Orioles aim for continued improvement in final two months - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles aim for continued improvement in final two months

SAN DIEGO—Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, it’s time to look ahead to the last two months of this fascinating Orioles season.

The team has shown improvement in the last month. Since they lost 10 straight and 13 of 14 on June 28, the Orioles are 14-13.

They just concluded a 12-12 July, the first calendar month they hadn’t had a losing record since August 2017. And, they finished the month with a 5-4 West Coast road trip.

The debut of Stevie Wilkerson as a reliever occurred in July. He pitched an inning in a 16-4 loss to Tampa Bay on July 12 and eight days later, two innings in a 17-6 loss to Boston.

On July 25, the few fans who were still awake or just getting up, saw Wilkerson record the first save for a position player in the 16th inning against the Los Angeles Angels in a game that ended at 4:27 a.m. Eastern time.

The Orioles recorded their 36th win on Tuesday in their 107th game, which is 13 games ahead of last year’s pace when the team lost 115 games.

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There is still much work to do. The Orioles’ 36-71 record and .336 winning percentage is ahead only of the Detroit Tigers.

Fans who were hoping the Orioles would get the first pick in the 2020  draft for the second year in a row might be disappointed. However, the team is several games behind Kansas City, Miami and Toronto, so it appears likely that the Orioles will pick no worse than second in next year’s draft.

Interestingly, the Orioles have never had the second pick in a draft. In the history of the draft, Reggie Jackson (1966), J.R. Richard (1969), Joe Carter (1981), Josh Beckett (1999), Justin Verlander (2004), Mike Moustakas (2007), and Kris Bryant (2013) were some of the more accomplished second draft picks.

Other overall second picks included Players Association chief Tony Clark in 1990. Former Orioles Will Clark (1984) and Pedro Alvarez (2008) were also notable.

More relevant to Orioles general manager Mike Elias was his selection of Alex Bregman in 2015, a year after the Houston Astros failed to sign pitcher Brady Aiken.

This year, the Royals picked shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. after the Orioles took catcher Adley Rutschman. Witt was in the mix for the Orioles’ choice, too.

The Orioles still have just over a third of the 2019 season remaining, and many challenges ahead. They must duplicate their success over the past month to avoid losing 100 games, needing a 27-28 record in their final 55 games, which will be difficult.

Although their difficult travel is over and they play just three games out of the Eastern time zone, a difficult August looms.

From August 5-18, they play 13 straight games against the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, including a seven-game road trip to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

Later in the month, they also have six consecutive games with wild-card contenders Tampa Bay and Washington.

It seems certain that the Orioles will do better tnan their 47-115 record in 2018. They should easily win more than 12 games in the final two months, and even a 21-34 record would be a 10-game improvement.

As Elias has done throughout the season, he’ll probably add players through minor league deals and waiver claims. A month from now, the Orioles can expand their roster to 40.

It’s the final year teams will have that luxury. In 2020, there will be a 26-player roster limit for the first five months of the season, and after September 1, two additional players can be carried.

While some fans might like to take a look at left-handed starter Keegan Akin and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle in September, their additions aren’t a certainty.

Outfielders Austin Hays and DJ Stewart are likely to get a more extended look — in September or perhaps earlier. Third baseman Rio Ruiz is likely to be summoned back to Baltimore relatively soon, especially since he’s at Double-A Bowie instead of Norfolk.

Cedric Mullins, who had a disastrous .094 start with the Orioles before being sent to Norfolk and then to Bowie, could earn another shot with the Orioles with a productive August.

Manager Brandon Hyde said that John Means, who’s on the injured list with a biceps injury, is likely to return during the Yankees series that begins on August 5.

If Means can maintain his first-half production in the season’s final weeks, that should help the Orioles finish 2019 on a more positive note.

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