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The Orioles could be better off without the top pick in 2020

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The Detroit Tigers appear poised to take the top pick in 2020, and that’s okay. The Orioles winning a few more games down the stretch could represent better things to come in Baltimore.

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Have you heard the news? The Orioles are not a very good baseball team. A lot of articles may start with this, but it’s nice to get on the same page right away. You know, just in case you haven’t watched a single game this season. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Maybe you heard about the rebuild and decided to take this year off. If that’s the case, how was your summer? See any good movies? Unfortunately, I think the majority of us all have likely watched far too many O’s games this season.

If you’re still hanging around, the Orioles rewarded you with some better baseball in the month of July. Baltimore finished with a 12-12 record, and actually showed flashes of what a winning baseball team resembles. It was a major change up from a team that went 8-19 in April and May before plummeting to 6-20 this June.

The Orioles, as bad as they are, may have been slightly better than their June record represented. They lost three straight one-run games from June 5-7, and lost 13 of 14 contests from June 12-26. Baltimore followed the losing stretch with two consecutive 13-0 victories. Still, it’s difficult to lose 13 of 14 games, and pretty rare to lose 10 straight.

The improvement in July might not have been a fluke. The Orioles benefited from strong starts by Asher Wojciechowski. He worked into the seventh inning in back-to-back games against Boston and the Angels, and struck out 10 hitters in a one-hit effort against the Red Sox. Anthony Santander slashed .320/.346/.526, and showed he can handle himself in all three outfield positions.

All of this being said, it’s unlikely that the Orioles repeat with another .500 month. Baltimore entered Tuesday 2-3 in August, and with 12 straight games against New York, Boston and Houston waiting for them. That’s a tall task for any team, especially one that’s 38-74. Still, their recent improvement poses an interesting question.

Would you rather the Orioles continue to lose at a high rate to ensure a chance at the number one pick, or would you like to see the club steadily improve in the final two months? The answer may not be as cut and dry as you think.

Obviously, fans are excited about 2019 number one pick Adley Rutschman, and the idea of adding another player of his caliber is enticing, but the Orioles aren’t guaranteed the top slot in 2020 even if they keep losing.

Mark Brown broke down the Orioles competition for the number one pick again yesterday, and the Birds face an uphill battle. The Detroit Tigers are on pace for an impressively bad 48-114 record, with a projected record of 53-109 by Fangraphs. The Orioles are on pace for a record of 55-107, and Fangraphs projects Baltimore to finish 57-105. If that’s the case, the Orioles will find another way to “lose” this year. The Royals are on pace to end 57-105, but Fangraphs projects some slight improvement and a final finish of 61-101.

Detroit may eclipse Baltimore in the loss column this season, and there’s nothing the Orioles can do to prevent Detroit from losing games (aside from losing to the Tigers September 14-16). Brandon Hyde and his ball club are trying to win every night, even if Mike Elias has stated winning is not strategically relevant this season. I’m here to say that rooting against the Orioles is no longer strategically relevant this season either.

If the Birds can play around .500 the rest of the season, which is still a long shot, it would require steady play from a few guys that could be a part of the future. The Orioles are better off if Santander finishes the year strong, and if Wojciechowski proves to be a legitimate starting pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff. The future is brighter if the worst pitching staff in the league starts to turn a corner. The Orioles want Dylan Bundy to find his groove, and Trey Mancini to prove he can put together a complete season.

A better record would likely include stronger play from younger players. Could Richie Martin’s average continue to increase? After hitting .157 in May, Martin hit .204 in June before a season-best .233 in July. Any production from shortstop would only help the O’s cause.

Perhaps most importantly, there does not appear to be a no-brainer selection with the top choice in 2020. At least not yet. Zion Williamson isn’t walking through that door with a baseball hat and glove, and there’s a handful of players that will be under consideration by whoever picks first.

Back in June, ESPN’s David Schoenfield wrote that the 2020 class is “stacked.” He noted that the draft should be much deeper than 2019, and that it includes an abundance of college pitchers. Right handed pitcher Emerson Hancock, first baseman Spencer Torkelson and several others will be linked to the top pick at some point. MLB.com’s Jim Callis has said this could be “the deepest draft class since 2011.”

The Astros selected Alex Bregman with the second pick in 2015 after the Diamondbacks chose Dansby Swanson. The Cubs drafted Kris Bryant second after the Astros selected now-retired Mark Appel with the top pick in 2013. The Orioles selected Manny Machado third overall after Pittsburgh took Jameson Taillon with the number two pick in 2010, and Arizona nabbed Trevor Bauer a pick after the Mariners drafted Danny Hultzen second overall in 2011.

I’ll let you all decide whether the Rays or Pirates fared better with top choices Tim Beckham Jr. and Pedro Alvarez in 2008.

The Orioles are probably going to lose 100 games. They could easily finish below .500 in August and September, and they still have a shot at the top pick. But as Harrison Jozwiak noted last week, the Tigers have been just as bad and got even worse at the trade deadline. So don’t be afraid to root for the O’s to win some games down the stretch, and don’t give up hope if they can’t secure the top pick in 2020.