Thursday Thoughts: West Coast Swing Huge for Birds, Fun for Me

View from the upper deck at the Oakland Coliseum.

This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. I absolutely love when the Orioles are on the west coast. I know that I’m in the minority on this, because the games start so late for most. But having spent my sixth summer living in Arizona, it’s a two-week treat for me to have games on later in the evening so that I can settle in and watch.

Could you imagine having to watch almost every game starting at 4 p.m. throughout the year? That’s what I live with. While this year’s west coast swing isn’t off to the best start for the Orioles, it remains an absolutely crucial one. The sound you heard following yesterday’s loss to the Angels was the O’s playoff chances shriveling up. Things are getting very dicey, not just because of their record, but because of the clot of teams involved in the mix.

Ironically and importantly, the Angels and Mariners are two of the teams the Birds are chasing in this endeavor and ones they are seeing on this trip. They’ll get another crack at the Halos this month as well.

2. Everyone seems to be making a big deal out of comments Buck Showalter made last week about J.J. Hardy being his starter when he returns from injury. Even though Tim Beckham has been tearing the cover off the ball, what else is the skipper supposed to say? Being loyal to his veteran was the only option for Showalter. Of course he’s going to say that Hardy hasn’t lost his job.

The truth lies somewhere in between that and the fact that Hardy probably will have lost his job by next season. The trade for Beckham at the deadline had purpose. Hardy’s option and the end of the year won’t vest and the O’s will likely buy him out rather than pay him to play for them.

But in the more immediate future no one really knows what will happen at shortstop. Hardy is still weeks away from being back in the majors and by that point, Beckham may be slumping or injuries may create a different scenario altogether.

Showalter is notoriously loyal to his veterans, but this isn’t a case of that. At least not yet.

3. Chris Tillman has been decidedly awful this year. There’s no real other way to put it. From the start of the season when he was injured it just seemed like a bad omen for the rest of the campaign. His recent demotion to the bullpen is a low point. I’m still not convinced he’s 100% healthy, and I don’t think he has been since early last season.

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What’s more is that Tillman is a free agent after this season. His status will be one to watch, as I could easily see the O’s giving him a one-year “make good” deal. It may not be the best way to invest, but there are certainly worse ways as well. Health and velocity are the biggest problems for Tillman, and if he can prove that those can return, he can be an effective MLB starter.

But for a guy who will be entering his age 30 season, the likelihood of that happening becomes smaller and smaller.

4. The Orioles are a team notorious for making trades after the “soft” deadline at the end of July. They’ve made deals in the past for Alejandro De Aza and Michael Morse. After surprising many and buying a few weeks ago rather than selling, I’d expect the O’s to make a similar small move this month.

Whether or not that’s a good idea is a totally different story. These deals don’t normally turn out great, but Joe Saunders was acquired after the deadline in 2012 and that produced some happy memories. De Aza was pretty good as well.

5. After watching the latest great ESPN “30 for 30” documentary “Baltimore Boys” the other night, I felt a lot of emotions for Charm City. There have been a number of great Baltimore/Maryland stories in the series, from “Without Bias” to “The Band That Wouldn’t Die.”

But the one story I want told more than any is that of this generation of Orioles baseball. Basically, from the point that owner Peter Angelos bought the team in 1993 until present day is an incredible tale with so many different tentacles. It may only be of great interest to a Baltimore audience, but it’s still a drama worth telling. The story, of course, is incomplete. It’s still going and has yet to see a real conclusion.

But from winning teams in 1996-1997 to 14 years of losing and then back to competitiveness, tied in with controversy surrounding MASN and the Nationals, there is a lot of story to tell.

I’ll gladly wait another decade or so for it, because it will have my full attention.

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