Thursday, July 7, 2011

Is it time to start rooting for the Nats?

Here we are, back in the same place we're always at this time of year.

Twelve games under .500.
14.5 games out of first place.
The pitching, hitting, fielding...the O's are doing nothing well.
There's no prospects in the minors who will be called up to spark the interest of jaded fans like they have in years past.

This is going to be a long second half, folks.

Of course you could talk trades but the Orioles have always held onto players too long as opposed to trading them a year or two early (Luke Scott, Brian Roberts, etc...), so it's doubtful that the O's will be major players at the deadline. Luke Scott, who should have been traded last offseason, is hurt. Add to that, the team's seemingly biggest trade chips at the start of the season -- Derrek Lee and Vlad Guerrero -- are having such poor seasons that if you combined their stats they'd still be disappointments. No one is going to want them enough to give up anything of value. The O's are stuck with them like so many under-performing veteran players of years past.

On the other hand, players like Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy are playing well. I'll be surprised if the Orioles trade the team's two biggest bright spots, despite the fact that Hardy is a free agent after the season and would probably be reluctant to extend or re-sign with a team that has no hope to compete over the length of his contract. And Sun columnist Peter Schmuck recently wrote a column in support of keeping Reynolds and Hardy.

Jeremy Guthrie is coming apart at the worst time possible, right when teams are keeping a close eye on him in hopes of acquiring him for the pennant race. And outside of Koji Uehara and maybe Jim Johnson, no one in the bullpen will bring back anything, due to their contract and/or performance.

Adam Jones could be traded, his value is pretty high and he could bring back a hefty return, but the Orioles will never trade a player they've built a media campaign around. So you can toss that idea right out of the window.

So what else is there to discuss? What reasons do we have to continue watching this team?


Absolutely, positively nothing.

The future looks as grim as it ever has, maybe even worse.

Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals are having themselves an exciting season. A season, I might add, that we all thought the Orioles would be having this year.

The Nats are 45-43 and are unlikely to make the postseason (they trail the first place Phillies by 10 games and the wild card leading Braves by 7 games), but they're playing exciting baseball in July thanks to the emergence of some of their talented young pitchers.

Sound familiar?

After last season, the Orioles were supposed to parlay their late season pitching success into a solid staff in 2011, but it hasn't happened. Brian Matusz was injured to start the year and is now in Norfolk after losing velocity. Brian Bergesen has shuttled between Norfolk and Baltimore and still hasn't found consistency. Like Matusz, Chris Tillman has lost velocity and is struggling in Norfolk. Only Zach Britton has really opened eyes (3.47 ERA) but even he has shown signs of unraveling lately (5.91 ERA in his last 2 starts). Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta has 9 wins but still has an ERA of 4.74. Thanks to the meltdown of 2/5 of their rotation, the Orioles have been forced to use fodder such as Chris Jakubauskus (6.75 ERA) and Mitch Atkins in the rotation.

Down in D.C., the Nationals entire rotation has an ERA below 4.11. And despite the tragic injury to Steven Strasburg that's sidelined him for over a year, the Nationals still have a wealth of pitching talent. Jordan Zimmerman, 25, has an ERA of 2.82 and walks just 1.7 batters per 9 innings. But the real firepower is found in their bullpen, where 23 year old Drew Storen has 22 saves and a 2.53 ERA. Tyler Clippard, 26, has an 11.4 K/9 rate and an impressive 1.86 ERA. Henry Rodriguez, 24, has a 1.91 ERA and a 10.2 K/9.

What do the O's have in their bullpen?

Koji Uehara, 36, and Jim Johnson, 28, both of whom should be traded this year.

Offensively, the Nationals are getting some good production from journeyman players like Michael Morse (.889 OPS) and Laynce Nix (.831 OPS). Their star player, Ryan Zimmerman, has been injured for most of the year and their second baseman, Danny Espinoza, has 16 home runs and an .809 OPS. Jayson Werth, signed to a massive long-term contract the Nationals are sure to regret, is scraping by with a .694 OPS. So offensively, the Nationals resemble their Baltimore counterparts: a few bright spots sprinkled in amongst drek.

The Nationals will benefit from Strasburg coming back next year, as well as the emergence of their #1 pick from 2010, Bryce Harper. The Nats also have a better farm system and a GM in Mike Rizzo, who's not afraid to make bold moves and spend money.

Meanwhile, the Orioles have a barren farm system with their best prospects 2-3 years away and a GM who is conservative and refuses to spend money internationally.

The Nats also have Davey Johnson as manager. Remember him? Yeah, it's the same guy. He took over for the Nationals when their previous manager, John Riggleman, oddly resigned a few weeks ago after Rizzo wouldn't extend his contract. Talk about falling up instead of falling down.

Yeah, Buck Showalter may still be a good manager but his stock is at an all-time low in Baltimore. Gone is the messiah-like aura from last August and September and his take-no-prisoners attitude. Unfortunately it seems like he's been replaced by an android programmed to manage exactly like the last couple of Orioles managers: Dave Trembley and Sam Perlozzo. Remember that organizational depth chart that was supposed to light a fire under players when they saw the list of players gunning for their jobs? Showalter has relentlessly stuck with his aging veteran players despite their struggles while talented players like Nolan Reimold rot on the bench.

I'm pretty much finished with the Orioles at this point. I was excited for this season, thinking we'd be better -- thinking we'd be having a season much like the Nationals. But as hard as it is for me to say it, there's more to like about the Nationals, now and moving forward. The Orioles will always be my first love, but it may be time to move on and start dating again.

And the Nationals are looking pretty cute right now.

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