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The five stages of grief about the 2018 Orioles

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The 2018 season is going to be the end of an era for the Orioles. That last hurrah has started off quite poorly. Coming to grips with that fact may look a bit like the five stages of grief.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Orioles have always been a team on a march towards the end of something. Before this year, the destination of this march seemed so distant as to almost not be a concern. There was always another season to look towards. Whether this year went well or whether it went badly, two months ago, we all knew that the coming free agent apocalypse meant that, as fans, we would be seeing what is at the end of that road.

With the season off to a 6-17 start, with the Orioles spending much of the year with a worst or near-worst offense, with a starting rotation that has no plan other than Chris Tillman occupying one of its spots, with a bullpen where none of the three expected back-end relievers have been any good, the undesirable realization that there will not be any pot of gold waiting at the end of this rainbow sits and waits for Orioles fans to stumble upon it.

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief that loved ones go through as they face a terminal diagnosis and loss of someone close to them. You know the stages even if you don’t think of them every day: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It is an easy enough sequence for a layperson to understand, even if there’s been debate in the decades since about how much it truly applies.

I mention this in an article about the 2018 Orioles because while having a favorite baseball team is of course not a matter of life and death, it is something that involves a significant investment of emotion in something outside of our control entirely.

The era the Orioles have been in since 2012 has been a fun one and it is now melting away before our eyes, the hopes stoked from three playoff appearances in the span of five seasons sputtering into nothingness.

The end of that era is not a loss like that of a family member. It’s still a loss in that part of all of our lives where we are Orioles fans, unimportant in the grand scheme though that may be. You may find that you or those around you are going through the stages about the 2018 Orioles as this season continues in a hopeless direction.

Denial

  • “The Orioles will turn it around as soon as they get out of this tough April stretch”
  • “...as soon as they get Chris Tillman out of the starting rotation”
  • “...as soon as Tim Beckham/Adam Jones/Jonathan Schoop start heating up”

Even to this dogged Orioles pessimist, it is a real shock about just how bad they have been so far. It is hard to believe how this could have possibly happened. The hallmark of this era of the Orioles, at least up until 2016, has been exceeding the preseason computer projections, after all. It was almost automatic.

Now, not only are the Orioles as bad as the computers thought, they’re worse. Except for Machado and Trey Mancini, they can’t hit; except for Dylan Bundy and Richard Bleier, they can’t pitch, and they’re not fielding too great, either. It seems impossible that they could be this bad. If you aren’t quite ready to give up on them after 23 games, that’s OK, but eventually there may await...

Anger

  • “Dan Duquette/Buck Showalter should be fired and/or Angelos should sell the team!”
  • “Any idiot could have seen that the Chris Davis contract was a bad idea!”
  • Josh Hader, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Brault, Zach Davies, Ariel Miranda, Parker Bridwell!”

When you watch, listen to, or attend significant portions of a 162 game schedule, failure like the Orioles have demonstrated thus far this season, and like they showed last year too, feels like some personal affront.

The Orioles had a plethora of choices available to them over the last several seasons and at every turn they took the course that led them here, where they are batting .215/.284/.354 thus far. There have been a lot of bad signings, non-signings, trades, and non-trades.

As Davis takes his latest strikeout, looking or swinging, as the spring training veteran squad of Pedro Alvarez, Craig Gentry, and Danny Valencia collectively looks lost at the plate, as Tillman hurls 89mph meatballs that get rocketed into outer space and Alex Cobb is still pitching like it’s spring training because the Orioles only got around to signing him on March 21, the urge to be angry at it all is entirely understandable.

Bargaining

  • “The Orioles just need one real hot streak to get back into the picture”
  • Mark Trumbo just needs to let the team bring back post-game pies so they can start winning again”
  • “If they can just hold on until Zach Britton gets back...”
  • “I’ll go to every game this September if the Orioles can just stay in the playoff race”

Over the last several days I have found myself thinking things like, “The Orioles need to go 83-56 to end up at 89 wins.” Most of the time this is a bleak realization that the season is effectively already over and that it’s only a matter of time before Machado is traded in July, but sometimes even I, knowing better, catch myself thinking that if only they can start that one hot streak...

You may have your own idea of a remedy for the team, where if they would just do this one thing, things would get better. Replace Anthony Santander with Austin Hays? Sold. Play Chance Sisco more than Caleb Joseph? Yes. Move Machado back to third base? Sure, why not.

Some of these may even happen soon as the Orioles themselves get into the bargaining phase about this season. As the awareness that these bargains cannot and will not save the season sinks in...

Depression

  • “We have already entered the dark years again”
  • “The Orioles have to pay Davis $127 million between now and 2037”
  • “I’m going to have to live to be 100 if I want to see the Orioles win the World Series

The Orioles currently being on pace to go 42-120 doesn’t tend to inspire a whole lot of happiness, that’s for sure. The payroll may be shrinking as the attendance drops from people who reasonably no longer want to spend as much of their money looking at this mess. The O’s don’t have many top prospects and if the latest round of free agent pitching signings go bust, there’s no immediate help on the horizon.

There is a bleakness here. Nothing matters. None of this can be changed. The Orioles are about to be in a period of major upheaval and there is no evidence of a stable hand on the tiller. If there is another 14-year dark era of the team, I will be 47 years old at the end of it. Geez, why do we do this to ourselves?

Acceptance

  • “Machado is going to sign with the Yankees
  • “At least we got to see some good times. Man, remember the Delmon double?”
  • “A top 5 draft pick next year could be a good way to start reloading the farm system”

The Orioles are not a good baseball team this year, and that’s OK. Sometimes at the tail end of a window being open, you don’t recognize that it’s already closed and you chase a little bit too long, missing a prime chance to trade one of the best players in baseball. The team trying to win is not the worst thing in the world, even when they had a bad plan that was rather obviously bad in spring training and got exposed in the first month of the regular season.

Other times, you will invest yourself in a baseball team for six months and they make the playoffs in spite of an awful starting rotation and then the manager doesn’t pitch the league’s best closer in extra innings because it’s a tie game on the road. It is the journey, not the destination, and you can lead a happy and fulfilling life without the Orioles ever winning anything.