MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It’s been too long since we brought all three teams from our 2-Hour-Drive Conference (2HDC) together, but since the baseball season is now over, this seems to be the most appropriate time to do it again.

The Baltimore Orioles, as has been well chronicled here, had that season. They took that step, the first step – the same first step taken to contending and being an annual postseason player that the Houston Astros took, whose ultra-successful rebuild model, sans cheating, of course (we hope), was brought to Baltimore by Orioles general manager Mike Elias.

The plan seems to be working, despite what Buster Olney believes, as the Orioles moved the needle through it for the first time, and moved it in a big way, winning 83 games in becoming the first MLB team to win 83 games one season after losing 110 since the 19th century.

You read that correctly – 19th century. Think about that.

Elias said on Wednesday the Orioles, who were not eliminated from postseason play until Oct. 1 (think about that), are now ready to start investing in the big-league club, meaning their payroll is scheduled to become much higher than this year’s payroll that leap-frogged from 30th to 29th out of 30 MLB teams.

“I feel like this team is officially in the fight in the American League East,” he said on Wednesday, “and that’s a big achievement.”

It is so hopeful to be certain, but let’s first see what happens over the offseason with the most dysfunctional ownership in sports other than anything Dan Snyder touches. If anybody other than Snyder can screw this up faster it is the Angelos ownership; but to this point, despite all of the ugly in-family legal battles, that ownership, or stewardship in light of the circumstance, has done an outstanding job in launching this Orioles rebuild.

Over in the National League, the Washington Nationals had another bad year. In fact, general manager Mike Rizzo said, “It’s a terrible year. It’s no fun.”

Yet, the 55-107 season seems to have been necessary given the circumstances of the potential sale of the club by the Lerner family.

On top of that, the Nats experienced season-ending injuries to Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross, Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Will Harris, Jackson Tetreault and Evan Lee.

On top of that, they traded their franchise player, Juan Soto, a season after trading another franchise player, shortstop Trea Turner (still don’t understand that one), not to mention a handful of other proven veterans who played a hand in their 2019 World Series championship.

So why haven’t we heard Olney bustering the Nationals?

The good news is the Nationals know what they are doing. Rizzo has done this before in building a perennial playoff and eventual world championship team. The Nationals definitely have a plan and should feel hopeful about having as much minor league talent on hand as at any point since the Expos came to Washington to become the Nationals. The Soto trade alone netted six young players, including five of the San Diego Padres’ top prospects.

That’s no guarantee when you’re talking about a player of Soto’s talent and impact (though he has yet to regain it in San Diego). If the Lerners, or a new ownership that would come in, leave Rizzo alone, it will work.

But, as we know around here, rebuilds take time and patience.

Speaking of rebuilds, are the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of one or not? We started the season wondering if they were or if they were just as cheap as their fanbase says they are. Now, we’re fairly sure they’re trying to build something here.

Early in the season, the Pirates were a fun watch, thanks mainly to out-of-this-world shortstop Oneil Cruz. Even through a bumpy start, Cruz showed himself to be an electric presence on the field. You couldn’t, and still can’t, take your eyes off of him.

It’s impossible to determine what’s more intoxicating about Cruz’s game – his size, his arm, his speed or the force with which the ball leaves his bat when he hits it. Actually, it’s all of the above, as he is a true star in the making and will be a star somewhere in the not too distant future.

The Pirates started out fairly well, hovering around .500 through the first quarter of the season before a nine-game losing streak pretty much took the air out of what hope there was to at least compete.

So they began yet another influx of the younger guys, and they had their bumps along the way as well as some good moments. There were honest, yet, at times, encouraging performances by Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ji Hwan Bae, Cal Mitchell, Tucupita Marcano and Diego Castillo.

Yet through it all, the Pirates again traded veterans who produced enough for the fans to stay interested and entertained. But this is what you do in a rebuild, if the Pirates are really committed to a true rebuild and plan to see it through.

That’s the thing about the Pirates each year they finish 62-100, as they did this year. We never know, because it seems that the Pirates themselves never know.

Or maybe the fans are right: The Pirates are just cheap and continue to make their money on other teams’ luxury tax payments, and by June, true and loyal Pirates fans are counting down the days until Steelers summer camp.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT