The Orioles have received a great deal of praise for exceeding expectations this year. There was no surprise postseason appearance, but the Birds kept fans engaged while playing quality baseball for a large portion of the abridged season.
There’s plenty of credit to go around. Anthony Santander put everything together before an oblique injury cut his season short. Pedro Severino put in an All-Star caliber season at the plate and behind it, and José Iglesias battled a sore quad to produce night in and night out.
Rookies Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer slid nicely into the rotation, and Ryan Mountcastle got on base as soon as he made it to Baltimore. Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart filled in nicely after a pair of outfield injuries, and Renato Núñez tallied double digit home runs in just a 60 game season.
However, the unsung hero for the 2020 Orioles did not appear in the Orioles lineup— he wrote it.
The Orioles hired Brandon Hyde to be the team’s 20th manager in December 2018. Hyde won a World Series as the first base coach for the Cubs and served as the bench coach before getting the gig in Baltimore. Mike Elias said at the time that Hyde was the right guy to lead a long term rebuild that would not have any shortcuts. So far, Hyde has proven to be that guy.
Things didn't go well in Hyde’s first year on the job, but they were never supposed to. The Orioles finished 54-108, and appeared outmatched in a majority of their games. It was difficult to see the O’s taking a step forward this season, but that’s what made Baltimore’s run more impressive.
Hyde pushed the right buttons right away this season. He made the best of a lackluster rotation and used additional roster spots to avoid overworking the bullpen. It may seem like a small task, but Hyde’s ability to give Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro opportunities to be successful helped yield multiple prospects at the trade deadline.
Hyde, much to the delight of fans, did not start Chris Davis every night. The skipper bluntly stated that he would prepare the lineup that gave the Orioles the best chance to win, and he did that night in and night out.
Hyde found a way to keep the O’s’ hot-hitting catchers in the lineup when Severino, Chance Sisco and even Bryan Holaday were producing at the dish. He utilized defensive replacements in close games, and was never afraid to send a pinch hitter to the dish.
Hyde appreciated the production and leadership Iglesias brought to the table, and used the DH slot to keep Iglesias in the lineup while he battled a sore quad. He immediately penciled the shortstop into the three-hole, and did his best to replace the veteran when Iglesias finally made a trip to the IL.
A manager is tasked with plenty of responsibilities, but none come above getting the most production out of the current roster. Hyde consistently maximized the talent on this club after most saw very little potential. A manager can never solely take responsibility for a player’s hot bat, just like he should never take the fall for a slump, but the Orioles bought into Hyde’s blue-collar mentality.
The team’s respect for Hyde materialized after Baltimore’s players elected not to play in a game at the end of August. Manager may be a leadership position by design, but Hyde’s willingness to listen to and support his players when emotions were running high did not go unnoticed.
Alex Cobb and Dillon Tate were both complimentary of Hyde at the time, and there words seemed extremely genuine. Cobb, a rare veteran among the group, credited Hyde for individual and group communication with the team, and said the Hyde had handled a unique season “flawlessly.”
The Orioles have not been above base running errors or sloppy play in the field — take last night’s game against Boston — but part of that must be expected with a young team in a strange season. Still, Hyde’s ability to keep this team playing hard for the duration cannot go unnoticed.
Just like this young core, the first-time manager has gained valuable experience this season. He’s continued to strengthen his relationship with the rebuilding roster, and should have an opportunity to manage the next winning team barring any serious regressions.