The Baltimore Orioles emerged from a cruel month of April with way more roster moves than victories and a staff full of pitchers with bruised egos, but no one should have expected anything else.
The first full season of the organization’s grand rebuilding effort was always going to be about more pain than obvious gain, so it’s important to keep every disappointing loss — and the occasional uplifting win — in its proper perspective.
For the record, the O’s did not have the worst record in the major leagues. The Kansas City Royals and Miami Marlins ended April with lower winning percentages, setting up a three-way race at the bottom for next year’s first overall draft choice, but it won’t be much of a surprise if the Orioles end up with the top pick two years running.
All that said, the season started with an upbeat opening road trip and plenty of intrigue, from the late March decision by general manager Mike Elias to start several top spring performers in the minor leagues to the ongoing drama that was Chris Davis’ excruciating assault on the all-time records for consecutive at-bats and plate appearances without a hit.
Davis eventually snapped out of it April 13 and closed the month with 12 hits in his last 35 at bats (.343), giving way to the pitching staff’s pursuit of another dubious record — the most home runs allowed by a team before May 1.
The O’s not only broke that record, they broke it in record time, eclipsing the previous high of 50 on April 20 and ended up allowing a not-so-grand total of 73 when American League batting leader Tim Anderson parked one Monday night in Chicago.
Predictable questions: Not sure what that unprecedented April shower represents in the greater scheme of the Orioles’ budding rebuilding effort, but it raises predictable questions about the quality of the pitching talent that was left behind when the Orioles cleaned house in October.
New manager Brandon Hyde and pitching coach Doug Brocail spent the spring preaching a “pound the zone” approach that encouraged the young pitchers on the staff to throw more strikes and trust their stuff.
The results — in many cases — were promising during the exhibition season, but the past five weeks have been a sad and different story for some of the developing arms, as well as veterans Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb.
It is one thing to throw strikes and quite another to have good command inside the strike zone. Hyde has talked almost daily about the need to use both sides of the plate and avoid the “middle-middle” of the imaginary rectangle that fans now get to see in the corner of their television screens.
Homers up all over: To be fair, home runs are up all over, and the Seattle Mariners matched the Tigers’ pre-May 1 total in 1996 when they allowed three Tuesday night, but the Orioles’ total for the month was almost twice the major league average of 38.
Though that gaudy home run total and the staff’s major-league-worst 6.05 ERA are not happy numbers, they represent the kind of information that Elias will use to evaluate the overall pitching talent in the organization over the next few months.
Approach validated: The roster decisions at the start of the season might have seemed curious to some, but the new front office was in no hurry to advance some of the club’s top prospects during what figured to be a painful season of self-discovery.
That didn’t sit well with some fans eager to see the future take shape at the major league level, but the offensive performance of top catching prospect Chance Sisco (.238 batting average, two home runs) and outfielder DJ Stewart (.218, three HRs) at Norfolk has validated that approach.
The same goes for the slow roll with the top pitching prospects. There are several well-regarded arms at the Triple-A level and below, but the early season numbers indicate that most of them still have some things to figure out before they’re ready for prime time.
No doubt, a few of those players will show up in Baltimore at some point this year and provide a glimpse of what’s to come over the next two or three seasons, but the first month of this one was an education for all of us.