HOUSTON—Last week, Mike Elias took another step toward making the Orioles his team with his first draft.
It will be several years before the results of that draft can be fully analyzed. In the interim, Elias will trade and pick up players on waivers, as he’s been doing since he took over as general manager last November.
The results of the early months of 2019 have been hard to watch.
Through Saturday, the Orioles are 20-44. In 2019, they didn’t win their 20th game until they had played 70.
It shouldn’t be surprising that this year’s record isn’t much better than it was last year. Other than Trey Mancini and Jonathan Villar, none of the other six players who started Saturday’s game has much of a big league resume.
There haven been some pleasant surprises. On Tuesday, Pedro Severino hit three home runs, the first Orioles catcher to ever do that.
Left-handed pitcher John Means, with his 5-4 record and 2.67 ERA, has shown promise with the addition of a changeup.
Renato Nunez, who’s usually the designated hitter, has 16 home runs, including one on Saturday.
Nunez and Severino were both waiver pickups. Former GM Dan Duquette snapped up Nunez in May 2018, and Severino was acquired near the end of spring training. Means, who has been in the Orioles’ organization since 2014, was a long shot to make the club this year.
There have some other nice performances, too. Dwight Smith Jr., currently on the seve-day concussion injury list, has 11 home runs and 41 RBIs. He was acquired for international signing bonus money in March.
Whether any or all of those bargains will be around if and when the club improves is unknown.
Manager Brandon Hyde, who coached with the Chicago Cubs the previous five years, watched excellence first-hand, and now he’s watching some poor performances, even when the Orioles win.
On Tuesday, the Orioles had a 12-5 lead over the Texas Rangers entering the ninth inning, but after six runs were scored, only an alert play by Severino on a ball that eluded him after a strikeout saved a 12-11 win.
After that, the Orioles lost three straight one-run games.
“We’ve been in playing in a lot of close games all year long,” Hyde said. “I love that about our guys. I think we compete. I think we’re competitive.”
The Orioles are 6-9 in one-run games, but they haven’t been competitive in games decided by five or more runs. They’re 3-17, and haven’t won a relative laugher since April 23 when they beat the Chicago White Sox, 9-1.
That was the last series won by the Orioles. They’ve gone 12 series in a row without a win since then, and haven’t won a series on the road since April 1-3. They haven’t even won consecutive games in more than a month, May 4-6. They’ll try to end each of those streaks on Sunday.
With the draft over, Elias is working on signing those players, and the international signing period begins July 2. He’s said he expects to announce some signings then.
His biggest challenge of 2019 may come when he tries to further build up his minor league inventory ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Elias doesn’t have many players who have significant market value.
The Orioles’ roster has continued to evolve. In recent weeks, he’s promoted outfielders DJ Stewart, who’s on the 10-day injured list, Anthony Santander and catcher Chance Sisco.
Santander made perhaps the best defensive play of the Orioles’ season when he robbed Houston’s Yuli Gurriel of a three-run home run on Saturday.
Sisco and Stewart are expected to receive extended trials. Infielder Ryan Mountcastle, outfielder Austin Hays and left-handed starter Keegan Akin could be among those who get a look later in the summer. Elias has to decide which of the players he inherited can help the team in 2020 and beyond.
He was reminded of that this weekend on his visit to Minute Maid Park, where some of the players he drafted were playing against his new team.
“I know that’s going to be the case here, too,” Elias said. “I just want the guys here on the team now to keep doing what they’re doing, keep grinding, playing hard. You see how hard these guys play. They’re literally running into walls and hurting themselves. They’re doing the most they can to make the most of their opportunity. I think that’s smart because they’ve got a real shot to establish themselves here and be here a while.”
Hyde continues to insist that it’s a learning experience when the team loses a one-run game.
“We have a hard time getting over the hump and winning close games,” he said. “I think down the road when we continue to develop and continue through this process that we’re going through … I think we’ll be better for it in the long run. … We’re still early on in this process of starting something special.”