For Brandon Hyde, the start of a baseball season doesn’t provide a clear benchmark to quantify how good a particular team is. Ideally, the fifth-year Orioles manager said, a team gets better as the year goes on.
That would bode well for what his 2023 team can accomplish.
Although Tuesday night’s 8-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox ended Baltimore’s seven-game winning streak, the run before it and the rally within it showed what kind of team these Orioles can be. They still have a long time to prove if their 15-8 start is truly a reflection of how good they are.
“We had no idea what kind of club we were going to be this time last year. I don’t know this year yet,” Hyde said over the weekend. “I’m excited. I’m happy with our start. I think we played pretty well. I’d like us to improve throughout the year like we did last year. It’s very, very important to me that we improve, that we just don’t start well and then stay there, but we get better as the season goes on.
“To me, that’s what really good teams do.”
Last year, a 10-game winning streak in July surprisingly propelled the Orioles into playoff contention, where they remained until the final week of the year. But none of those wins came against teams that made the postseason, with each of the four teams they beat — the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs — finishing with losing records.
The same could prove true for this year’s series. Before it was over, the Red Sox were 12-12, and the three other teams the Orioles beat last week — the Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers — were all at least five games under .500 entering Tuesday. Throw in three of four from the hapless Oakland Athletics before the buzzer, and the Orioles have done their part by beating bad teams.
“You definitely can’t take teams easy and anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” Hyde said. “I think when you look at your schedule, you can forecast, ‘Well, this could be a tough time right here.’ These teams play very well.’ But if you look at teams like the Baltimore Orioles last year, teams didn’t expect us to be a tough streak in the second half, and there’s going to be teams like that again this year.”
Every American League East series proves to be a challenge, and so far it has been. Boston’s win on Tuesday means every team in the division has a winning record again. The reduction in divisional games under Major League Baseball’s new scheduling format — with 52 such games instead of 76 — suggests the trend may continue, with fewer opportunities to beat each other.
The Orioles’ winning streak moved them into second place in the division, but they are just a half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays (20-4), who hold the best record in the majors. Entering Tuesday, each of the AL’s three wild-card teams would be out of the East, though more than five months separate those standings from being finalized.
“The teams in our division are teams built to win [have] huge salaries, starting pitching, back-end relievers making a lot of money and superstar middle-of-the-order for the most part, and that’s why it’s tough,” Hyde said. “But there are other major league teams that are very good, and you’re never going to take anybody lightly, and honestly, you try to win every game you can.”
What happens after the series will determine the outcome of Baltimore’s season far more than what happened during it. Hyde noted that injuries, the trade deadline and other baseball events mean that “teams could look totally different in the second inning than they did in the first.” But that doesn’t mean those seven games didn’t showcase his capabilities.
A rotation that apparently didn’t get enough upgrades in the offseason had a stretch where it allowed one run in 38 innings. The bullpen appears to be on track for a repeat of last season with unexpected breakouts and ugly stuff. An offense that dominated early slowed down but continued to show improved plate discipline and the ability to transition when needed. Even in Tuesday’s loss, Baltimore’s hitters quickly put together a five-run ninth, even if it wasn’t enough to overcome an early deficit.
“The talent here is incredible,” said veteran catcher James McCann, one of the club’s few offseason additions. “The chemistry from the guys that have been together is very evident from the moment you walk into the clubhouse. And now, learn how to win and win together.”
The number showed that those lessons are taking hold. Once done, the Orioles will have to carry them through the rest of the season to get where they want to go.
Red Sox at Orioles
Wednesday, 1:05 p.m
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM