The Orioles teams of 2012-2016 were projected by just about every expert and advanced model to lose a ton of games.
Instead, they won more than any other team in the American League, made the postseason three times, and came within four wins of a World Series berth in 2014 after running away with the vaunted American League East.
Once again, the models are unkind to the Orioles’ chances entering 2019.
The key to outpacing expert predictions year in and year out? Some might say it was Dan Duquette constantly tweaking the margins of the roster, looking for every small advantage. Some might say it was brilliant tactician Buck Showalter and his adept handling of the bullpen.
Others argue for the leadership of Adam Jones, or the skill of Manny Machado. Maybe it was just dumb luck, though Showalter liked to say there were no flukes over the course of 162 games.
Whomever may have played the biggest role in overcoming long odds, that member of the organization is likely gone. There are new faces everywhere you turn in Camden Yards these days, but as the old adage goes, these guys get paid too. Brandon Hyde and the new players are certainly still hoping to win as many games as possible.
With a new core in place, not to mention an entirely new front office, how does this group hope to outpace projections over the next few seasons?
“I think the expectation is that we’re going to compete every single night and try to win the game,” said rookie manager Brandon Hyde. “The kind of club I envision going forward is a team that catches the ball, that plays with energy, that gets down the line, that puts pressure on the defense and grinds out at-bats. And if we can do that, we’ll be in good shape.”
Hyde wasn't the only member of the Orioles Tuesday to use the word “compete.”
“I think the goal is always to compete,” Opening Day starter Andrew Cashner told reporters. “I don’t think anybody in here is not going to compete.”
Trey Mancini, suddenly an elder statesman in the organization, felt similarly.
“I mean the expectations may be different from everybody’s eyes and that’s very understandable,” Mancini responded to a question about preseason expectations. “We don’t come to the park with that in our minds every day. We want to compete. We’re in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, but we’re going out and competing every day and trying to win every game that we can. So that’s our mindset every day.”
For the few remaining players who spent time with those projection-beating teams, is there anything to take away from that experience?
According to Drew Jackson, one of two Rule 5 draft picks to make the roster, the veterans haven’t been making any comparisons.
“We haven’t really talked about that,” Jackson told reporters. “I think we’ve been focusing on what we can take care of. That’s just going out there playing our game, playing high energy and hopefully surprise people. I know people don’t have high expectations with this team, but I think we’re all really good ballplayers and we’re all big leaguers. I think if we all come together and each do our job, you can be surprised.”
Mancini sees the influence of the previous faces of the franchise not in any specific action, but in attitude and preparation.
“They overshot expectations every year, and like I was saying, you can always exceed expectations no matter what they are,” Mancini said when asked about Jones, Machado and Showalter. “More by example, I just watched the way that they went about their business, you know they’ve been doing this for a while, so I just kind of took some notes on how they carried themselves and things like that. You try to instill that on the younger guys too.”
New GM Mike Elias also recognizes the job done by his predecessor.
“I’m incredibly impressed by what the previous administration managed to accomplish,” Elias said emphatically. “Against so much odds and expectations in the American League East. To be the winningest team over a five year period, to make three playoff appearances and one of them was pretty deep, that’s great success.”
The commitment to winning stems from the upper levels of the organization, even as the franchise prioritizes a strong future.
“We’re going try to win every game every night with the guys we have out there,” Elias continued. “Right now our organizational strategy is to elevate the level of talent up and down the organization. That’s first and foremost. But right behind that is winning ballgames.”
Ultimately, Mancini is the one who sums up this team’s game plan for the season pretty succinctly.
“You know, crazy things happen in baseball,” the newfound veteran told NBC Sports Washington. “We’re going to go out there and play our butts off every single day.”
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