If you’re still following this God-awful stretch of Orioles baseball - and seeing as you’re reading this, you probably are - then you probably heard Brandon Hyde’s comments after Thursday’s game.
In the moments following a 7-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, a barnburner compared to the other efforts the Orioles have put on display in this 18-game march of misery, Hyde gave up the pretense of putting a good spin on so much bad. He painted the picture as he truly saw it.
“We’re not in many games and that’s hard,” Hyde said. “The one thing I was proud of the last couple years was in a lot of our losses, we made it close. ... Right now we’re not even in the game.”
Hyde showed he can see the problem. The question is, does he deserve blame for it, enough so that the Orioles should be looking for a new skipper? Or is this purely a front office mess that Hyde is guiding as well as anyone could reasonably expect?
This isn’t the first time I’ve asked this question, or something very similar. I asked it in 2019, and in retrospect, it was way too soon to bring up that topic. The Orioles had had a string of games with mental mistakes, but it was Hyde’s first season after the O’s had lost 115 games the year before, and there were no expectations at all to win.
That’s not the case this time. No, the Orioles weren’t expected to win this year either, but they were expected to show progress, to show that players were getting better and things were heading in the right direction. If the Orioles were sitting here in last place on their way to a, say, 74-88 season, there probably isn’t a word out there about Hyde’s future. But they’re not. They’re on pace for 112 losses, their losing streak is at 18 and shows no signs of ending, and they’ve become the go-to punchline for analysts and commentators around the sport.
You’re expected to lose during a rebuild. You’re not expected to embarrass yourself. And under Hyde’s watch, the Orioles have become embarrassing.
Hyde can’t be blamed for having Jorge Lopez and Matt Harvey in his rotation, or for having second base, shortstop and third base be revolving doors. You need the players to win in the big leagues, and Hyde doesn’t have them yet.
The manager is responsible, however, for the discipline and enthusiasm of the team, and that’s the area where Hyde has fallen short. This isn’t an Orioles team that seems to take the field every night with a willingness to fight, battle and compete; instead, this team seems to go through the motions, and as a result is usually buried early.
This also is a team that doesn’t play smart. Every night, it feels, there’s an instance of fielders colliding going for a routine pop-up or fly ball, or throwing to the wrong base, or missing a cut-off man.
On Aug. 3, for instance, when the Orioles were playing the Yankees, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander let a lazy fly ball fall right between them in right-center field. Two weeks later, Ramon Urias stumbled over his own feet backpedaling for a pop-up to second base. There are other teams in the major leagues without talent, and they don’t play like that.
We’ve seen with this very organization what a manager can do to get more out of his team. In 2007, Baltimore was 29-40 and losers of eight straight games when it hired Dave Trembley as interim manager, and 27-23 in its next 50 games after making that move. In 2010, the Orioles were every bit as miserable as they are now, 32-73, when Buck Showalter came in and changed the attitude; the team was inspired, and went 34-23 the rest of the way. If managers get the credit for lighting a spark, shouldn’t they get the blame when there’s no spark to be found?
In addition, Hyde was brought in based on his track record of developing younger players, most notably with the eventual World Series champion Cubs, but that consistent development hasn’t been on display here. Mullins is a success story. Ryan Mountcastle is on the right track. But how about Austin Hays? What about Pedro Severino? Chance Sisco, back when he was here? What about Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin?
Those are some reasons moving on would be a warranted move.
Here are some reasons why it wouldn’t be.
This is the first year of the three the Orioles have spent under Hyde that the team hasn’t looked better on the field, and all along, there hasn’t been much of an effort to improve the group he guides into big league action. Jonathan Villar had a strong first full season in Baltimore and was traded. Hanser Alberto came out of nowhere to have two solid seasons at second back, and then was gone. Jose Iglesias hit .373 in his one year in Baltimore, and then was gone. The Orioles seemed to finally have something going with Miguel Castro last year, and then he was dealt.
Those may have been good moves for the sake of the farm system and future at Camden Yards, but Baltimore’s disinterest in keeping the quality of the major league team up has prevented Hyde from benefitting from any continuity. When you hand someone spare parts to work with, you can’t be surprised when he gives you back the performance of a team of spare parts.
With that in mind, it can’t be exaggerated how little Hyde has to work with this season. The rotation is hardly big league quality. The bullpen is a mess. The lineup, with the exception of Mullins and Mountcastle, is just plain anemic. In football, Bill Parcells once said that if he was going to be asked to cook dinner, he wanted to shop for some of the groceries. No one would argue how poor Hyde’s groceries have been this season.
But the optics remain tough to ignore. The Orioles have the worst record of any team in baseball, and even worse, they’ve been less able than all of them to compete. It’s been a nightly trainwreck, an unwatchable product, and few managers survive when the team is this woeful, this uninspired and this seemingly hopeless and resigned to failure.
We’ll see soon enough if this has been the front office’s take as well.