During this highway-wreck of an Orioles season, people continually ask me what’s wrong with this team.
And they really don’t have the appropriate time for the answer.
There’s a systematic, organizational disconnect that can be boiled down to a plan that is either highly flawed and/or non-existent or a decision-making hierarchy that is so multi-faceted and fragmented that it’s nearly impossible for a clear direction to be forged.
But when I say that, people’s eyes get glassy and they start nodding off.
So, I often center my concerns on what is going on the field right now.
The roster is thin and poorly constructed, the offense is one-dimensional and the starting pitching – although better than last year’s – is wildly inconsistent.
You can say without hesitation that the horrid offense is the biggest issue: It is near the bottom of most categories in the AL and has scored seven runs in this current, six-game losing streak.
You can’t win if you can’t score. Period.
Thing is, though, the complaints about the offense and rotation have been around for the past six years in some sort of fashion and, many times, the Orioles have been able to push forward anyway.
The difference in 2018 is that the Orioles’ bullpen and defense, which combined to mask the deficiencies of the rotation and offense in past years, isn’t the same. Not close.
There is hope for the bullpen. Zach Britton (Achilles surgery) and Darren O’Day (hyperextended elbow) should return shortly after rehab stints in the minors. So, the bullpen should be better soon, once it is at full staffing.
But the same can’t be said about the defense.
It simply doesn’t turn hits into outs often enough these days, and, at times, it turns outs into hits.
Heading into Friday night, the Orioles were 11th of 15 teams in the American League in fielding percentage and 5th in errors committed. That’s obviously disappointing. There’s more to this, though.
The Orioles have seemingly had play after play this year that are ruled hits by the letter of the baseball law, but also include a caveat: a great major league defender should make that play.
It happened several times Friday during the Orioles’ 4-1 loss to the New York Yankees.
In the top of the third, Neil Walker ripped a smash to first that Chris Davis dove for and touched with his glove but couldn’t corral. Tough play. But makeable. Walker ultimately scored the Yankees’ first run.
In the fifth, Gleyber Torres hit a ball into the left field corner for a double. The ball skipped past Trey Mancini, which allowed Torres to try for a triple. It actually worked out for the Orioles when Torres lost his shoe on his way to third, slowed a step and was thrown out by Mancini.
Later in that inning, Greg Bird hit an RBI triple to deep center that Adam Jones tracked and jumped for, but the ball hit off his outstretched, backhanded glove. It was a long run and not an easy play and was ruled a hit, but it’s one we’ve seen Jones make countless times.
In the sixth, right fielder Joey Rickard took a circuitous route to a hard liner and it soared over his head for an RBI double.
None was an easy play. You and me? We couldn’t have caught them.
But above-average major league defenders?
They make those plays. And the Orioles made a ton of them from 2012 to 2016 – turning likely hits into outs.
“Those are hard hit balls (but) I understand,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I’m more concerned about runs scoring, but (defense) is something that we really wanted to be better at this year and, at times, we have been. And at times it hasn’t been there for us. So, I understand what you’re saying, I’m well aware of it. But it’s not from lack of effort, I’ll leave it at that.”
Showalter made a point of saying that he believes Manny Machado is “a lot more at ease with all the plays now at shortstop.”
And I’d agree. Machado is settling in nicely after an uneven start. And third base has been a little more stable recently with Jace Peterson getting more time there.
But, overall, the Orioles aren’t crisp defensively. And that wouldn’t be as much of a concern if the offense, you know, actually scored runs on occasion.
But it doesn’t. And a shakier defense simply can’t make up for that any longer.