Saturday, July 9, 2011

Checking in with the Orioles: Train Wreck

Since my last check in with the O's, very little has gone well for the team. In mid-May, it looked like the Birds might at least spend the season making life difficult for their AL East brethren. No longer. This squad has been absolutely awful since then and any talk of contending for the playoffs or even finishing above .500 at this point seems completely absurd. Injuries and terrible pitching have taken a heavy toll.

Photo via Baltimore Sports Then and Now

The past two evenings have been particularly awful with the Orioles at Fenway for a four-game series just before the All-Star break. Both games were Red Sox thrashings: 10-4 and 10-3. Neither game was even that close.

Thursday, July 7

I did have the pleasure of good company on Thursday evening. Mock, Orange Man, Mock's cousin, a school colleague and I met at a local pub to watch the affair: The Pour House in South Burlington. I was the only Orioles fan present so I received much well-deserved ribbing for my pathetic team. My Sox fan companions certainly enjoyed the proceedings: six homers for their boys, including three-in-a-row off of newly-promoted reliever Pedro Viola. "Didn't he pitch for the Twins back in the '80s?" Orange Man quipped.

Despite the pathetic game, a merry time was had by all. I'm hopeful that we'll do it again. There's already talk of taking our families to a Vermont Lake Monsters game soon.

Mixed reviews for the Pour House. The food was alright, but unspectacular. The onion rings were good, my burger average. They have a decent beer list, as one would hope given the name of the establishment. I always order Switchback if it's available. Switchback is a local brew only available by the keg. $3.60/pint is a decent price, too. The service wasn't the greatest but I'd say under-staffing was the main issue there.

Although the bar has multiple screens and advertises itself as a sports bar, I'd say we were among very few who were there to watch the game. We were the only ones still seated at a table by the end of nine. I can imagine, however, that a contest still competitive after six innings might have inspired greater interest.

Would I go again? Sure. But is it worth checking out other places? Yes.

Friday, June 8

Squid: Can Zach Britton provide the Birds with a quality start?
David Ortiz: No, sir.

It only took five batters to answer my question of the evening. Ortiz's blast to right drove in three runs, but a slice of the eight compiled by the BoSox in the first inning. Mercifully for Britton, the eighth run was unearned. The lefty starter didn't even survive the frame, relieved by righty Brad Bergesen for the third out.

Of course, the headlines this morning focus on the bench-clearing brawl at the end of the eighth inning. Boston made a curious move just two batters earlier, pinch-hitting Drew Sutton for Adrian Gonzalez. I can understand resting the star slugger in a blowout and giving a young player an at bat. But I wonder if there wasn't something more at play. Perhaps the Red Sox anticipated that reliever Kevin Gregg might throw at someone and they wanted to be sure Gonzalez wasn't the one to get pegged.

There were a few bright spots for the Birds. Derrick Lee owns Josh Beckett and got extra-base hits in both plate appearances against the Boston righty: a double and a solo homer. Bergesen pitched brilliantly for three innings, perhaps making a reasonable argument that he should have his spot in the rotation back. He did take a hard shot in the arm on an Ortiz screamer up the middle and had to leave the game - thankfully just a bruised forearm, no break.

The 10 Things

The season is slipping away in Baltimore. Their win-loss percentage is still up from last year and I am hopeful that the team can post enough of an improvement that Buck Showalter gets to stick around as manager. It is silly to think of this team as a contender anymore but let's have a look at Matt Trueblood's 10 things the Orioles must do to win the pennant. We might find further clues as to how it's all gone so wrong.

1. Brian Matusz becomes an ace. Matusz's return from injury had been seen as the final piece of the puzzle for turning this team into a contender. Instead, it was the point of the season when all seemed to go horribly wrong. Rather than solidifying the rotation, Matusz is struggling at AAA Norfolk while the parent team flounders.

2. Koji Uehara wins the closer role. The one part of the team that has actually functioned reasonably well is the back end of the bullpen. Jim Johnson has settled into a seventh-inning role with Uehara as setup man and Gregg closing. Johnson and Uehara both have ERAs under 3 while Gregg's is at 3.41. Of course, the three haven't been handed many late inning leads recently but there seems little reason to shake up this part of the roster right now.

3. Nick Markakis elevates. Markakis seems to be back on track. His numbers are much improved from our last check in: .292/.339/.382. That still lags behind last year's figures - .297/.370/.436 - but improvement is good. His ground outs/air outs ratio is up, however: 1.11. Getting below last year's 1.04 would bode well for his power game.

5. Justin Duchscherer gets healthy. Who? He's scheduled for an exam with the team doctor on Monday.

6. Buck Showalter makes the team his own. There has been much understandable hand wringing over the lack of production with runners in scoring percentage but there's some good news here. Team slugging is currently .403, up from last year's .386. Team fielding percentage is exactly the same as 2010: .982. Even with the current miserable slump, the winning percentage has improved: .419 vs. .407. The going is very rough indeed at the moment but overall, net positive.

7. Zach Britton finds his way. Reality has come home to roost. Not long ago, Britton was in serious contention for AL Rookie of the Year. Last night's throttling effectively ended that campaign and, more to the point, helped justify the team's decision to send him down to AA Bowie. The future is still very bright for this guy but he's got work to do.

8. Left field poses a good problem. Left field has evolved into a three-man platoon with Nolan Reimold taking the field when the opponent has a lefty on the mound. Overall, the return of Reimold to the roster, and to Major League form, is excellent news for the club. Luke Scott is currently on the DL with shoulder issues but expected back after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, depth at this position has certainly been a blessing.

9. Chris Tillman breaks the ceiling. Also currently in Norfolk.

10. Adam Jones becomes Batman. The batting average is up slightly, .285 as opposed to .284 last year. The slugging percentage is up: .455 vs. .442. The stolen base percentage is up: 100% vs. 50%. The fielding percentage is down: .978 vs. .984. The range factor is also down: 2.65 vs. 2.91. So, the offensive side is in pretty good shape. The fielding isn't so great.

A Few Quick Thoughts on the Draft

There are two times during the season when it's particularly worth examining the top-to-bottom health of a Major League organization: the draft and the trade deadline. For a team still in need of overall improvement, I think youth development is the way to go. Prior to the 2011 draft, the Orioles farm system was ranked by Frank Piliere as the 25th best system in the game - not so great. By most accounts, however, the Orioles had a good draft this year and perhaps they're on the road to improvement.

I am concerned about the fact that the top two draft choices, RHP Dylan Bundy and 3B Jason Esposito, were both chosen despite known signability issues. On the other hand, it's a strong indication that the franchise is willing to spend money. I just wonder if that's the best way to spend it. I'd rather they invested in scouting and development to be sure they get the right people and train them. And if you're going to spend really big money, why not use it on known entities in free agent signings?

The way things are going, the O's are sure to be sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline. Vladimir Guerrero would seem the most attractive candidate to other teams with pitching prospects being the Birds' most urgent target.

1 comment:

  1. And things did not get better for your boys in the last two games....

    I agree it was a good time, but for some reason "a school colleague" made me giggle....