Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Worst case scenarios

Worst case scenarios. In Baltimore they're as seasonal as leaves changing color and the first flowers of spring.

Each year, there are some new faces in the dugout, some increased optimism that "this can be the year the O's take a step forward", and then boom! The Orioles are back in last place and fans are left to wonder why this keeps happening each year.

The 2011 Orioles weren't on many postseason lists, but they were supposed to play better baseball, maybe even finish with a record above .500. But after getting off to a hot 6-1 start, the Orioles have lost 10 of 12 and are facing another long season where the losses mount and the frustration and anger spreads through the fanbase like a cancer.

In 2010, the Orioles finished April with a 5-20 record and were at one point 2-16. The worst case scenario that year was the Orioles' inability to knock in runners in scoring position. At one point they were something like an astounding 2 for 50 with RISP. But as the season wore on and the losses mounted, it became clear that the O's just weren't any good. New faces like Garrett Atkins were excruciatingly bad, and Brian Roberts was lost for most of the season, ultimately contributing to a season that many O's fans would like to forget.

But then Buck Showalter arrived, snapped his fingers, and the Orioles began to play better -- much better -- finishing 34-23 under Buck's watch. And fans felt there was reason for legit hope in Baltimore again. Throw in a "good on paper" offseason where the Orioles added some power in the guise of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds, a 6-1 start to the 2011 season, and Oriole fans were ready to line-up for playoff tickets.

But then the other shoe dropped -- another worst case scenario. Despite the big names in the line-up, the hitters haven't been, well, hitting.

Guerrero and his .943 career OPS? .663 OPS in 2011.

Lee and his .862 career OPS? .570 OPS in 2011.

Reynolds and his .810 career OPS? .606 OPS in 2011.

And what about the other guys? The ones who have been here for the last few years? Not much better....

Nick Markakis and his .825 career OPS? .591 OPS in 2011.

Adam Jones and his .743 career OPS? .681 OPS in 2011.

Luke Scott and his .853 career OPS? .666 OPS in 2011.

Only Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters have avoided being terrible at the plate, with a .759 and .789 OPS respectively.

By the same token, the pitching, with a 4.74 team ERA, is good for 14th in the AL. Their struggles have no doubt contributed to the Orioles woes, but they have also allowed lot of runs in single games (13 vs Texas, 15 vs New York and a pair of 8 run losses to Cleveland) which has inflated the ERA. The starting pitchers (Jeremy Guthrie, Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta) have been decent thus far, minus one or two bad appearances from Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman. Meanwhile, the bullpen clearly has a "A team" and a "B team".

All this adds up to a 2-10 record over the last 12 games. Is it just a bad streak of baseball or is it a sign of things to come?

So there you have it. Another worst case scenario: the hitters aren't hitting and to a lesser extent, the pitching is the worst in the AL.

Remeber that hope we had after the finish to last season? After the 6-1 start?

It's Baltimore, folks. Nothing lasts forever.

Friday, April 22, 2011

O's limping into series with Yankees

The Orioles have lost 9 of their last 11 games after dropping a frustrating 3-1 game to the Minnesota Twins, last night. The Twins, with several key injuries, resembled their AAA team more than a MLB team. Despite this, the O's only managed to split the 4-game series with the Twins after coming off an 8-game losing streak.

The series split was akin to a cat allowing a wounded mouse to get away.

Now the Yankees come into town. And then the Red Sox. And their fans.

It would have been nice to steal last night's game from the Twins and head into the Yankees series with a 9-9 record. But it still doesn't change the fact that the Orioles have a tough task ahead of them. And despite a 2-game stretch where the bats finally woke up, the offense is still struggling to find their groove.

You know it's bad when Robert Andino leads the offense with a .308 batting average. And Brian Roberts, Vlad Guerrero, Matt Wieters and Felix Pie are also hitting well. But the big boppers in the line-up -- Nick Markakis, Derrek Lee, Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds -- all have averages .222 or under with slugging percentages that wouldn't even be good batting averages.

