Orioles return home; playoff chance left on road - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Orioles return home; playoff chance left on road

It’s fitting that the Orioles, losers of eight of 10 on a road trip that unofficially but unquestionably torpedoed any postseason hopes, would win their final game in Yankee Stadium thanks to the right arm of Ubaldo Jimenez.

Kind of sums up this season perfectly.

Things never went as the script dictated in 2017.

Jimenez, arguably the most beleaguered of any Oriole in history after failing to make good on the richest contract the team has ever given to a free-agent pitcher (four years, $50 million), threw five innings of one-run ball and struck out 10 on Sunday afternoon.

That’s 10 New York Yankees batters fooled by Jimenez. You know, batters that play for the club that has absolutely hammered Orioles’ pitching this year.

And the guy on the mound was Jimenez, who, well, you know the deal there.

So, the Orioles at least avoided a four-game sweep in the Bronx. And they are still mathematically alive in the American League Wild Card race –  5 ½ games out of the second spot with a dozen to play. Therefore, if they win all 12 …

Yeah, it’s time to end the 2017 charade. The players won’t. They’ll still say the right things for a little while longer. They have to. And, so will manager Buck Showalter, who, as he likes to remind us, refuses to live in that world of negativity.

But the rest of us do; we also have a condo in the universe of reality. And we understand what 2017 was and is: A season that started out well and could have been promising, but ultimately ends in disappointment. Whether that’s unofficially, after this train wreck road trip – which began with the Orioles two games out of the second Wild Card spot – or officially Oct. 1.

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And the disappointment isn’t simply because the Orioles likely are headed for their first under-.500 season since 2011.

It’s because what truly sunk this year is what concerned everyone last October and December and February and April: The starting pitching wasn’t good enough.

That’s on executive vice president Dan Duquette – and it’s also on Showalter and vice president Brady Anderson. This is a three-headed management consortium. I know what the titles and job responsibilities are, but I also know that all three possess significant clout within the warehouse and, perhaps most important, at the law offices of owner Peter G. Angelos.

I have no idea how that consortium shakes out this winter. Or which man was most instrumental in which decisions this year (and in the past).

I don’t know if a head will roll in the offseason – Duquette and Showalter each have a year remaining on their contracts; I would imagine Anderson has some type of contract, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge on that subject.

But one sub-.500 season usually doesn’t get you punted, especially by Angelos, who prefers to honor the totality of contracts when possible.

But I do know we all believed the starting pitching was a house of cards in March and that it may not be sturdy enough to withstand a couple storms. Admittedly, I didn’t think it would topple so quickly, and, statistically anyway, end up boasting the worst rotation ERA in club history.

I foolishly thought Hurricane Ubaldo would be good this year in his free-agent season after a strong, eight-week twister to end 2016. And I didn’t think Chris Tillman’s shoulder injury and rehab would throw the bulldog off his game so much that he was rendered unusable. Or that Kevin Gausman would be one of baseball’s worst starters in the first half of the season.

Yet I was acutely aware that if a couple things went wrong, Duquette’s patchwork quilt of Plan Bs would not be enough to win the AL East.

There were other problems in 2017, of course, like the annual hand-wringing over the all-or-nothing offense, and a bullpen that didn’t have an infallible Zach Britton to lean on daily.

Put it all in a blender, and 2017 comes out an oozy mess of underachievement and disappointment.

Now, there are two weeks left in the season. There are seven more home games at Camden Yards.

There will be reasons to care, I suppose. Tillman’s and J.J. Hardy’s rock-solid Orioles’ careers are likely ending. So, too, may Brad Brach’s or Britton’s (I’d still be shocked if Manny Machado isn’t the Orioles’ starting third baseman on Opening Day 2018, though).

Outfielder Austin Hays should get more playing time in these next 12 games. So, should catcher Chance Sisco (though I’m not convinced that will happen) and maybe outfielder Anthony Santander (even less convinced).

Trey Mancini and Jonathan Schoop will be putting a cap on their fine seasons that should garner them at least peripheral votes in the AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP races, respectively.

So, given all that, this was not a fully lost season, though many fans want to sell it as such. There were some bright spots painted, some building blocks established and some meaningful September games played (not many, but some).

Still, it was a season that should have been better, could have been better with more attention given to the obvious weaknesses. And it wasn’t. And we all know that now — fans, players and staff alike — regardless what the spin will be until the Orioles are mathematically eliminated.

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