In a blog entry earlier this month on BaltimoreBaseball.com, I asked readers whether the start of this Orioles' season had them more frustrated than ever before.
A significant number said yes -- and that wasn't surprising.
We live in the moment; things always seem worse, better or more intense as we are experiencing them. Proper perspective isn't found until we've moved on and can look back.
Still, the first six weeks of the Orioles' 2018 season have been terribly ugly. We don't need retrospect for that. Statistically speaking, however, this is not as bad as the 0-21 start of the 1988 season or the 4-32 finish to the 2002 season.
But fans don't want historical perspective. They want to scream from the foul pole that this has been positively miserable because there are so many factors that have led the Orioles to this point. There are so many reasons why this team is awful, why the future looks bleak and why the success in the recent past seems wasted.
Here are my thoughts on what has made the beginning of 2018 so painful to endure, even if it isn't the worst stretch, record-wise, in the franchise's history.
It's a carryover
Sometimes bad starts are shocking. Yet the Orioles dropped 22 of 29 to end 2017. Since much of the personnel is the same, with the exception of two-fifths of the starting rotation, this has been an extension of last season's plummet. That's frustrating because the front office had the offseason to make this team better -- and it spent money on its biggest need. Yet this club isn't better. It's at least as bad as last September, maybe worse.
The rotation has improved, but only mildly
The Orioles spent a guaranteed $76 million to fill three spots in the rotation: Alex Cobb (a four-year, $57 million deal); Andrew Cashner (two years, $16 million); and Chris Tillman (one year, $3 million). But the results, so far, have not been considerably better. Cobb had almost no spring and struggled early, Cashner has been inconsistent and Tillman hasn't broken out of his 2017 funk. There's hope for this group, but the big step hasn't been taken yet.
The offense has remained maddingly similar
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said repeatedly that the offense needs to be better at getting on base. And yet, nothing was done during the offseason to improve that. The primary offensive acquisitions were Colby Rasmus, Pedro Alvarez and Danny Valencia, all players with power and a propensity for strikeouts. The one-dimensional offense became even more one-dimensional and the strikeouts initially piled up at a record pace. Yes, these Orioles can erupt for a big inning on occasion, but that doesn't make up for those multiple-strikeout, rally-killing innings that are so prevalent with this team.
The defense is much worse
One of the more impressive things about manager Buck Showalter's teams during their postseason march from 2012-2016 was just how rock-solid the defense was. There was a Gold-Glove-caliber defender at most positions. That's no longer the case. The club's best defender switched positions from third base to shortstop, and Manny Machado is undergoing growing pains as part of the transition. He'll be fine, but third base -- with and without Tim Beckham, who underwent sports hernia surgery in late April -- is a concern. So, too, was second base with Jonathan Schoop on the shelf. The truth is the Orioles have arguably six first basemen and/or designated hitter types on the roster, and it shows.
The bullpen is in flux
Throughout the Orioles' recent run, the bullpen has been the fix-it-all duct tape. That's not the case anymore. Zach Britton likely won't pitch for the Orioles until early June due to offseason Achilles surgery. His replacement at closer, Brad Brach, has struggled mightily in the early going. Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day have struggled to find consistency. The Orioles are also carrying a Rule 5 pick, Pedro Araujo, who has a good arm but had never pitched above High-A before the season and isn't yet prepared for having to make important pitches in the majors.
Manny is gone
Machado says all the right things, but there is little question that the pending free agent will be playing elsewhere in 2019. Frankly, the way the Orioles have started this year, it would be a shock if he isn't traded by the July 31 non-waiver deadline. The Orioles aren't going to pay him top dollar -- the sense is he'll get somewhere between $200 and $300 million -- and haven't attempted to negotiate in a couple years, believing (correctly) that ship has sailed. It's understandable the Orioles don't want to spend a huge chunk of their payroll on one player; the real frustration is born from the lack of foresight a few years ago in not attempting to lock up the generational talent. History appears to be repeating itself with Schoop, who is a free agent after 2019 and has not been approached about a long-term deal.
Davis is staying
When Chris Davis signed a franchise-record, seven-year, $161 million deal with the Orioles in January 2016 -- a contract brokered by majority owner Peter Angelos -- most saw it as a sign that the Orioles were rewarding a prodigious slugger and strong defender who had led the league in homers in 2015. It also was perceived as an overpay, but, hey, it wasn't the fans' money. Well, it's been a disastrous ride for Davis, who often looks completely lost at the plate. He's 32, signed through 2022 and is untradeable. He's also not going to be cut; that would be a tremendous amount of money for a franchise like the Orioles to absorb with no chance of production at all. To exacerbate things, some fans have targeted Davis' contract as the reason the Orioles don't have the money for Machado. I don't fully buy that. Even if Davis had never been signed, I couldn't imagine the Orioles spending $300 million on a single player. Yet, the way Davis' contract situation has turned out, it certainly makes it less likely for this
ownership group to want to rendezvous in that upscale neighborhood again.
Lack of direction
Perhaps everything above can be wrapped up into this one paragraph. There doesn't seem to be a plan for these Orioles. Showalter and Duquette are without contracts after this season, and though I'd expect Showalter to return to the dugout, the hierarchy for 2019 is a mystery. Vice president Brady Anderson will continue to have major influence with the Angelos family, but without one person fully in charge, the approach going forward is in doubt. That may be the apex of frustration for the fan base, because you can't buy into a plan when you don't know what that plan is.