R.I.P. 2016 Orioles
We all knew this day would come. The 2016 Orioles are dead. Of the 30 teams in baseball, they aren’t the one that will lift the trophy in the end. Instead, it’s time to dissect the body and find the cause of death. We’ve now had some time to think about it, so let’s go to work.
That’s simple, so let’s address it.
Was it a poor decision? No question. Keeping Britton in the bullpen, paired with the decision to pitch to Edwin Encarnacion rather than walk him to set up a bases-loaded situation and a force out at any base, was foolish. It was inexcusable in every sense of the word.
But it’s not why the Orioles are dead. It was merely what led to the end.
If we are looking specifically at Tuesday night’s game, there are many reasons the Orioles lost. In the frenzied nature of a one-game playoff, many of these things get pushed aside.
Let’s start with the fact that the O’s had four hits in the game, and none after the sixth inning. That’s not going to get it done, especially when your team is built on offense.
One could also argue that the Orioles shouldn’t have even been in the position they were in late in extra innings. It went very overlooked on the broadcast, but Toronto made two very poor baserunning plays in the fifth inning when they scored to tie the game. Let’s also not forget that on one of those plays, Michael Bourn missed a catch he absolutely should have made. Bourn made a few very strong defensive plays, but he also missed a very crucial one. I’m still trying to figure out how it wasn’t scored an error.
Tuesday’s game can be pushed aside. It was one of 163 played this season that mattered, and while it was surely the most important, one game does not define a baseball team. You can look back over the course of this season and realize why these Orioles weren’t the best of the 30 teams.
In the end, the Orioles didn’t get enough offense from their high-powered attack.
In the first half of the season, the Birds were among the best in the game. After the All-Star break (and it correlates with their record), the offense wasn’t up to the task. Much of what I hear from fellow fans about the philosophy of this team is based on the offense. It’s based on this mindset that the current power lineup won’t work. Many feel the team needs more of an on-base mindset like the Kansas City Royals have had over the last few seasons.
In the long run, there probably does need to be a bit more of a focus on getting on base, but the Orioles as a roster aren’t built like that. To completely overhaul it would take time. In the days and months ahead, much will be discussed about the outlook of the 2017 Orioles, but if it doesn’t include more a focus on this, we’ll likely end up talking about this very same thing next October.
When it comes to the pitching staff, there is much to be desired. The Orioles are going to have choices to make when it comes to their rotation, but some of them aren’t very fun. This season’s starting pitching was expected to leave much to be desired, and it did just that. The bullpen was expected to be fantastic, and it was just that.
The Orioles have to be better in the starting pitching department, because throughout the long season, it wears down that bullpen. We’ve seen this narrative play out over and over. The Orioles starters showed flashes this season, and that’s part of the growth they’ll need going forward.
There are bright spots to look ahead to. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy could be actual real life pieces to this rotation for many years. Chris Tillman is still a respectable starter. Beyond that, we’ll see. Trying to piece together Yovani Gallardo, Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley is a chore, and not one I’d want.
Let’s quickly address something else that will rise from the corpse of this season: Buck Showalter shouldn’t be fired for what happened on Tuesday.
As I said, it was inexcusable to fail to bring Zach Britton into the game. And frankly, it wasn’t the first time I’ve questioned Showalter this season. Looking back, I think Showalter had his worst season in Baltimore from an actual “managing” standpoint. There were multiple instances where more probably could’ve been done to help the team win a game.
But the team simply shouldn’t fire him as a reaction to this. Showalter has built up credit with this franchise. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. And as a newsflash, he’s still pretty fantastic as a manager. He took a team that probably should’ve finished in last place, perhaps fourth at best, and made it a postseason team. The Orioles outperformed expectations this season, and Showalter deserves at least some of the credit for that.
If the O’s were to fire him, who replaces him? There aren’t any good options. I understand that there’s a narrative that this is what Showalter “does.” He takes a team as far as he can, and then when he leaves, they end up in the World Series. Let’s not get caught up in all of that.
If you really think the Orioles would be better off firing Showalter and hiring someone else, and that they’d end up in the World Series next year because of that, I feel like you need some help. In my mind, Showalter is the manager for the Orioles until he doesn’t want to be.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be able to dive more into what 2017 may hold for the Orioles. There are a lot of decisions to be made on personnel. Mark Trumbo, Matt Wieters, Pedro Alvarez and Michael Bourn are likely to be among the most talked about free agents. The Orioles will have to improve in order to get back to the postseason. They play in one of the tougher divisions in baseball, as proven by the fact that it sent three teams to the playoffs.
For now, it’s just painful. This team battled so hard and for so long to get to where it did this season. Watching it all end in a one-game playoff is difficult to stomach. That’s why we love the game though. I’ll take the Orioles losing in the Wild Card Game every year from here on out over what I saw for a decade and a half of losing.
In the long run, I think the Orioles are on the right track. They can go further next year with a strong offseason and right mindset.