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Orioles’ Buck Showalter likes his guys too much

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Manager Buck Showalter’s rallying cry from the past, “I like our guys” rings hollow in 2018. He’s been sticking with some of his guys even as they are clearly hurting this year’s team.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at St. Louis Cardinals Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no denying that the 2018 Orioles are a complete mess, dropping seven in a row and legitimately earning its MLB-worst 17-41 record.

Manager Buck Showalter isn’t the main one to blame for his team’s embarrassing performance. Most of that lies at the feet of some combination of Brady Anderson, Dan Duquette and the Angelos brothers. They were responsible for constructing an Opening Day roster that contained three Rule 5 players and four others – Craig Gentry, Danny Valencia, Pedro Alvarez and Colby Rasmus – who signed minor-league deals before making the team.

Imagine going into the season knowing that 28 percent of your roster has questionable major-league talent. And this list doesn’t even include Chris Tillman and Mike Wright Jr. who also ran down the orange carpet on Opening Day.

Showalter has been hamstrung from the start of the season, but it’s nonetheless painful to see him continue to rely on his guys who just can’t do the job – whether it’s Craig Gentry playing in key situations, Jace Peterson batting leadoff or Chris Davis pretending to still be a middle-of-the-order slugger.

Buck’s positive attitude is admirable, but its charm is wearing thin as he talks these players up like they are actually good. It’s not the same team as it was in 2014 when Showalter first started his mantra of “I like our guys,” when asked about how other players could improve the club via trades.

That team won 96 games and finished first in the A.L. East. If it weren’t for late-season injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, in addition to Davis’ drug suspension, Baltimore may have played in its first World Series since 1983.

But it’s 2018, and Gentry is now one of Buck’s guys to come through in the clutch. The same Gentry that looked completely over matched striking out in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Nationals’ Sean Doolittle. He just couldn’t catch up to 94-MPH fastballs up in the zone. Down one run with two on and one out, and Craig Gentry is the guy we need to count on?

The very next day, down by two runs in the ninth, Gentry rebounded with a pinch hit off of Doolittle, but was somehow caught between second and third attempting a needless steal. With two on, no outs and losing by two, this was as boneheaded of a play by a veteran as you’ll ever see.

After the game, Showalter told Orioles reporters:

I’m not going to throw Craig under the bus. He did some things to get us to that point. The guy’s 1.6-1.7 to the plate, he inside-moved him and picked the right time to do it. It didn’t work out. Nobody tries to do more to help this team than Craig Gentry every day. I applaud him for one of the few base hits we had and a good base running play. That’s one that doesn’t look good because of the results and the chance we had there.

I’m sure Gentry is a hard-working professional. He must be to earn this level of respect from his manager. But the facts are that he has never been more than a fourth or fifth outfielder, even when he was 28 in 2012 and played a career-high 121 games. He certainly shouldn’t be relied upon to play such an important role at this point in his career. However, he’s played in 43 of the team’s first 51 games - good for fifth highest on the club.

Through 95 plate appearances, Gentry’s hitting .221/.287/.267. There’s no high-fivin’ this low-fivin’ OPS of .555. That’s good for 13th worst in the American League among players with at least 90 plate appearances. But, sadly, Gentry isn’t the only Oriole on this list – he’s joined by four more guys whose OPS numbers are even more pathetic – Chris Davis (.474), currently-injured Tim Beckham (.509), since-demoted Anthony Santander (.547) and Showalter’s latest prodigy, Jace Peterson (.551).

Peterson is, at best, a 25th man on an average team, His defensive versatility and speed are pluses for a bench player, but he’s challenged offensively as proven by his career slash line of .229/.317/.326. Yet he’s good enough for Showalter to bat him leadoff against multiple Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

There is nothing to explain it except, perhaps, that right now Peterson is one of his guys and he still likes his guys. If only he had some better guys to like.