The Orioles are throwing Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta against the Yankees. All the pitchers are very up and down, although Arrieta has had success against the Yankees in his brief career thus far.

So it looks like the probability of getting swept or stealing just one game from the Yanks is high.

And while the Red Sox got off to a poor start, they're playing better as of late and are only a game behind the Orioles in the win column.

If the Orioles are going to take any steps forward in 2011, now is the time to do it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R.I.P. Willie Don!

Being born in 1979, William Donald Schaefer (mayor of Baltimore from 1971-1987, governor of Maryland 1987-1995) was always a familiar figure to me growing up, but I didn't fully grasp who he was and what he meant to Baltimore until I was much older.

I probably never will fully grasp it.

Schaefer passed away earlier this week, at the age of 89. People say he was hands down the greatest mayor the city of Baltimore ever had, and quite possibly one of the best mayors any city in America has ever had.

Much of the reasoning for that high praise can be found in this Esquire article, published in the mid-80's when Schaefer was getting coast-to-coast props for cleaning up Baltimore and making it a tourist destination at a time when American cities were dying (for example, in its first year of operation, Harborplace outdrew Disneyworld!). Esquire calls the article one of the best they've ever published and while reading it, it's not hard to tell why.

But for me, a die-hard Baltimore sports fan, two of Schaefer's biggest victories were getting the Orioles a new stadium, thus guaranteeing that they wouldn't follow the Colts out of the city, and lobbying hard for the NFL's return to Baltimore, after the Colts left and broke Schaefer's, and everyone else's heart, in 1984.

In a nutshell, Schaefer believed that the city of Baltimore should have everything, despite it's "second city" image. He didn't care if bigger cities like Washington, DC or Philadelphia were just a short distance away. And in the end, the city of Baltimore looks like it does today thanks in large part to the work Schaefer did throughout his life as a public servant.

He will be missed and there probably won't ever be another politician in the same vein.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Losing streak reaches eight in a row...

That's not me, but it might as well be.

The Orioles lost 5-3 to the Twins last night, bringing their current losing streak to eight in a row.

And right now I feel so hopeless, so angry, so devastated that I am having trouble focusing.

It shouldn't this bad, right? But it is. Again.

A year removed from a horrific April, where the Orioles started 2-16 and finished the month with a record of 5-18, the Orioles are doing their best to erase any goodwill built up from their strong 34-23 showing under Buck Showalter in 2010 and the 6-1 start they jumped out to in 2011.

Losing streaks happen to good teams and bad, but this one is different. At least for me.

I'll tell you why.

I keep getting my hopes up. This past offseason the O's made some flashy moves to "improve the team". The season got off to a good start and I threw down $200 on a 4-game ticket plan.

And what do I get for it?

An eight game losing streak the third week of the season.

I feel like a dope. I feel embarrassed. I feel like the guy who keeps going back to the wife who cheats on him and throws plates at his head. And just when I think everything will get better, it only happens again, but in a slightly different way, just to keep surprising you with how bad it can get.

I am tired of always having that dreaded feeling in the back of my head come true when it comes to this team. You always know they will fuck it up when they actually do something good. And I always get angry and embarrassed when it comes true all over again.

I have tickets to this Friday's game against the Yankees. And right now I can't even envision the thought of going to a game, much less a Yankees game, where the Yankee fans will be out in full regalia and the Yankees will no doubt pound the shit our of our beloved zer0's.

So why do I put up with it?

I try not to, to be honest. I haven't watched much of the last four losses although I did tune in just in time to see Kevin Gregg cork one in the dirt with the bases loaded, which allowed a run to score. Gregg, by the way, is fast on his way of becoming another one of Andy's "Epic MacFail" bullpen signings. But for the life of me I can't help but allow my happiness and anger be largely dictated by this baseball team.

So until I somehow figure out how to make a clean break, I'm just another suffering Oriole fan. Hopefully the players will have mercy on me and win tonight, giving me at least a brief reprieve of bliss in what is sure to be another disappointing Orioles season.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Trying to find the words...

