No team is ever the same, as executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias made sure to point out. But if they’re not identical, there are at least similarities — the kind that can be seen when rebuilds approach fruition.
Be it in Houston, where Elias served as the Astros’ amateur scouting director in 2015, or Chicago in 2014, when Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was part of the Cubs’ coaching staff. The similarities between those teams and Baltimore so far in 2022 are eerily similar, and it leaves the brain trust of the Orioles reminiscing on the mounting excitement around an organization and how they’re feeling it once again.
Those two rebuilds, in Chicago and Houston, resulted in World Series championships only a few years later. In Baltimore, declaring the rebuild over would be overstepping reality, especially as the trade deadline approaches and several veterans, such as right-hander Jordan Lyles or first baseman Trey Mancini, could be moved.
But in the moment — riding an eight-game winning streak and moving to within a game of .500 — there’s at least a feeling floating around that Hyde and Elias have felt before.
“Second half of ‘14, we got younger and more athletic, and got some prospects there — surrounded by veterans — that we thought could be pretty good down the road,” Hyde said. “It happened faster, honestly, than we thought. We were playing a more exciting brand of baseball, which is for me what we’re doing this year, than we have in the past.”
On Friday, for instance, the unique combination of veterans and young talent showed during the ninth-inning rally against the Los Angeles Angels. Rougned Odor, who’s playing in his ninth season and has more than 4,000 plate appearances, got the comeback started with a single. Adley Rutschman, who’s playing in his first season with less than 200 plate appearances, drove him in with a double.
Then Cedric Mullins plated the tying run before Mancini provided another signature moment as the longest-tenured Orioles — a distinction that he might not hold much longer.
“It’s an incredible balance that we have,” Mancini said. “We have a lot of young, exciting players that bring a lot of energy, and then kind of some of us older guys who have been around a while, we feed off those guys but we also try to provide some advice from our years of playing. It’s meshed really, really well this year. It’s been a really good atmosphere and great team camaraderie here.”
Right-hander Tyler Wells has become an unexpected top contributor to the pitching staff, but he gravitates toward left-hander John Means and Lyles. He values that experience, and he often messes around with Lyles.
For Father’s Day, rookie right-hander Kyle Bradish had the idea to create a shirt for Lyles, with the veteran’s face and the words: “Best dad ever.” Most of the staff wore them. Wells has a new Lyles shirt in his repertoire, too.
“I think it is such a good balance of experience and youth that things are really working out very well right now,” Wells said. “And I think that a lot of the really good teams that you do see out in the majors is a combination of that.”
It’s also what could be lost at the Aug. 2 trade deadline. When asked whether there was concern that trading certain veteran pieces could interrupt the positive feelings in the clubhouse, Elias evaded the prompt and spoke in generalities.
“We take everything into account,” Elias said. “There’s always trade-offs with things that you do or you don’t do, and I take the supervision of our baseball operations very seriously and very deliberately. We have to ultimately do things or don’t do things, and there’s a lot that gets poured into the ultimate decisions that we make.”
Still, even Elias feels it. He wasn’t around the team much in 2015 when the Astros took off because he was the amateur scouting director, but the “pleasant surprise nature” of the improvement on the field both then and now is a major similarity.
And with the MLB draft approaching, there’s a familiar sense of excitement building. Houston had two top-five picks that year and the largest bonus pool in baseball history. Now with the Orioles, he has another first-overall pick, along with the second-largest bonus pool behind the one he had with the Astros.
That off-field metric just adds to the similar feelings between then and now. It worked in Chicago and Houston. Yet in Baltimore, whatever is to come remains just a premonition.
“The team was playing well, and the organization was kind of plainly in good shape,” Elias said. “That reminds me of the way I feel right now, regardless of what our win-loss record is going to be for the next couple weeks or months.”
What’s to come
Hyde will have a homecoming at Wrigley Field, returning to face the Cubs for the first time as the Orioles manager. Then Baltimore takes off to face the Tampa Bay Rays, a matchup that could hold significant wild-card implications — the Orioles finished Sunday two games back of the Toronto Blue Jays for the final playoff spot.
Those two series end the first half, with the All-Star Game on July 19 and the MLB draft beginning July 17.
What was good
The defense. Mullins in center field tracked down balls and had web gems nearly every other game. And on Saturday, as right-hander Dean Kremer attempted to clear the fifth inning unscathed, a critical double play helped him out of it.
With a runner on second, third baseman Tyler Nevin threw across the diamond for the first out. Then Mancini fired back across to Nevin, whose tag finished the double play. Those moments have helped the pitching staff put up impressive numbers during an eight-game winning streak.
Outfielder Austin Hays received a day off Sunday because his right wrist is still sore from a dive he made against the Chicago White Sox and a subsequent hit by pitch. His offensive production has taken a hit since the injury.
Over his last 12 games, Hays is hitting .109 with 11 strikeouts. He still holds a .261 average this season and has been one of the most consistent producers, but his late skid didn’t help his All-Star nomination chances.
On the farm
The 60-game suspension for right-hander Matt Harvey is over, and the 33-year-old made his first appearance with Triple-A Norfolk this season on Friday. He allowed two runs on four hits with four walks and three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Harvey started 28 games for the Orioles last season, and he could return to Baltimore at some point this year should the need arise.
Tuesday, 8:05 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM