Have The Baltimore Orioles Reached The Bottom?
I want to start this piece by making it clear that I have been a loyal fan of the Baltimore Orioles for 40 years and hope to be a fan for another 40 years.
While Tommy Lasorda may bleed Dodger blue, I bleed Orioles Orange.
For that reason, the start to the 2010 season has to be about as disappointing and disheartening as anything I have experienced during my long journey as a fan of the O’s.
Considering that I still have nightmares about the collapse in the 1979 World Series and endured lots of strange looks when I wore an Orioles shirt to parties during the 21-game losing streak to start the 1988 season, you can get a sense of just how hard it is to take the current state of the Birds.
All Baltimore fans have struggled with the disappointment of the last decade. It seems that since the O’s lost to Cleveland in the 1997 AL Championship Series, the team has been going around in circles while the rest of baseball has been moving ahead.
Those of us who have followed the Orioles for decades still remember when we were even with, or for a long time ahead of, the Yankees and Red Sox. The biggest rivalry in the American League East in the 1970s and early 1980s wasn’t the Red Sox and Yankees, it was the Orioles and Yankees.
But now the gap between the Orioles and their two division rivals seems wider than the Grand Canyon. And to make it worse, the upstarts from Tampa, who despite the fact that they have a very good team, can’t even get 15,000 people to a game on a regular basis, have also moved past the Orioles.
Like many other Orioles bloggers and fans, I have spent the last year in a state of cautious optimism.
Unlike previous management teams, Andy MacPhail seemingly had a plan for the future and was building a team that could return to contention with the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays.
Even though Baltimore again struggled with only 64 victories in 2009, MacPhail declared that the team was ready to start winning in 2010 and I think most of us shared that same opinion.
Even knowing that the Orioles had the toughest schedule in baseball during the first month of 2010, my hope for the Orioles during April was that the team would play near .500 baseball and display a confidence and attitude that they were ready to contend.
To say that the results so far in 2010 have been the exact opposite might be an understatement.
Not only has Baltimore won only one of their first 11 games, but most of the players are already starting to look like they would like to be anywhere else besides at the ballpark.
The first four games of the season were all one-run games and though they went only 1-3 in those games, with a little better performance from the bullpen the Birds could have easily been 3-1.
However, over the last seven games the Orioles haven’t just been on the losing side, they have seemingly been defeated before they have even taken the field.
They did take one game with Tampa Bay to 10 innings, but even that game was a disappointment because Baltimore led 3-0 after seven innings and ended up losing 8-6.
In the other six losses, Baltimore has been outscored 33-8.
I have spent the last 12 years still believing that at some point the Orioles would come out of the funk and life would go back to the way it was in the 1970s and early ‘80s (even also in the early and mid 1990s) when you couldn’t win the division without worrying about the O’s.
However, the start to the 2010 season now has me wondering if this is simply the bottom and the rise is about to come or if the Orioles are forever destined for the second division.
On paper, the Orioles have a pretty good baseball team. Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters are stars in the making. Though the injury to Brian Roberts definitely hurts, the team still has a lot of talented players.
Yet, through 11 games the entire team has scored only 31 runs and has almost as many strikeouts (71) as hits (84).
Sure teams go through slumps, but it seems like the Orioles have been in a slump for 13 years.
Pitching has been the Achilles heel in recent years, but MacPhail has been stockpiling young arms that have drawn comparisons to the great Baltimore pitching staffs of by-gone eras.
So, the fact that several of those young hurlers are still struggling makes it hard to believe that the end of the frustration is in sight.
When the Orioles started the 1988 season with 21 straight losses, it seemed to be a wake-up call that led to some tough player decisions that ultimately helped the franchise. As a result, the team won 87 games in 1989 and by 1992 were regularly back in playoff contention.
However, this time around because the Orioles have spent the last couple years purging veterans and getting younger, making radical changes is probably not the answer.
Instead, I think they need to start at the top and make a change at manager.
MacPhail insisted when he resigned Dave Trembley at the end of last season that Trembley had been the right manager to work with the young players and that he deserved a chance to lead the team back to glory.
I’m sure that MacPhail would like to give Trembley more than two weeks to prove if he is capable of managing a winning team. However, I’m not sure that even those of us who have been patient fans are willing to wait much longer.
I believe that if MacPhail lets the mediocrity (I’m being kind with that word) go on much longer, he will be jeopardizing his entire rebuilding plan.
Before the season started, I wrote a column and ran a poll that asked what would be considered a successful season for Baltimore in 2010. Most respondents said that the year would be a success if the O’s had a winning record.
Right now, it seems quite a long-shot that the team can right the ship and play well enough over the remainder of the season to reach that mark.
The thing about building for next year is that if next year never comes all you have been doing is wasting time.
If MacPhail decides to keep Trembley as his manager and the team does not improve to that level, then will it be time to replace both MacPhail and Trembley?
I will keep wearing my Orioles shirts and displaying my Orioles license plate, but one of these years I would like be able to wear them in October to celebrate a Baltimore playoff appearance and not just to remember the past.
MacPhail has been strategic and methodical in building the Orioles, but at some point he has to make a radical decision that hopefully will jump start the forward movement and hopefully eventually lead to that playoff trip.
I contend that time is now.
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