In the battle of Major League Baseball’s cellar dwellers, the Orioles have emerged the better of the two so far.
The Orioles secured an 8-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday afternoon, their second win of the four-game set that concludes Monday.
The series has further cemented the Tigers’ place as the worst team in baseball, dropping them to 44-104. They’re 4 1/2 games behind the 49-100 Orioles, who have the second-worst record. Baltimore has 13 games remaining; Detroit, 14.
The Tigers entered the series in pole position for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Only a sweep of the Orioles would have shaken up that race. Instead, the gap has widened. The Orioles have all but locked into the No. 2 pick, with only the 52-97 Miami Marlins within shouting distance.
There are some Oriole fans who would’ve rather seen the club lose in Detroit this weekend and make a bid for the top overall pick. The sentiment is understandable. As I wrote last year, No. 1 draft picks have accumulated over 350 Wins Above Replacement more than No. 2 picks in their major league careers.
But that doesn’t mean losing games is something any team should aspire to. The Orioles, under first-year manager Brandon Hyde, don’t take the field expecting anything less than to beat their opponent. And although the difference between, say, 50 and 54 wins might not seem significant, these games still mean something to the players on the Orioles’ roster who are competing for jobs next year. Any contributions they can make to help the club win games could boost their status in the organization.
Yes, the Orioles are in a rebuilding mode. General manager Mike Elias has acknowledged that the club’s win-loss record isn’t the front office’s primary focus in 2019. Still, there’s a difference between accepting that the team will lose and actively rooting for them to do so. Even in the waning days of a 100-loss season, no Oriole wants to hear that players should be in “tanking” mode, or that losing should be encouraged or celebrated.
The Orioles enjoy winning and don’t think about how it might affect their 2020 draft status. And, the second overall pick isn’t too shabby, as Elias knows. As the amateur scouting director in Houston, Elias used the No. 2 pick in 2015 on LSU infielder Alex Bregman, now a budding superstar and Most Valuable Player candidate for the Astros.
Alberto contributes despite mini-slump
Hanser Alberto’s chase for the AL batting title has fallen to the wayside. After his batting average reached .321 on September 8, he went 3-for-17 over his next four games, dropping his average five points. With two hits in five at-bats Sunday, Alberto pushed back up to .317, but he’s well behind the Chicago’s Tim Anderson (.332) for the league lead.
Even if the hits haven’t fallen with the same frequency, Alberto found ways to spark the lineup Sunday. In the top of the second inning, Alberto hustled out of the box to beat the relay to first on what appeared to be a routine double play. He came around to score when the next two hitters both singled.
The following inning, with a runner at third and two down, Alberto caught the Tigers’ defense napping by placing a perfect bunt down the third-base line. The successful squeeze plated the tying run and set up Rio Ruiz’s go-ahead two-run homer, giving the Orioles a lead they held for the rest of the game.
Alberto has been one of the Orioles’ biggest breakout stars in 2019 — sometimes for doing the little things.
No sweeps for Orioles
The Orioles will wrap up their four-game set in Detroit on Monday afternoon with a chance for a series win. Their loss on Saturday, however, assured that they won’t leave town with a sweep. They remain the only team in baseball that hasn’t swept a series in 2019.
According to MLBSweeps.com, just four teams since 1961 have gone an entire season without a sweep: the 1983 Seattle Mariners, the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals, and the 2018 Miami Marlins. All four were terrible teams; the Mariners had a 60-102 record, the Diamondbacks 51-111, the Royals 58-104 and the Marlins 63-98.
The Orioles are four series away from becoming the fifth club on that list. Their remaining series are all three-gamers: one apiece against the Toronto Blue Jays and Mariners at home, and visits to Toronto and Boston to close out the season. The home set against the Blue Jays might be the Orioles’ best chance to get a sweep; they’re 7-6 against Toronto this season and a combined 6-14 against Boston and Seattle.
No Orioles club has ever gone a full season without a sweep, though the 1988 and 2001 squads each had only one. Last year’s 115-loss Orioles, the worst team in franchise history, managed two sweeps, a two-gamer on the road against the New York Mets and a three-gamer against the Blue Jays in Baltimore.
The most sweeps in club history belonged to the 109-win 1969 Orioles, who had 18. The Orioles had 17 sweeps in 1970, 1980 and 1997.