Five weeks on from the beginning of what was rightfully viewed as a gauntlet, one that would determine whether they were as good as their record suggested after a soft April schedule and whether this team was worth adding to, the Orioles are coming home on a high note.
Their back-from-the-dead win over Milwaukee gave them a 17-14 record since they went to Atlanta on May 5 to start a 31-game stretch between series against the Kansas City Royals against several of the league’s top teams, with hardly a soft spot in the month.
To come out of that with a winning record, even if they aren’t whole and certainly aren’t playing their best baseball, is meaningful. The Orioles showed over the last month that they can play with pretty much anyone.
It’s probably a satisfying outcome if you’re manager Brandon Hyde: good but not good enough, with plenty of areas to sharpen up as the weather turns even warmer. For the front office, it’s a bit more complicated.
I thought at the outset of this that it would be as useful a gauge as any for management to determine what to do in the coming weeks and months. If this team fell flat on its face, it would have all the cover it would need not to add at the MLB trade deadline, to slow-play prospects and to keep the status quo.
That’s not what happened. They were 21-10 when this all started, and winning at that clip would have been quite a statement. Going 17-14 and grinding out as many wins as they did sends its own message, though. The Orioles can do this, but they probably need help.
The areas where that’s the case are clear. Gunnar Henderson is on the upswing but, even with him, every Orioles infielder had a wRC+ below 90 entering Thursday’s game; 100 is league average. For the season, Henderson is the only one with an OPS even over .700. Joey Ortiz missed time after he was optioned last month, but it gets harder by the day to understand why Jordan Westburg is not in Baltimore.
Aaron Hicks has been fine for the last week, but the absence of Cedric Mullins means the Orioles are simply a bat light these days. Maybe Ramón Urías is coming around based on Thursday’s game, but there’s no amount of defensive value, continuity or roster flexibility worth having players who aren’t producing at the required level on the field every night.
Maybe this will be a Grayson Rodriguez situation, where the Orioles don’t think he’s ready and they’re maybe proven right. It’s hard to argue against a scenario where the downside is the same, though. If Westburg falters, it’s just another infielder who isn’t producing with the bat, but the upside is adding a talented young player who might spark the offense.
As far as Rodriguez goes, his demotion from a rotation that has otherwise hit its stride is a bit complicating. There’s a reason the Orioles haven’t really replaced him — because there are not many good options. Cole Irvin might be the man to start Saturday, but they seem more comfortable deploying everyone else as emergency relief depth, so it’s basically on Rodriguez or Irvin (and later DL Hall, if/when he’s built back up) to claim that last spot. Otherwise, it’s hard to find fault in the rotation as a whole.
Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish still have their moments, but they’re good more often than they’re bad and seem to be improving. Tyler Wells and Kyle Gibson aren’t going anywhere. None of them, however, is going to feel incredibly imposing in a playoff series, so that’s where the Orioles should be focusing their pro scouting department over the next two months.
They still play plenty of good opponents until the All-Star break, and then after it through the trade deadline. There will be many more occasions to judge the Orioles. This stretch laid bare the areas they need help: in the infield, in the rotation and perhaps in center field if Mullins’ injury is months instead of weeks.
They have some solutions on the farm if they so choose. If not, they can move those pieces to fix the holes in trades. Considering the Orioles just spent five weeks playing good teams every time out and slapped hands on the field after the final out more often than they lost, this is no time for the front office to sit on their own.