The Orioles may not be mathematically eliminated from the postseason hunt yet, but their chances are practically nil and the meaningful games are essentially over. A lot of things went wrong earlier in the year to put them in the place where they began the month. Their 5-11 record has done them in for once and for all, though.
All that there is to do now is to watch the remaining games hoping that they might offer some signs of hope for next season. Things can be better than this. We know this because we've seen it in 2012, 2014, and even 2016. It's not so easy as to just point and say it and it happens, but we know that the people in charge and many of the players involved can come together to make some good baseball happen.
Summoning hope for next year is a bit of a difficult proposition on those nights where we are subjected to the starting pitching of Wade Miley, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Tillman, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Even about those guys, though, there's good news.
- The bad starting pitchers are all about to be free agents
Let's not count our chickens before the eggs hatch. Miley has a $12 million option for next season that the team may yet choose to exercise, and as an observer of Dan Duquette in action for several years now, I've had the sneaking suspicion that the Orioles will end up trying to bring back Tillman on a low-cost, incentive-heavy contract.
That said, again, we're hoping for the best, and frankly, the best thing seems to be to hope that none of that quartet makes a return to the Orioles. There's always the question over whether to go with the devil you know or the devil you don't know. When the devil you know has an MLB-worst 5.65 ERA, which was the O's rotation ERA going into Sunday, go with the devil you don't know.
This opens up a whole new uncertainty about the starting rotation. The performance of starting pitchers at the Double-A and Triple-A levels of the Orioles organization this year doesn't inspire much confidence about internal options. When you have to fill two spots internally, you end up with Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright and a rotation like 2015. Wait, wasn't I supposed to try to be hopeful in this article?
2. Look for positive signs from Chance Sisco and Austin Hays
The two top Orioles prospects who've gotten September call-ups haven't made it into a ton of games yet, but let's hope that as it becomes increasingly apparent over the last two weeks that they're out of the picture, those guys will get to play more in order to gain some experience that they can carry forward to the 2018 Orioles.
Buck Showalter always likes to warn not to read too much into September success. It can be lesser competition, especially in late innings of blowouts, which is when Hays and Sisco seem to get a few at-bats. But it's hard not to be hopeful about these guys.
If the O's can fill their few position player holes for 2018 internally, that's more money they can try to use to address the rotation. Just look at all of the quality free agents they could try to sign. On second thought, don't look at that list.
3. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy can both complete strong second halves
It's easy to get fooled by half of one successful season. After all, the Orioles did this very thing when they signed Jimenez. Even so, it takes a more bitter pessimist than even myself not to be happy when looking at Gausman and Bundy getting stronger as the season has gone along.
Gausman's 12 second half starts have brought him a 3.44 ERA. He looks like the pitcher we hoped he would be all year. Bundy's been nursed along a bit with just nine second half starts, but he's posted a 3.45 ERA in those games and could end up close to 180 innings, meaning that next year they might just be able to let him loose on regular rest.
4. Pleasant surprises like Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini will still be here
Hopefully, Schoop can follow his buddy Manny Machado's footsteps and stay at a high level once he takes the big step forward. Machado took that leap in 2015, was still amazing next year, and other than a pedestrian first half has mostly continued that uninterrupted.
It's not so easy as assuming that everything that's good about this year's team will keep being good next year. Making that assumption is what left the Orioles unprepared for Zach Britton's absence, and probably more interested than they ought to have been in re-signing Mark Trumbo, among other things.
That's not how baseball players work, of course. Injuries happen. Machado's first half of the season happens for no apparent reason. Chris Davis stops hitting homers or swinging at pitches right down the middle of the plate, belt-high. That totally won't happen to Schoop or Mancini, though, because that's the power of hope and belief.
5. Dan Duquette traded Yovani Gallardo for Seth Smith
This doesn't directly have anything to do with next year's team since Smith is about to be a free agent. I just want to point out that Duquette acquired a real, live baseball player who cost about the same money Gallardo was going to cost this year, for Gallardo. The regrettable Orioles 2016 offseason signing has a 5.72 ERA for the Mariners. Smith has a .775 OPS for the Orioles.
I mention that because, for all of the Duquette moves that people hate in retrospect, there are those ones that turn out to be hilarious robberies. Maybe he will have another move like that up his sleeve. Maybe Miguel Castro will turn from somebody else's busted prospect into a viable rotation option.
Maybe Duquette will take the Tillman, Jimenez, and Miley money and roll that into getting Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani! OK, let's not get carried away.
The O's could end up mathematically eliminated as soon as Thursday night if things go poorly. Short of sweeping their way through the next homestand, they'll probably get eliminated next weekend. This season is over, but there's still a lot to look forward to for next season... as long as the starting rotation is better.