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Checking in at the halfway point

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As the Orioles head into the All-Star Break, let’s take stock of the 2019 season so far. 

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Are you still here? Congratulations! You’ve made it halfway through the 2019 Orioles season without losing your sanity.

It hasn’t been easy. The Orioles are heading into the All-Star break a lowly 25-61. However much we repeat “This is a rebuilding year” as though it were a meditation mantra, watching this team lose day in and day out wears you down. (Sometimes it gets so bad I make a mental catalogue of types of losses—the blowout, the pitchers’ duel/late innings squeaker, the seesaw slugfest we’re on the wrong side of, and the early lead/bullpen collapse—and ponder which is most painful. Then, I console myself that at least today wasn’t one of those losses.)

Still, I’ve said it before, and I stick to it: last season was worse. No, the record doesn’t show it, but for a fan, one of them means being deluded enough into believing we were still contenders, then gradually sinking into disappointment as the wheels fall off and players you’ve cheered for over five seasons are shipped off for parts (unexciting parts, at that).

The other one offers a couple of consolations: a self-protective cocoon of irony, the spring-training-style excitement of players fighting to prove they belong on a major league roster, and the newfound interest many of us have taken in the Draft, international signings, and our farm system.

Unthinkably, there are even some bright spots on this team. So with that, I’ll get into the mid-season evals.

Starting Rotation

That constant shuffling in-and-out of pitchers you hear? A dead giveaway that this season remains a year-long audition for untested arms. As to the results, it’s not a good sign that we’ve already used 27 halfway into the season. That is a sign of failure. And those failures—Alex Cobb, Dan Straily, David Hess, Luis Ortiz—have been really, really bad. Tom Eshelman and Asher Wojciechowski may stick, but it’s too soon to tell.

Still, it bears repeating: the Orioles have put together 3/5 of a decent rotation. All-Star John Means, Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy have a combined 3.83 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 46 starts. Say what you will, we’d have been lucky to have this trio during the peak Showalter years. Plus the good news is, if one of them gets traded, the farm system is looking better than it has in years. Waiting in the wings—maybe not this season, but soon—are the likes of Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Bruce Zimmermann, Zac Lowther, and later on down the line, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall (appearing in Sunday’s Futures Game).

Bullpen

The clear weakest link, Achilles heel, low point, &c of this team. Unlike in the starting rotation, few gems have been unearthed: Jimmy Yacabonis, Paul Fry, Miguel Castro, and Tanner Scott have shown flashes of effectiveness, but not the consistency to prove they need to stick around. Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier, once considered stalwarts, have regressed in a big way, and they might end up finding more success with another team.

Infielders

It’s complicated. Turns out it’s easier to find guys who can hit or field than both. The bat is still a problem for Richie Martin, Rio Ruiz and—like I need to say it—Chris Davis, whereas Hanser Alberto, Renato Núñez and Jonathan Villar have had brilliant stretches at the plate, but played mainly shoddy defense. It’s not clear that any of them are long-term solutions.

Outfielders

Trending upward. Some clarity is starting to emerge: the Cedric Mullins experiment didn’t work, Stevie Wilkerson and Keon Broxton won’t stick unless they start to hit, Joey Rickard was sent packing. It remains to be seen what future Austin Hays and/or DJ Stewart have with this team. Again, it’s easy enough to find guys who can catch or hit, but seemingly not both. A pair of exceptions might be Anthony Santander, playing himself into a permanent spot, and Dwight Smith Jr., a fixture in left despite his limitations. Now if only we could get Trey Mancini back to 1B where he belongs...

Catchers

One of the most encouraging spots on the diamond for the Orioles right now—and that’s even without the impending arrival of Adley Rutschman. Chance Sisco’s bat is really playing, and his defense has improved leaps and bounds—that heads-up faked throw he made in Wednesday’s game to nab the runner at third in a rundown? Positively Machado-esque! And however he’s been overshadowed of late, Pedro Severino has been a find. Respected by the pitchers for his pitch-calling and by baserunners for his cannon of an arm, his .274 avg/.342 OBP/.824 OPS/119 OPS+ are good enough to play as a starter. And he’s been an infectious joy to watch.

The Manager

I’ve been mildly critical of Brandon Hyde this season for his hair-trigger approach to the roster and the bullpen. But then I ask myself, Who would you start in lieu of a real fifth starter? Wouldn’t you keep rotating guys in CF ‘til one of them starts hitting? Why be mad about putting in Castro in this spot—who else is there?, and the revolving door makes sense. Hyde is trying to patch a leaky boat while—apparently successfully—keeping up the morale of the sailors. And his postgame interviews are honest, even funny. It’ll be interesting to see how his approach plays with a more competitive bench and bullpen.

The GM

It’s been an impressive start for Mike Elias. Sure, I felt like the fanbase’s desperation for change and the impressive allure of stats added to his luster. But so far, Elias’ signings look pretty good (and let’s face it: the real stinkers are holdovers from the Duquette era). Blots on the record like Straily and Karns are easily outweighed by, on the other side, finds like Severino, Alberto, and Núñez. The Adley Rutschman signing was a lay-up, but opening up the team to international signings, the “high-tech revolution,” and better pitching development in the minors are moves that will pay off in the long run.