Well, here we are again. It's a new season, with many new players, a (kinda) new manager and yet the results are still the same. After a quick 6-1 start to the season the Orioles have lost 7 in a row and appear to be back in the same old Orioles funk that they get into year after year.

It is still early, yes, but you don't have to be a calculus major to see where this is headed.

However, I do believe this year is different. At least it was supposed to be different. I mean, we added some good players. Buck Showalter was demanding better performance. We got off to a good start...

So why am I back here, trying to grasp in the dark for some words to put down in a blog about the Orioles?

I guess you could say that all teams, good or bad, go through losing streaks. But seven games in a row? That is the kind of thing to be expected from the Orioles of the past -- the ones with little talent on their roster and a manager in the dugout who no one respected. This year the Orioles were supposed to avoid extended losing streaks through better pitching and more beef in their line-up. Yet so far the pitching has been hit or miss, especially in the bullpen, and the hitting, especially 3-6 in the line up where no one has an OPS above .700, has been downright dreadful.

In short, it's the same old Orioles -- doing what they can to lose games they could easily win.

Thankfully, the Twins limp to town with a line-up that lacks star sluggers Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. And if ever there was a time to right the ship, it would be back at home where the Orioles play their next ten games against Minnesota, New York and Boston.

So where do you think this season is headed? Another hapless near-100 loss season? Or is this team different, and we just haven't seen them get on the same page yet?

I really don't know. But I don't have a lot of faith in the Baltimore Orioles right now. They really need to start showing me something, and fast.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chickens come home to roost in loss to Yankees

You're out! Pie's sorry excuse for a slide costs the Orioles a crucial insurance run in the 8th inning that eventually lead to a stinging 6-5 loss to the Yankees.

Well, thank God for that rainout, or else the Orioles would have probably been swept in three games by the Yankees instead of just two.

Last night was one of those losses that throw fans into a meltdown on internet message boards and sports talk shows. After holding a 5-0 lead heading into the 5th inning on the back of a gutsy Jake Arrieta performance, the Yankees did what they always do -- chipped away at the lead until they entered the ninth inning trailing by one run.

They also benefited from a play at the plate in the top of the 8th inning. Joba Chamberlain was pitching with men on first and third (Pie). Chamberlain corked one in the dirt which bounced to the backstop and back again, allowing Yankees catcher Russel Martin to flip the ball to Chamberlain who was covering the plate in a way that deterred Pie from sliding. Instead, Pie awkwardly dragged his foot around Chamberlain and didn't get low enough. His foot missed the plate by an inch and Chamberlain was able to turn and tag Pie out.

It was a good play by Chamberlain and Pie was going to have to come up with a brilliant slide in order to be safe. He almost was. But Pie was Pie and didn't come through. I would have liked to seen Pie plow into Chamberlain, who was in the basepath (to his credit). It's time the Orioles attack the Yankees aggressively and show the world they are not going to bow down to the Yankees anymore. I know it would be impossible for Pie to process all that in a split second and make a decision based on that past history, but I think Buck should be drilling it into his players to get that run no matter what, even if it means making contact. Especially against the Yankees.

Anyway, after failing to get that crucial insurance run, Buck Showalter opted to bring in newly-signed closer, Kevin Gregg, to finish the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth, but Gregg wasted no time, allowing a first-pitch game-tying home run to the ageless Jorge Posada. It's a move that Showalter is getting criticized for and probably justifiably so. Buck had Koji Uehara warming up in the bullpen, but went with the shaky Gregg instead.

Gregg was signed for 2 years, $10 million during the offseason despite putting up some concerning stats last year as the closer for the Blue Jays. Yeah, he saved 37 games last year, but averaged 4.6 walks per 9 innings and had a 3.51 ERA. He did, however, pitch well against the Yankees last year, saving 4 games with a 1.23 ERA.

That success went out the window with just one pitch.

Gregg closed out the rest of the ninth, sending the game into extra innings. And with the Orioles scoring 5 runs, thanks in part to a Nick Markakis 2-run home run, you had the feeling that they were done for the night after the fifth inning. They went quietly in the top of the tenth and Buck brought in Michael Gonzalez who promptly lost the game.

