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The Orioles’ final weekend offers a glimpse into the past and the future

As the 2018 season finally comes to a close, there are a handful of intriguing story lines to look for in the last homestand against Houston.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The nightmare that is the 2018 Baltimore Orioles season is through 156 games. Six to go. Two in Boston today after Tuesday’s rainout, followed by four at OPACY against the World Series Champion Houston Astros. Then it is lights out for the worst season in franchise history.

It’s been a turbulent ride since the walkoff win on Opening Day. That day seems like 100 years ago. The results of the season have been documented endlessly, but they truly are mind blowing. A record of 45-111, a .288 winning percentage, 60.5 games out of first place, and a run differential of minus 260. Ten wins behind the second-worst Kansas City Royals and 63 runs behind them in run differential as well. Amazingly bad.

It’s basically impossible to stay positive. But the final weekend promises a chance both to get nostalgic about possible departing Orioles and to think about the club’s future.

Reflecting on the past

Could this be Buck Showalter’s final homestand after 8.5 years leading the Orioles? Following 1,347 games, a 667-680 (.495) overall record, three playoff appearances and a 6-8 postseason record, it might be the end. Reports from MLB beat writers indicate this is likely the case.

Buck continues to say all the right things and not give anything away, but there is very limited information flowing from the warehouse. Who knows? If it is adieu, hopefully the fan reaction Sunday is rousing and memorable. He is the most successful Oriole manager since Earl Weaver and Davey Johnson. That’s worth a lot. Since the crowd won’t be standing room only, a sendoff akin to the cheers J.J. Hardy received in 2017 would be nice.

Speaking of Buck, he is widely regarded as one of the best managers in baseball. Assuming he wants to keep working, he probably wouldn’t be unemployed for too long. Among the teams looking or likely looking for new managers next year, he could fit with the Philadelphia Phillies who are ready to compete but collapsed the last seven weeks, or the Cincinnati Reds or Toronto Blue Jays who are each probably a year away from emerging from their rebuilds. Wouldn’t it be something for the Orioles to see him 18 times a year managing the Jays?

However the situation with Buck plays out, it will be interesting to watch. He is a class act from top to bottom and deserves the opportunity to manage somewhere.

Will this weekend be the last time Adam Jones takes the field at Camden Yards in the orange and black? Jones vetoed a trade earlier this season to the Phillies, which didn’t endear him to the front office, but things seem to have softened. Moving forward into the rough years of 2019 and 2020, the club could use some veteran leadership.

Jones has been a fixture in center field since 2008 with 1,607 games played as an Oriole, countless positive statistics and durability, five All-Star Game appearances, unprecedented community involvement and professionalism. The track record speaks for itself. Adam’s numbers, leadership, smile and undying energy for the game will be missed and must be replaced. Like with Buck, the answer to this question is TBD, but more than likely this is it for Jones too.

If Buck and AJ are done, it officially will be the exclamation mark ending of an Orioles era. If it happens, it will be tough to not be nostalgic about that sight late Sunday afternoon when game 162 ends.

Looking to the future

Houston is one of the teams that recently went through a rebuild the O’s are trying to replicate. The 2018 Astros are what the 2022 Orioles hope to be. Baltimore is at the earliest stages of the painful process, while Houston is in the glory period and reaping benefits following the tough years. If things work out for Baltimore long-term, this weekend offers a kind of glimpse to the future.

The O’s rough years will likely be 2018-2020, at a minimum. The Astros’ low period was 2011-2013, with three straight 100-plus loss seasons of 106, 107 and 111. Their combined record during that period was 162-324 (.333). For perspective, that’s bad, but not as bad as the Birds current .288 winning percentage.

They misfired on two managers (Brad Mills from 2010-12 and Bo Porter from 2013-14) before finding success with A.J. Hinch (2015-present). The process included successful draft picks (George Springer in 2011, Carlos Correa in 2012, Alex Bregman in 2015) and whiffed draft picks (Mark Appel in 2013, Brady Aiken in 2014). It also included big-time trades, with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole topping the list.

Mix it all together, and the Astros are at the peak of their existence as an organization five years after losing 111 games. 2015 brought a wild card win and narrow ALDS loss, while in 2017 they won their first World Series championship. In 2018, they have the second-best record in the American League (currently 100-57 and AL West champions as of Tuesday night) with as good a chance as anyone to advance.

Triple digit loss seasons, rookie managers who got fired, a manager on his second job who finally found success, draft picks and prospects acquired through trades that worked out and didn’t work out, and bold trades and success. That was Houston’s road map.

This weekend, watching Houston, is what Orioles fans should look forward to after a few painful years yet to come. 2021 and 2022 can’t get here fast enough.