The Orioles’ opening homestand of the second half isn’t the only notable event happening in Baltimore this week. Just a few blocks away from Camden Yards, the Hippodrome Theater is hosting the final week of Hamilton, which is indisputably the best musical of all time. (I will not be accepting counter arguments.)
If you read my Billy Joel/Orioles crossover piece in January, you probably know where this is headed. That’s right: It’s time to recap the Orioles’ 2019 season through Hamilton song titles and lyrics. Let’s go.
I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal
Trying to reach my goal
One of the advantages of being a rebuilding club is that you can give opportunities to players who have never gotten a legitimate shot in the majors or have disappointed in their previous chances. The Orioles’ roster features a handful of such diamonds in the rough who, like the headstrong Alexander Hamilton, are not throwing away their shot.
Pedro Severino, the former Washington Nationals catcher whom the Orioles claimed on waivers just days before the season opener, set career highs in nearly every offensive category by the All-Star break. In the first half, he hit .272 with an .818 OPS, nine homers and 25 RBIs, while playing strong defense. Elsewhere, infielder Hanser Alberto — who was waived four times this past offseason, including once by the Orioles before they reacquired him — entered the break with a .309 batting average, sixth-best in the AL. Both were acquired by first-year executive vice president Mike Elias.
Holdovers from the previous regime have stepped up, too. Renato Nunez collected a team-leading 20 home runs and 49 RBIs before the break, while former top prospect Chance Sisco has emerged as one of the Orioles’ hottest hitters, redeeming himself from his miserable rookie campaign in 2018.
“Wait for It”
We rise and we fall and we break
And we make our mistakes
The flip side of having an inexperienced roster, of course, is that the Orioles have been prone to mistakes and sloppiness. The Baltimore defense committed 66 errors and posted -67 Defensive Runs Saved in the first half, both the second-worst marks in the majors, and has committed a slew of fundamental miscues like missing the cutoff man. On the basepaths, runners have been caught napping and picked off.
To hear Aaron Burr tell it (or sing it), good things will come to those who are willing to wait for it. The Orioles’ often careless play may be testing the patience of their fans, but over time, those mistakes should decrease. The inexperienced youngsters will continue learning from manager Brandon Hyde and the coaching staff, who have a strong background in player development, while struggling players who aren’t a part of the Orioles’ future will be sent packing.
“Blow Us All Away”
I prob’ly shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish!
John Means may not be as braggadocious as young Philip Hamilton, but if he were, who could blame him? The rookie left-hander has been Baltimore’s breakout star of 2019, blowing away Orioles fans with his ability to blow away opposing hitters. A fringe prospect at best before this year, the former 11th-round pick drastically improved his changeup during the offseason with help from new Orioles minor league pitching coordinator Chris Holt.
The rest is history. Means broke camp as a long reliever, pitching so well in that role that he joined the rotation and soon became its ace. He led the Orioles with 3.5 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference, and was selected to the All-Star team, the club’s first rookie pitcher to earn such honors since Chuck Estrada in 1960. The 26-year-old didn’t get to pitch in the All-Star Game, but his journey to get there was an accomplishment in itself.
I know I’m down for the count and I’m drownin’ in ’em
Like Elizabeth Schuyler, the Orioles have felt helpless at times this season, but in a much more discouraging way. While Eliza was helplessly smitten with Alexander, the Orioles have been helplessly overwhelmed by their lack of depth, particularly on the pitching side.
The club has already used 15 different starting pitchers this season, and the Orioles’ trade of the reliable Andrew Cashner on Saturday has thrown their rotation further into flux. The Orioles have had to piece together much of the rotation through a combination of unready minor leaguers, replaceable journeymen, bullpen games and openers. The group has been — to borrow anotherHamilton quote — outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered and outplanned.
Hyde has been frank about the dearth of MLB-ready pitching options in the organization. For instance, the Orioles kept the ineffective David Hess (1-9, 6.95) in the rotation for 13 starts largely because they had no alternatives, and also gave a spot start to struggling Triple-A starter Luis Ortiz simply because his turn to pitch came up that day. The revolving door could continue all season until the club finds someone who’s not so, well, helpless.
“The Room Where It Happens”
We’ll never really know what got discussed
Click-boom, then it happened
This song is dedicated to the Orioles’ draft war room, where a potentially franchise-altering decision happened June 3. The Orioles drafted Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, the consensus top amateur prospect, with the first overall pick. Instantly, Rutschman — who batted .418 with a 1.344 OPS in his junior year for the Beavers, and is considered a polished defender behind the plate — becomes the marquee player in the Orioles’ system, and will likely be one of the most highly ranked prospects in baseball.
There’s no underselling the significance of that No. 1 pick to the rebuilding Orioles, and Elias and his staff knew they couldn’t afford to make the wrong choice. We, like Burr getting left out of important political decisions, don’t know exactly what got discussed in that room where it happened. The Orioles had plenty of well regarded amateur prospects to consider before they settled on Rutschman, including Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and University of California first baseman Andrew Vaughn. In the end, the Orioles were confident they got the right guy. Time will tell whether that’s true.
“What Comes Next?”
You’re on your own. Awesome! Wow!
Do you have a clue what happens now?
So, what comes next? This question takes on a more earnest tone for the Orioles than did King George’s sarcastic congratulations to the newly freed American colonies. The young second half of the season has already brought two new Orioles to the fold, right-handers Aaron Brooks and Tayler Scott, the 47th and 48th players to don a uniform for the club this year. Meanwhile, Elias’ trade of Cashner indicates the club is ready to trade off veterans.
The roster changes probably won’t stop there, but how they’ll play out is anyone’s guess. Will the Orioles bring up Triple-A prospects Ryan Mountcastle and Keegan Akin, or keep them in Norfolk for the rest of the year? Will former first-rounder Hunter Harvey rise to the majors after his successful conversion to a relief role? After Cashner, which veteran Orioles will be traded before the deadline? Will Chris Davis last the season in the black and orange? The final two and a half months could be fascinating in Baltimore.
“History Has Its Eyes on You”
I know that we can win
I know that greatness lies in you
But remember, from here on in
History has its eyes on you
Take it from George Washington — whatever happens today will be remembered for years to come, for better or for worse. That’s certainly true for the Orioles, who are in the first year of a multi-year rebuilding process under Elias and Hyde. The club won’t win many games this season, but the Orioles’ administration is trying to establish a pipeline of talent and lay the foundation for a perennially contending franchise in the future. One day, the 2019 Orioles might be remembered much as the 2012 Astros and Cubs were — as the ugly, but necessary, first step in the franchise’s return to glory.