It wasn't the best night for Buck, but I think he deserves a pass for most of it. Andy MacPhail did sign Gregg to be the closer, after all. But it's just a reminder of the shoddy work MacPhail has done at improving the bullpen. The Orioles have committed $26 million and forfeited two draft picks to sign Gregg and Gonzalez, both shaky pitchers who put too many men on in what are usually crucial times.

In the grand scheme of things, it was just one loss, but the O's are in a 4-game slide and the momentum they had with their 6-1 start is quickly evaporating. Stealing a game in Yankee stadium this early would have been huge for this team, but instead, the Orioles did what they always do, and gave the game away.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Koji should inspire O's to find more Asian pitchers

Uehara is third all time in appearances without a walk, with 35 after last night's appearance.

You see it every time Koji Uehara takes the mound.

The Japanese (and Asian) values of discipline and quiet integrity. Uehara hasn't walked a batter in 35 appearances and is third all time in appearances without a walk. He throws strikes and isn't afraid of contact. If you beat him, at least he gave you his best. But he will not beat himself by giving you a free base.

While watching the Japanese team win the last two World Baseball Championships, as well as seeing the South Korean advance deep into both WBC's, it became obvious to American fans that many Asian players share Koji's values when it comes to baseball. And after watching what Uehara has done the last two years in Baltimore, GM Andy MacPhail should be kicking in every door trying to find the next Uehara.

In a bullpen filled with pitchers who are prone to high numbers of base on balls -- especially Michael Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg, who are both being paid to be the closer -- Uehara is quietly collecting a modest contract and delivering results.

Uehara has his drawbacks, namely his frailty, which can include the slightest injury or inability to adapt to heat and humidity, but when healthy, Uehara has performed at the highest level possible.

I don't know who the next big Asian pitcher would be. Maybe Yu Darvish, who seems destined to sign with the Yankees and Red Sox.

But MacPhail should be working day and night to find out who that next pitcher is. And for proof of that, he needs to look no further than under his nose at Uehara.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

At a loss

It was painful: The Orioles allowed four home runs in a 7-3 loss to the Tigers, the O's first loss of the season.

Well, the Orioles couldn't have gone undefeated all season, could they?

The Birds lost 7-3 loss to Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in a game where Verlander got an early lead and coasted to a victory with 9 K's over 8 innings.

Brad Bergesen, who was making a start in place of Jeremy Guthrie, who is recovering from pneumonia, allowed a 3-run home run to Tigers catcher, Alex Avila in the second inning after Brian Roberts dropped a weak fly ball into right field and Bergesen made a throwing error himself. And in the 4th inning, Bergesen did the same, allowing another HR to Aviles. Both bombs came with 2 outs in the inning. Bergesen didn't last long, going only 3.2 IP, allowing 5 hits, 2 walks and striking out two.

The Orioles did manage to pull within 2 runs with a Derrek Lee home run in the bottom of the 4th, but then reliever Josh Rupe promptly allowed two more home runs (Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez) to put the O's back down by 4 runs. Rupe threw mostly fastballs in his appearance and his pitches seemed to have decent life and movement, topping out at 95 MPH, but his mistakes were costly, and the sluggers make him pay. The bullpen troubles continued as Michael Gonzalez made a shaky appearance, allowing a run in his 1.1 innings pitched and Kevin Gregg allowed 2 hits in his inning of work.

But if the Orioles are going to lose they might as well get all of that shakiness out all at once, especially when facing another team's ace pitcher while throwing up a replacement pitcher of their own.

Tonight, the Orioles look to take their second series in a row to start the season as Chris Tillman takes the mound against the Tigers' Brad Penny. Tillman pitched six hitless innings in Tampa last weekend and looks to build off of that encouraging start against Penny, who is coming off a brutal, 4.1 IP, 8 ER performance against the Yankees.

