018 Orioles are facing a collapse of their own. Since 2011, when Buck Showalter was hired and took over the team in August, O’s fans have found a resurgence in their love for baseball. The Baltimore Ravens had long been the only competitive major sports franchise in the city, but after fourteen years of dark ages, baseball had returned. In 2014, Buck led a team of young, hungry players who finished the regular season atop a division that includes both perennial powerhouses, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, an always dangerous Tampa Bay Rays franchise, and a “don’t count me out” attitude team, the Toronto Blue Jays. But, just as the Caps had done in the first years of their stretch of dominance, the Orioles failed in the playoffs, running into a hot Kansas City Royals team and losing in four games in the American League Championship Series. Another try in 2016 saw Buck’s guys fall in the Wild Card playoff game against Toronto.
The Orioles are now two months into 2018 and have the worst record, not just in the major leagues, but of all teams encompassing the major and minor leagues that start their schedules at the beginning of April. They are 150th of 150 in winning percentage. Their pitching staff has a 4.93 ERA, good for 26th best of the thirty major league teams. Opponents are hitting .349 off of them, and only four other teams have allowed more homeruns and given up more total runs than Baltimore. The offense isn’t any better; O’s hitters are batting a meager .231, are last in the league in getting on base (.293), and average a strikeout every 3.7 at bats.
But what is more frustrating than the poor play on the field is the extremely questionable decision-making by the coaching staff. Continuously, Chris Davis is not just in the lineup but is a mainstay in the cleanup spot or five-hole. In fact, Buck Showalter doesn’t seem to have a clue as to how to build a batting order; He could just as easily be drawing names out of a hat to create his lineups. Chance Sisco, the young catching prospect, finds himself riding the bench more often than not, despite this being the perfect opportunity to get him playing time. And what’s with Manny’s demand of moving to shortstop being granted?
In short, there is a very obvious problem. Jim Palmer put it bluntly two weeks ago when, while on-air, made the point that guys don’t seem to care. While that is usually a comment left for those who don’t understand that despite the big contracts that athletes get, passion doesn’t just get left behind in a cloud of greed, there is a level to which players get behind the mantra of a team. As for the 2018 Baltimore Orioles, “I Like Our Guys” was a phrase that generated so much excitement over the last several years but now seems kind of sickening and messed up. Our guys aren’t cutting it but Buck won’t do anything about it. The daily grind of Baltimore Orioles baseball has become a disappointing version of Groundhog’s Day as we see the same stale, underperforming lineup continuously trotted out there.
This team is overdue for new blood. It was in the off-season, but that idea was suppressed when, in true Dan Duquette and Peter Angelos fashion, the franchise waited until the season was upon us to sign a few starting pitchers to fill out the rotation. Unfortunately for O’s fans, the failures of this team by its veterans and the overhanging knowledge that Manny Machado is on his way out the door isn’t made any better when you look at the farm system. However, with that being the case, there are a few bright spots that, for whatever reason, are still trudging it out in the minors. Guys like Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and even Ryan Mountcastle should be considered as call-ups now that this team is so far out of contention that there is no chance to catch up. But we continue to see their stat lines for Norfolk and Bowie while Showalter, Duquette, and Angelos sit on their hands and hope for the best with what they’ve got.
Frustrating as it all may seem, the silver lining seems to be that both Showalter’s and Duquette’s contracts expire at the end of this season. Bleak as the future may be, there is a chance that Peter Angelos and his sons will make the decision to hire a GM that will see the methods by which teams like Houston and Philadelphia and Atlanta have found their recent success. But then you remember, it’s Angelos who, for two decades, has displayed his lack of seeing the bigger picture. He is the same owner who has already publicly stated that the manager position is available to Showalter next year if he wants it. He is the same owner who has refused to allow the trade of valuable players during down years in exchange for future top prospects. He is the same owner who can’t seem to grasp the concept that this team is lucky if it draws 13,000 people a night and that during games against New York and Boston, opposing fans outnumber hometown ones so significantly, there is more cheering for the opponent’s success.
So where do you start? That’s a question that has been buried so far under all of the poor decision and lack of planning that it’s difficult to answer. As a fan, it’s tough to find positives anymore. We will probably watch Machado walk in free agency. We get to watch Chris Davis stare at strike three for another four years. There is a football jersey in Cleveland that, over the last many years, has had added the name of the new starting QBs for the Browns, and the list now drags to the floor; One could probably consider that the same concept would work with an Orioles jersey and the names of low average, defensively liable, power hitting firstbasemen that have found their way into the Orioles’ organization over the last five or six years. This is not a winning franchise anymore. There is no return to 2014 with the current personnel. And the most frustrating, aggravating part of that? Nobody in the front office has a say because ownership doesn’t seem to care.