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The sun is about to set on the 2022 baseball season and we can all agree that — regardless of the outcome of the wild-card race — the Orioles have put on quite a show. Better than any of us had a right to expect.
So, is that enough?
If this breakthrough season is already a success, does it matter what happens after the math catches up with their playoff probabilities … because that question is becoming more relevant by the day. The number of games the O’s need to make up, combined with the unforgiving configuration of the rest of the American League East schedule makes it highly unlikely that they will be playing any extra games in October.
Manager Brandon Hyde doesn’t want to concede that point, but he does want his players to stay focused on getting the most out of this surprising summer regardless of the overall outcome.
“We have talked about that,’’ Hyde said before Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the last-place Detroit Tigers. “I use the word ‘finish.’ Let’s finish what we started and win as many games as possible and, hopefully, we’re still playing after Game 162. But if not, to be able to finish the season as strong as we possibly can, that’s really important.”
That’s why Monday night’s 11-0 blowout had to be particularly disheartening, considering that the Tigers came into this series ranked 30th in the major leagues in scoring and were starting a pitcher with a 3-10 record, 5.35 earned-run average and losses in seven of his last eight decisions. The bats remained quiet well into Tuesday night’s game, which should be another signal to general manager Mike Elias that he might want to fortify his promising young lineup with a solid middle-of-the order hitter with some of that free-agent money he’s planning to spend this offseason.
Though the postseason is fast slipping away, there still is much at stake from an organizational standpoint. The Orioles have receded from their high-water mark in the standings – 10 games over .500 on Sept. 3rd– and finishing with a winning record is no longer a foregone conclusion with the tough competition that awaits them over the next two weeks.
It’s fair to say that this season will be celebrated in Baltimore no matter how the final won-loss record reads because of the competitive pit the Orioles have climbed out of and the emergence of their top prospects, but it would be nice to keep that positive energy flowing into the offseason. The fans are starting to believe again, so the last thing anyone around here wants to do is back into October.
The O’s have been a resilient bunch and they’ll need to tap into that strength of character to bounce back from this ego-bruising performance against one of the worst teams in either league. It won’t be easy.
Next up after Wednesday night’s series finale against the toothless Tigers is a four-game set against the winningest team in the American League, and the Houston Astros are showing no signs of letting up after clinching a first-round bye in Major League Baseball’s new playoff format. Then come the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays to close out the schedule.
The Orioles aren’t looking like a team that can beat anybody at the moment, but they’ve stepped up before and the pressure at-bats and innings that lie ahead can only hasten the maturation of the promising rookies who already have played such a dynamic role in the elevation of the franchise.
That and maintaining the organizational momentum that has been building all year will make it all worthwhile.
“We’re giving some young guys some great experience right now and we’re trying to win every game possible,’’ Hyde said. “We’re playing a lot of competitive games. [Monday] night was not one of them, but hopefully we can get back to playing like we know how to. ‘Finish’ is the word that I used that’s extremely important to me as well as everybody else.”
Hyde dismissed the notion that his young team is just showing signs of physical fatigue at the end of a long season, but conceded that there are mental challenges that must be overcome to stay focused all the way to the finish line.
“Yeah, but I think that’s part of being a major league player,’’ he said. “It’s a six-plus-month season when you’re good and we’re 5 1/2 months into this right now and we need to learn to push through. We just won that last game in Toronto, and I didn’t sense anybody was tired there, and then last night we got blown out. Tonight we just didn’t swing the bat very well like we didn’t last night either, but I want to believe that we’re going to grind through this and they need to learn how to and this is part of being a big leaguer.
So, the answer to the original question is no. Just limping to the end of the road will not be enough.
RAVENS LINKS FROM BALTIMORESPORTS.COM