The O's better get their wins in quick, because the slugging Texas Rangers come into town tomorrow, before heading to New York to take on the Yankees next week.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Brian Roberts hit a three-run home run on opening day to propel the Orioles to a win and a 4-0 start.

It only took the Orioles four games to win four games, something that it took twenty games for the O's to do in 2010. And by getting off to their first 4-0 start since 1997, they've injected the city of Baltimore with a virus called Oriole Fever.

I was at the sell-out opening day game yesterday and it was obvious that Oriole fans were hungry for winning baseball. Fans hung on every pitch and cheered loudly with every strike out and run scored.

Brian Roberts provided the fireworks on the day, hitting a 3-run home run, his second 3-run bomb in 3 days. But so far this season, it's been the pitching that's put the Orioles where they are in the standings. O's pitchers have allowed only 1 run per game thus far.

Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Tillman have combined for 14 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 11 K, and 4 BB.

Zach Britton, filling in for Brian Matusz who is going to miss 4-6 weeks with a sore back, made his MLB debut on Sunday, going 6 IP, allowing 3 H, 1 ER and striking out 6. And yesterday, Jake Arrieta went 6 IP, allowing 6 H, 1 ER, 3 K and 2 BB. And in the bullpen, Jason Berken has been absolutely dealing, pitching 3 innings with 6 K's and a 0.00 ERA.

On the offensive side, Roberts leads the team with 8 RBI while Matt Wieters, Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy and Nick Markakis each have 2 RBI. Other than Roberts, Markakis (.429 AVG) and Matt Wieters (.385 AVG), the offense has been workmanlike, and most of the new faces have yet to get going. But it's still early. And if the Oriole pitching keeps chugging along like they have, the offense won't be a problem.

So there it is, O's fans. For once, a best-case scenario has happened in Baltimore. The Orioles are 4-0 to start the season and have exercised any demons that still lingered from last year's historically bad start.


Going into their first off day of the season, the Orioles received word that Jeremy Guthrie has pneumonia and is likely to miss 5-7 days and possibly 2 starts. Brad Bergesen will pitch on Wednesday.

Friday, April 1, 2011

And so it begins...

In almost two hours the Orioles will take the field in Tampa Bay to begin the 2011 season.

I am happy baseball is back. Win or lose, it's a lot more fun talking about actual games than it is talking about player signings or who is looking good or bad in spring training. So at least there's that.

And while I'm not ready to go all-in with this team, I am excited, and I do expect them to be a lot better than the 66-96 record they compiled a year ago. They've brought in better players and Buck Showalter has instilled his system during spring training. You have to think that will make a big difference.

And most everyone is healthy, which is the most important thing coming out of spring training. Hopefully it will remain that way as the season evolves. While the O's are a little better prepared to deal with injuries in 2011 with Nolan Reimold and Zach Britton waiting in Norfolk after excellent grapefruit campaigns, the Orioles have been decimated by injures in the past. They can't let it happen again.

Yet I still believe this team has a lot of question marks. Age, health, and the ability to bounce back from down years linger over all of the new faces. And we've yet to see any one of the younger players take that big step forward to become the centerpiece of the franchise.

So if I had to make a prediction, I'd go with 82-80 -- just enough to finally end that 13-year losing streak -- but still being somewhat disappointing since it means no serious run at the playoffs.

But I believe the team's ceiling is higher than that -- closer to 90 wins.

Will I regret such an "optimistic" prediction? Probably. But whereas in years past the team's ceiling wasn't much better than a .500 record, I don't feel that way about this year's team. More is being asked for from this team. It's no longer a developmental year -- no more shooting for .500. Buck is demanding wins. And this is a perfect time to do so at this point in the careers of these players. So I do feel like the team is demanding more from themselves --more importance on each at-bat, each out, in each game -- which could translate into things falling into place, ie, more wins. Hopefully we won't see the Orioles fall into a slumber for weeks at a time where they seem to be going through the motions like they did for most of the 2010 season.

If we know anything about the 2011 season, it's that Buck will not stand for that.

So it's time to put up or shut up.

And with that, I'll end it here.

Go O's!