Lost weekend sweeps away any glimmer of hope for 2017 Orioles

July 17, 2017 | Luke Jones

You may have talked yourself into there being hope for the Orioles coming out of the All-Star break after they’d defied logic so many times in the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era.

Then came the bucket of ice water to the face that was the weekend sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. The reigning World Series champions may have entered Friday only a game ahead of Baltimore, but it was evident that these were two teams moving in opposite directions in 2017 and beyond.

Friday night felt like the final nail in the coffin for the 2017 Orioles, who impressively managed to erase an 8-0 deficit to tie the game in the eighth inning before Brad Brach surrendered the game-winning home run to Addison Russell in the ninth. In a season filled with painful losses, that one was the most deflating as the Orioles were outscored 18-3 the rest of the weekend to fall a season-worst seven games below .500.

Yes, it’s time for the Orioles to start thinking about improving their outlook for the future. It’s no secret that they’re set to fall off a cliff at the end of next season when the likes of Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Adam Jones, and Brach hit free agency, but going 20-39 since May 9 offers similar imagery.

Desperation has been there for a while now as we’ve seen Jonathan Schoop shift to shortstop to make room for journeyman second baseman Johnny Giavotella and Jones move back into the leadoff spot, a role not suited for someone with a .301 on-base percentage no matter what anyone tries to tell you about last year. The mere fact that Kevin Gausman, Wade Miley, and Ubaldo Jimenez started the first three games of the second half really says all you need to know about the state of the Orioles and their starting rotation. The four 20-game winners from 1971 aren’t magically walking through that clubhouse door.

The truth is that the Orioles haven’t played like contenders for a long time now despite qualifying for the postseason for the third time in five years last October. Dating back to the beginning of last July, they hold an 84-91 record. An offense once feared around baseball ranks an underwhelming 11th in the American League in runs scored over the last calendar year. Their minus-94 run differential for 2017 is the worst in the American League and indicates that the Orioles have actually been fortunate to be as good as 42-49.

Yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but the failure of the 2017 club begins and ends with a starting rotation on track to be the worst in club history — the 2008 Orioles currently own the worst starer ERA at 5.51 — and one of the worst in baseball in over 100 years. The Orioles entered Monday with an AL-worst 6.02 starter ERA that’s more than a full run worse than 14th-ranked Chicago and a staggering 1.3 runs worse than last year’s rotation that was already viewed as a major weakness.

The starting rotation has been astonishingly terrible.

Amazingly, Cincinnati owns an even worse starter ERA at 6.04. According to Baseball Reference, the Reds currently sport the seventh-worst starter ERA and the Orioles the 10th-worst in major league history going back to 1913.

Misery loves company, right?

It’s easy to view the Orioles as sellers at this point as FOX Sports insider Ken Rosenthal reported as much on Sunday, but will it happen to the degree that it needs to under owner Peter Angelos? The Orioles do not have to trade their biggest chips in the next two weeks if they don’t find the right deal, but the longer they wait, the more diminished the return will be — at least in theory. Everything should now be on the table, however, making the indication that the Orioles won’t even listen to offers for Machado disconcerting.

But there’s a bigger question that needs to be addressed, one that could shape the club’s outlook for the next decade.

Do the Orioles want to retain Duquette beyond 2018 and does he even want to stay? Allowing a lame-duck executive to begin a rebuilding process would be unwise, so you’d hope there’s some resolution — at least privately — in the coming weeks and months as we move toward the offseason. His successes and shortcomings have been discussed at length in recent years, but it’s certainly fair to question whether Duquette would be the right choice to undertake a rebuilding effort.

If he isn’t going to be around after next season, there’s no sense waiting to find his replacement at such a critical time for the organization. That’s also a potential argument for the Orioles to abstain from dealing their best pieces now and instead wait until a long-term general manager is in place.

Of course, we know how the Orioles typically proceed on matters such as these. It’s rarely conventional and can often be detrimental despite their overall success in recent years.

How they handle Duquette’s status would undoubtedly impact the future of Showalter, who will also see his contract expire at the end of next season.

With most attention shifting away from the ugly results on the field and toward what’s happening behind the scenes, the Orioles are at a crossroads full of uncertainty.

It became painfully obvious over the weekend that contention in 2017 isn’t in the cards.