The Orioles have lost a lot of games. Last night’s downer against Tampa Bay dropped the Orioles to 24-61, and another game closer to clinching the worst record in the league for a second consecutive season. Nobody wants to jinx the number one draft pick, but the Birds appear to be a safe bet right now.
Watching the Orioles at this point of the season can be a bit weird. You could throw around other words like depressing, dispiriting and even painful, but I’m going to stick with weird. By now, we’re all conditioned to think the team is going to lose every game it plays. Wins occasionally come as a pleasant surprise, but even a victory comes with the caveat of “oh no, did the Royals win today too? We need that top pick!”
No one can blame you if you find yourself subconsciously celebrating each defeat. The Orioles selecting top pick Adley Rutschman was a highlight of the year, and the Orioles would love to have to first crack at next year’s prospects. Plus, it’s got to be more fun rooting against a team with a 24-61 record. But for a lot of us, especially those taking the time to read these words about a team this bad on July 3, it’s just a little too weird to root against the black and orange.
Unfortunately, if you’ve watched every game this year with the mindset of “hey, they’ve got a chance in this one,” you may have already gone mad. It’s just not a healthy way to go through life. That being said, I commend you.
The earliest stage of a rebuild like this is certainly the toughest to watch. Mike Elias inherited a farm system so bereft of talent that there are not many reinforcements on the way this season. This is especially true for the Orioles weakest link — pitching.
Anyone watching this club, even if they’re holding out for the top pick, wants to see improvement. If the Orioles are not going to gain better players, how can the starting rotation improve? What is the best case scenario for the Orioles rotation for the remainder of the season?
To get an obvious one out of the way, John Means must continue to pitch at, or around, an All-Star level. Means has been the story of the season in Baltimore, and as Tyler Young wrote, Means deserves his place in the All Star game. The guy’s changeup is for real, he keeps batters off the base paths and the ball in the ballpark. If the lefty can maintain this pace for the remainder of the year, expectations will only to continue to grow in Baltimore.
Andrew Cashner has served as another pleasant surprise, and the Orioles need him to keep pitching well until the trade deadline. Of course, trading Cashner isn’t necessarily automatic. Cashner has been vocal on his desire to stay off the trading block, and the Orioles rotation may look lost without him. While dealing a veteran starter in the last year of his contract should serve as a no-brainer, the Orioles trading the Texan is not a foregone conclusion. The best case scenario is that Cashner stays healthy, and continues to produce until the team makes a decision.
Dylan Bundy has turned into a bit of a grinder this year. Obviously the best case scenario would be for him to lower his ERA below four, keep the ball in the ballpark, and win a few more games. Right now, the Orioles just need Bundy to pitch into the sixth inning consistently and keep the bullpen from being taxed at a higher rate than it needs to be.
Those three have been solid for Baltimore. Unfortunately, they only make up 60 percent of the rotation. With Alex Cobb back on the shelf, the Orioles have very few Major League options. There’s a chance that David Hess could resurface if he puts together some strong performances at Norfolk, but it will take dire necessity for Dan Straily to find his way back to Baltimore.
The real point, the true best case scenario, is the Orioles need one more guy to emerge. There are going to be starts available, and despite every starter at Norfolk doing everything they can to avoid a call to The Show, someone has to take the mound for Baltimore.
Tom Eshelman and Asher Wojciechowski started the last two games for Baltimore. If you spent the past week at the beach, you may have absolutely no idea who I’m talking about. That’s okay. The goal is that by the end of the season, at least one of those two can become a common name in Baltimore households. Maybe people will even learn how to spell Wojciechowski.
Eshelman met modest expectations in a 6-3 loss to the Rays. The 25-year-old survived a rocky first inning in his Major League debut, before eventually lulling the Rays offense into submission for the final four frames. But a guy that failed to reach 90 mph and did not strikeout a single hitter through five innings might not be the next John Means. The Orioles have already optioned Eshelman back to Norfolk, but he may ride the shuttle back soon.
Wojciechowski showed fans a bit more last night in his first start since 2017. Wojciechowski struck out six, and allowed only two runs through the first five innings. Neither of these guys are going to blow batters away, but if either can make consistent starts for Baltimore down the stretch, it would be a huge victory.
If the Orioles have any interest in trading Cashner or Dylan Bundy, they’ll need guys like Eshelman and Wojciechowski to hold their own. We’re still a long way away from top prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall walking through that door. Right now, the best case for Baltimore is just finding a few more guys that can see the sixth inning consistently.