The Baltimore Orioles reached the quarter mark of the season playing better than last year’s veteran-laden club.
With a victory over the Los Angeles Angels on May 12, the Orioles improved to 14-26, compared to 12-28 at the same point last season.
The differences, however, go well beyond wins and losses.
“Honestly, it feels like we should be more than two games better than we were last year,” first baseman Chris Davis said. “It’s a different feeling in this clubhouse. You can feel it when you walk in. It’s a different atmosphere. We’re having fun, we’re enjoying ourselves, we’re taking our job seriously but at the same we’re going to enjoy each and everyday and I think that’s big for this group of guys.”
The Orioles were expected to compete for a playoff spot in 2018, but instead lost a franchise-record 115 games. As the season began to unravel, the team parted ways with several key veterans, such as shortstop Manny Machado, closer Zack Britton and starting pitcher Kevin Gausman.
Shortly afterward, ownership decided to embark on a full-scale rebuild to put the pieces in place for long-term success.
Dan Duquette, the team’s executive vice president, was replaced by Mike Elias, who helped turn the Houston Astros from a 100-loss team to World Series champions.
The Orioles decided not to renew the contract of manager Buck Showalter and hired Brandon Hyde from the Cubs to take his place.
The team hired Sig Mejdal to head the analytics department, an area where the Orioles have traditionally lagged behind other teams.
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Hyde might have the biggest challenge within the organization, trying to balance the development of players with winning games. The Orioles are fielding a much younger squad than last season and remain a work in progress.
However, Hyde has been pleased with his team’s effort and the overall atmosphere surrounding the club.
“I like the way our team plays. I like the way our team prepares,” Hyde said. “My whole goal coming in, I wanted to have a team … I wanted our guys to play with energy. I wanted them to be prepared. I wanted us to catch the ball defensively. I wanted to compete and battle and grind at-bats. I think for the most part we’ve done that up until this point this year.”
While the team is playing hard, there have been some challenges.
The Orioles are tied with the Miami Marlins for the worst home record (6-15) in MLB. Baltimore’s pitchers have allowed a staggering 84 homers, the most in the majors and well ahead of second-place Seattle (71). The Orioles also have a minus-75 run differential through 40 games, compared to minus-71 last year.
Those are just some of the areas Hyde hopes to clean up in the coming weeks.
“We’ve had some hiccups. That’s baseball,” he said. “But I feel like there’s multiple games that we’ve had chances to win that we haven’t and I hope that as we improve and our guys get better, guys start having more confidence and we can win those games that we lost the first 40, that we kind of had in our grasp.”
Despite some of those struggles, young players, such as John Means, Stevie Wilkerson, Rio Ruiz and Dwight Smith Jr., are taking advantage of the opportunity they’ve gotten with the rebuilding club.
Several minor league players, such as catcher Chance Sisco, infielder Ryan Mountcastle and outfielder DJ Stewart, are pushing for an opportunity in Baltimore.
Hyde hopes these players continue to shine this season and beyond.
“There have been a lot of close games that have gotten away from us,” Hyde said. “I’m hoping these next 40 that we continue to improve and those games we can adjust and make better decisions from a standpoint of being able to stay in those type of games instead of losing those games.
“Happy with our effort for sure these first 40 games. I think our effort has been phenomenal. Now it’s continuing to improve and continuing to learn at the big league level. Now it’s about how to stay in games late.”