BALTIMORE — The last time the Baltimore Orioles began a season this poorly, Buck Showalter was brought in to restore order to the floundering franchise.
Now, Showalter finds himself in a similar mess.
Back in 2010, the Orioles stumbled to a 1-11 start and were 5-18 at the end of April. They fired manager Dave Trembley in June and continued to slide under interim manager Juan Samuel before Showalter came aboard and guided Baltimore to 34 wins in its final 57 games.
Showalter has since taken the Orioles to the postseason on three occasions.
This year, however, he’s had to deal with a team plagued by injuries, lackluster hitting and inconsistent pitching.
With guys like Anthony Santander, Danny Valencia, Chance Sisco and Craig Gentry getting significant playing time, it’s no wonder Baltimore (8-20) has a minus-54 run differential and is deep in last place in the AL East.
That would be acceptable if the Orioles were tanking, but they fully expected to compete for a playoff spot this season.
Vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette resisted trade offers for pending free agent Manny Machado over the winter and added veterans Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner to a starting rotation that featured the home-grown talent of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
Unfortunately, things went awry well before opening day. Slugger Mark Trumbo (quad strain) and closer Zach Britton (Achilles tendon) began the season in the disabled list and were soon joined by All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop (oblique), outfielder Colby Rasmus (hip flexor) and third baseman Tim Beckham, who will be sidelined for the next six weeks after undergoing core surgery.
“Great opportunity:” That opened the door for a variety of players who would otherwise be on the bench or in the minor leagues.
“There’s a great opportunity here for some people, and they’re trying to take advantage of it – mostly because we have a need,” Showalter said.
Through the weekend, however, Santander – a Rule 5 pick – was batting .213 and Valencia was at .204. Sisco, a rookie catcher who replaced struggling starter Caleb Joseph early on, was hitting a comparatively robust .255.
But hey, they’re not the only players struggling at the plate. Chris Davis has a .167 batting average, two home runs and six RBIs, just three years after signing a $161 million contract that the Orioles are stuck with through 2022.
“I’m sure there’s the inner pressure to live up to (expectations),” Showalter said. “It’s eating at him.”
Beckham was hitting .179 before going on the DL, Adam Jones is at .239 and Joseph is sputtering at .137.
Machado a rare bright spot: The lone player with a hot bat has been Machado (.361, nine HRs, 22 RBIs), who might not be around past July if the Orioles can’t turn things around.
“I know what Manny’s done. Special player,” Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But then you look at Jonathan Schoop, another special player that’s not there. They’ve been banged up, snakebit a little bit by the injuries. But they’ve got guys that are very capable of getting hot, and when they do, they can hit ball out of anywhere, put a lot of runs on the board.”
The Orioles haven’t abandoned hope of bouncing back. After all, Trumbo is slated to make his debut Tuesday, when the calendar flips to May.
“I have a lot of faith in the guys in here. I have a lot of faith in myself,” Davis said. “We’ve been in tough spots in the past and we got through it. We’ll do it again.”
Digging out of hole: Quite possibly, the team will get healthier. Perhaps Davis will find the groove that enabled him to hit 47 homers in 2015 and 38 in 2016. Maybe Cobb (0-3, 13.11 ERA) will begin to justify his $57 million contract, the largest ever offered to a pitcher by the Orioles.
“You have some guys struggling and some guys not,” said Cashner, who falls into the former category after going 1-4 with a 4.76 ERA through six starts. “At the end of the season, they’ll be where they need to be.”
The Orioles are trying to win. They want to win. Right now, it’s just not happening.
“It’s a hole that can be dug out of,” Machado said. “You can’t just wish it and hope it and think it’s something that comes with the mathematics of a season. We’ve got to do better. We know that.”