The time has come for the Orioles to face facts

Matt Clough joins us to look into the Orioles and the tragedy that is taking place. Follow him on Twitter to live the experience with him.

Infinity is a concept which has simultaneously fascinated and frustrated millions of the world’s greatest minds for millennia. The tantalising, unknowable idea of something that extends beyond all comprehension, forever.

Infinity is a concept also now known to the Baltimore Orioles – specifically, Dylan Bundy, who contrived to achieve a single game ERA of infinity, giving up runs without a single out to indicate just what rate that he may continue to do so. Chris Tillman did his best to follow suit two nights later, but in the end had to be content with seeing his ERA for the year tick over into double figures.

Those two performances neatly encapsulate what has, so far, proved about as disastrous as even the most doom-mongering of preseason predictions foretold. Bundy is the undisputed ace of the pitching staff, and by and large has looked solid and even, on occasion, very good. A creeping sense that an aberration like the one against the Royals is just around the corner continues to dog his game, however. In the games when he has been able to turn it on, the O’s offense – the cornerstone of the team’s success over the past several years – has offered pitiful levels of run support. An overall OPS of .707 is good for 22nd in the Majors, the same rank they occupy in batting average. These numbers are no longer enough to support a wildly inconsistent staff and a bullpen that has looked far less dominant than past years.

Tillman is emblematic of the decline from the heady days of 2012-16. Injuries have robbed him of the consistency he once anchored the rotation with, and now he serves – along with the likes of Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis, who still has four years to run on his $161m contract – as a reminder of what was once.

The silver lining to the Orioles’ start, which has seen them fall 15.5 games behind the Yankees and 15 behind the Red Sox, is that it has left little room for doubt as to the team’s trajectory. Or so it would seem.

The trade rumours have continued to swirl around All Star third baseman turned shortstop Manny Machado since the beginning of 2016, two years before he hit free agency, when the new sabermetric way of thinking would have dictated it was time to start looking to trade him. However, the Orioles have famously battled against this perceived wisdom, with owner Peter Angelos preferring to hold on to his stars rather than risk years of rebuilding. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, general manager Dan Duquette was still saying the front office at Camden Yards was holding out hope that the season could turn around, and the O’s would need to hang on Machado as part of a play off push.

However, the time has come to face facts. The Red Sox and Yankees have thrown into stark relief just how far behind the O’s are, and with younger clubhouses. To paraphrase Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, the O’s aren’t in the same ballpark as their illustrious rivals – they’re not in the same league, they’re not even in the same sport at this stage.

Machado is doing his part in his contract year. His move to shortstop has shown him to be versatile (if not the supreme defensive force he is at third base) and his bat is so far demonstrating none of the slow start that dogged him in 2017. He’s walking as much as he strikes out, and his OPS sits at 1.100, third best in baseball (among players with at least 50 plate appearances). There is a general feeling around the sport that for the contending team that wants something extra to give them the best possible chance in October, this year, Manny is the man.

Could the combination of the O’s faltering and Machado’s superb campaign be a blessing in disguise? In the long term, yes. The Orioles may finally begin their belated rebuild and set off down the long path back to competitiveness. For the meantime, with the Rays looking at a similarly lean few years and the Blue Jays approaching the end of their cycle, the AL East could be about to become the most lopsided division in baseball.

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