In the first four games of the 2019 season, the Orioles have already done two things they failed to do all last season. They’ve won three games in succession on the road, and they’re two games over .500.
In all of 2018, the Orioles had just three winning streaks of three games or more. Each was at home. Tonight, the Orioles will attempt to equal their longest winning streak of 2018, four games. They haven’t won four road games on successive days since September 7-10, 2014.
When the Orioles began the season with three games each in New York and Toronto, fans hoped they’d come home with a win or two. Even if they lose the final two games against the Blue Jays, they’ll return for the Thursday home opener with a record no worse than .500.
This fascinating case study in how to rebuild a ballclub has featured twists and turns in each of the three wins. From the use of an opener to the relievers and the ever-changing lineups, the Orioles have kept even their closest observers guessing.
Led by Brandon Hyde, a most appealing manager who’s disarmed onlookers with his honesty, optimism and the sheer enjoyment with which he’s undertaken this difficult assignment, the team has responded.
There was David Hess, who in the middle of spring training was shelled for nine runs on nine hits, including four home runs in just 2 2/3 innings against Minnesota. Seventeen days later, Hess pitched 6 1/3 hitless innings against Toronto before reaching his pitch count.
Surprised by his removal, Hess had to watch a succession of relievers nearly cough up the six-run lead before the Orioles escaped with a 6-5 win.
Hyde relieved Hess with Pedro Araujo, the only player not used in the first three games, and with the Orioles only because he needs 17 days at the start of this season to fulfill his Rule 5 obligations. He quickly gave up a two-run home run, but in the end, Richard Bleier, who had a nightmarish ninth inning on Saturday in Yankee Stadium, hung on for his first career save.
In three days, the Orioles have three saves, and Mychal Givens, the presumed closer has none. Mike Wright, Paul Fry and Bleier have each recorded saves.
The Orioles will be tested nightly. They’re playing in a difficult division and are short on talent, but the hope was with better coaching and useful analytics, some of those who disappointed last year could improve this year.
While Hyde and general manager Mike Elias won’t be specific about the information that’s being shared with the players, they are being honest about their own shortcomings and the weaknesses of the team.
Even after seven weeks of being around Trey Mancini, Hyde acknowledges he’s just getting to know Mancini—and the other Orioles, too.
Elias cautioned against unrealistic expectations for the team last week.
“We’re doing things the right way,” he said. “The way that they need to be done. The end goal here is not to cobble together a one-year wonder, .500 club that could be a disaster if it doesn’t work right and we spend a few years digging out of that hole.
“We want to put together a perennial contending organization. And we’re initiating that process. We know how to do it. We’re going about it the way you need to go about it. In the meantime, there’s going to be young talent on the field. They’re going to be hustling, playing hard.”
The Orioles are hustling and playing hard, and that’s a major part of the allure of the team. It’s likely that they’ll be playing before small crowds, perhaps the smallest paying crowds in the 27-year history of Camden Yards, but those on hand will be witness to Elias’ laboratory, a place where outfielders are given cards instructing them where to play hitters, and the nightly evolution of a team.
Over the winter, some fans expressed disappointment that the Orioles hadn’t moved quickly enough to turn over the team, but with Richie Martin, Rio Ruiz and Jesus Sucre playing key roles, that argument probably won’t be heard for a while.
Many were disappointed that catcher Chance Sisco is beginning 2019 with Triple-A Norfolk, but with Sucre’s early play, that clamoring will die down, too.
The Orioles will have many rough stretches this season, and they’re unlikely to finish anywhere close to .500, but you’d have to be delusional if you failed to recognize that this team’s attitude is perkier than it was in 2018.
While Martin, Ruiz, Sucre and some others are new to the team, the bulk of the roster is made up of players who lost 115 games a year ago.
There will be players coming and going this season, but the ones who are on hand might provide better entertainment than anyone could have predicted in 2019.