Tuesday, July 13, 2010

First half review

Well, the first half of the 2010 season is thankfully over.

Needless to say, it was a complete and utter disaster.

The Orioles are 29-59, good for the worst record in the majors.

They fired their manager. Lead off hitter and offensive spark plug, Brian Roberts, was injured during the home opener and hasn't played since. Mike Gonzalez, the Orioles' $12 million dollar closer, was also lost after the same game. Luke Scott and Felix Pie have missed extended periods of time due to injuries. And several of their top prospects struggled for most of the first half, and the veterans offered very little support.

It was the baseball version of the BP oil spill. There was nothing you could do but just shake your head at the enormity of the disaster, and the lack of urgency to correct it.

If you were grading the Orioles' first half, I don't see how you could give them anything but a big fat F. The first half was so bad that it has ruined much of the hope for the future, and for good reason: Nolan Reimold was sent down to Norfolk after struggling through April, where he has a .639 OPS. Matt Wieters currently has a .672 OPS. Over the last month, he has warmed up with a .827 OPS, but overall, he has shown little power and there are major flaws in his swing.

On the pitching side, Brad Bergesen, the O's best pitcher in 2009, has been completely inconsistent so far in 2010. He's also been shuttled between Baltimore and Norfolk so far this season and owns a 6.40 ERA.

And it's hard to be pleased with top pitching prospect Brian Matusz thus far in 2010. His 4.77 ERA pretty much sums up the left handed pitcher's season thus far. Matusz will mix in a great start, but offset it with a few mediocre ones, and then have one like he did his last time out against the Rangers and fail to make it out of the 4th inning.

Adam Jones was perhaps at one point the most frustrating player on the team, since he was swinging at basically every pitch, no matter where it was, and playing sloppy defense. Jones, however, has been on fire since mid-May and has upped his game substantially. If Jones can save his season, then it gives me hope that the likes of Wieters, Reimold and Bergesen can do it too.

The veteran acquisitions of Garrett Atkins and Kevin Millwood have also not paid off, and have been downright painful to watch. For the most part, Millwood was a solid veteran SP to lead the rotation. And his recent struggles could be linked to an injury that currently has him on the DL. So it's tough to judge Millwood's decline since opening day. But Atkins is a completely different case. Signed after several years of declining offensive numbers in Colorado, Atkins was a disaster in waiting, and his .562 OPS was the embodiment of the Orioles 2010 season. Thankfully he was released a few weeks ago, but it was long overdue. And Miguel Tejada has been mediocre. He is an improvement over Melvin Mora, with a .691 OPS, and has been solid defensively, but he's done little to prove that he should still be a starter in the MLB.

That said, there have been some small victories so far in 2010.

Jake Arrieta is cruising along relatively fine since his debut as an Oriole on June 10th. On that night he beat the Yankees, and in 7 starts he's had 5 quality starts and a 4.38 ERA.

Nick Markakis is certifiably the Orioles best player, and should have been the team's All Star, but what is even more impressive is that the silent and reserved Markakis has become the team's leader. He openly criticized teammates in a Sun interview earlier in the season and since that article was published, on offense the Orioles are a different team. Markakis has also met with owner Peter Angelos to talk about the future of the organization. A few weeks later it was announced that Buck Showalter was the leading candidate to replace Dave Trembley, who was fired.

Ty Wigginton, who had a forgettable 2009 season as an Oriole, exploded out of the gate, and for almost 2 months was the only Oriole hitter not embarrassing themselves at the plate. He's earned his first All Star appearance with 14 HR and 45 RBI. Wigginton has cooled significantly off since May, but his first half is still a pleasant surprise.

And finally, coming out of nowhere, Corey Patterson has stepped up to become the O's lead-off hitter with a solid .758 OPS in his second go-round with the O's. He was plucked off the scrap heap when Felix Pie was injured and Reimold was sent back down to Norfolk and has earned himself a second chance in the majors after bouncing around for a couple of years.

But overall, there is no denying the catastrophe that has been the 2010 season. The Orioles went weeks between wins. They blew leads. They couldn't hit with runners in scoring position. It was basically everything the Orioles have done in the last four years multiplied by a million.

And the failure of GM Andy MacPhail to do anything drastic was perhaps the most frustrating thing as a fan. He waited too long to fire Dave Trembley. He failed to replace hitting coach Terry Crowley after the Orioles were the worst offensive team in the majors. He waited too long to release Atkins. And he failed to acquire some struggling but promising players who'd been released by their former teams. To be fair, MacPhail has been busier as of late, which is better than nothing, as he finishes the Buck Showalter deal, and acquired Jake Fox, who's been great since joining the Orioles (.847 OPS). But Fox was a former Cub, MacPhail's former employer, which again supports the notion that MacPhail is not familiar with the other 28 major league teams. Almost half of the O's roster was at one time a Cubs player or in the organization while MacPhail was there.

So where do the Orioles go from here? I'd like to say "there is no place to go but up", but being an Oriole fan has taught me that there is no such thing as rock bottom, because the O's have found ways to find a new rock bottom each time we think rock bottom has been hit.

But there is some reason to hope for sustained improvement over the second half of the season. The Orioles swept the first-place Texas Rangers on the road in a four game series to end the first half. Maybe it's a tease. The Orioles aren't strangers to stringing fans along and give them false hope. But the sweep could actually be proof that the O's could play their best baseball in the second half.

Guys like Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta are in the rotation and pitching well as of late. Failed SP's like Jason Berken and David Hernandez are in the bullpen and succeeding. And the offense is finally showing signs of life after they showed absolutely no pulse for much of the first half.

I'll be surprised if the Orioles don't lose 100 games this season. But if they do buck some trends and play well over the second half, the Orioles could gain back some of the hope that surrounded this team headed into 2010. After all, this team was supposed to take its first step toward respectability this year. Instead they've taken a giant step back. But there is still time for improvement.

It's just likely to cost them the first round draft pick in the 2011 amateur draft.

And so there it is...the double edged sword.

What is more important to you now? An improved record or the #1 pick?

Those are the kinds of decisions facing O's fans in the second half. And in that regard, the Orioles will still fail to capitalize somehow. A better second half means no #1 pick next year. And the #1 pick next year means another horrendous half of baseball.

No comments: