The Streaking O's
Last year, I wrote about how the Baltimore Orioles could be on the cusp of something special. Then, this year, I wrote about how I was so wrong about the Baltimore Orioles and how it was really the Toronto Blue Jays that were the team flying under the radar. I even mocked myself for being so wrong on Baltimore.
I wish I had hung in there with the Orioles but who could have blamed me? The Orioles were awful, almost historically so. When play ended on Sunday, August 1st, Baltimore was sporting a record of 32-73 and were 34.5 games back of first place. That’s a 49-win pace and, playing games in baseball’s most competitive division, there seemed little hope that they could turn things around.
The dismal first 105 games was a top-to-bottom group effort. Let’s start with the job Andy MacPhail did last off-season. His three most high-profile moves were to bring in free agents Garrett Atkins and Mike Gonzalez, and to trade for veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood. Atkins hit .214/.276/.286 and was released on July 6th. Gonzalez has earned nearly $275,000 for each inning pitched, which might be OK if he were Mariano Rivera. But he’s Mike Gonzalez, and through August 1st he had a 5.40 ERA in just nine appearances. He stunk, and couldn’t stay healthy. As for Millwood, he’s pitched ok at times but that 3-16 record while blocking other potential Big League- ready arms has hardly served the team’s interests. Finally, presumably because he looked down at his roster before Opening Day and noticed Cesar Izturis (65 career OPS+) was his shortstop, MacPhail added Julio Lugo for depth. In 253 plate appearances, Lugo has 6 extra-base hits and 14 walks.
A group of youngsters expected to develop into legitimate Big League contributors share culpability as well. Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen all struggled through August 1st. One time uber-prospect Chris Tillman has yet to show that he can be effective in the Majors, and Koji Uehara missed much of the year with injury troubles. Offensively, Nolan Reimold backed up his breakout 2009 with a .210/.289/.350 start and a season-ending achilles injury. Matt Wieters continued to disappoint. Josh Bell, the player so many praised MacPhail for prying away from Ned Colletti in exchange for George Sherrill, has floundered in 151 plate appearances. It looks like even if the veterans had performed for the Orioles, those of us who were bullish on them last season were a year or two early on the youngsters.
But the veterans own the mess that is (was) 2010, too. Ty Wigginton has managed just a .318 on-base. Brian Roberts, through August 1st (last day of the Juan Samuel era), was at .250/.313/.318. Miguel Tejada never even looked interested, hitting .269/.308/.362 before being shipped off to San Diego. Adam Jones had a .306 on-base on August 1st. Nick Markakis hit .303/.384/.488 in his 23 and 24-year old seasons. He’s hit .292/.356/.438 in his 25 and 26 seasons. Through August 1st, his first 132 innings, staff “ace” Jeremy Guthrie was 4-11 with a 4.23 ERA.
It’s well outside of my expertise to understand the impact a Manager has on a ball club, but here are the facts as they relate to Baltimore in 2010. Dave Trembley started the year 15-39. Juan Samuel, with the interim reins, went 17-34. Buck Showalter, since taking over on August 3rd, is 28-19. That 49-win pace now looks more like 65-67 wins. 49 wins is no-man’s land but heck, the 2007 Rays won 66 before reaching the World Series in 2008. Last year's San Diego Padres went 23-13 over their last 36 games, and their success has carried over into 2010. Everything has changed in Baltimore. Just look at some of the performances below:
And for the pitchers, the two numbers presented below are K/BB and then ERA.
There have been other exciting developments, too. Uehara has emerged as a potential shut-down reliever with just five walks in 39 innings pitched and Luke Scott has OPS'd over .900, for instance.
The Orioles have been the AL East's best team for 45 games or so, and with a young pitching nucleus returning and Andy MacPhail's stated commitment to beefing up the offense this off-season, the O's may yet be interesting in 2011. I am reluctant to say more than that given the competitiveness of the division and my own checkered history forecasting Orioles success. But Showalter's aboard, the youngsters are coming along and the veterans are performing the way they're supposed to. From there, you'll have to draw your own conclusions.