As usual, the focus of the Orioles' troubles lies on the mound. After falling to the A’s in the series opener on Thursday, manager Dave Trembley expressed during his postgame interview with MASN that he needs stronger performances from his starting pitchers, especially in the first inning. These are more than valid arguments; however, the Orioles are not only struggling on the mound, but at the plate.
Entering Friday night’s game, the O’s were hitting a lowly .227 as a team and were only four-for-31 with runners in scoring position. An average run total of 2.57 will more than likely prove to be insufficient for the Orioles pitching staff, even if improvements are to be made.
Friday was more of the same and the Orioles fell to the Athletics’ 4-2 to fall to a Major League-low record of 1-10.
Struggles at the plate have really struck a chord with fans in Baltimore, who over the past year have been fed a steady diet of optimism and hope for the future. Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Nolan Reimold were supposed to bring new life and energy to a lineup that had taken several steps forward in 2009. Aside from Wieters, who has performed well, the results have been below par to open the season. Markakis, who many consider to be the O’s best all around hitter, didn’t register his first RBI until more than a week into the season.
When diagnosing the O’s batting woes, it’s important to remember how important Brian Roberts is to the Orioles' offensive production. Felix Pie has performed admirably in his absence before landing on the 15 day disabled list Thursday with a left rotator cuff strain.
Surprisingly, Orioles lead-off men have been able to keep pace, and the Orioles rank fourth in the AL in leadoff hits and batting average. Pie’s performance notwithstanding, Roberts contributions go beyond stolen bases and doubles that land him in scoring position.
So far this season, the Orioles have been completely dominated by left-handed pitching. They have registered an American League low seven hits off left-handers in 36 at bats and, as a symptom of a larger issue, only two RBI.
Last year Roberts hit .294 off left-handers. Wieters and the left handed Luke Scott both average .286 against southpaws and Nolan Reimold has an average of .300, but no RBI. Nonetheless, this is where the offense ends against left handed pitching.
Roberts is also sorely missed with runners in scoring position. Over a three year period from 2007-2009, Roberts hit .290 with men in scoring position and drove in 148 runs. No other player on the Orioles roster has proven that they can remain that consistent in that position except for current RBI leader Miguel Tejada who earned the same average from 2007-2009, but Tejada’s reputation as a free swinger makes him unsuitable for Roberts spot in the lineup.
As a result of injuries suffered by Roberts and Pie, Trembley has decided to shake up the lineup in an attempt to find the right combination for the O’s success. Unfortunately, the results have generated little change and now they are forced to search for their second victory while wondering when run production will finally pick up.
According to MLB.com, Roberts spoke with a doctor Friday and is feeling “a little better.” Roberts will visit doctors again on Monday, but before his on field return Roberts must first resume regular baseball activity.
Roberts return may bring some sorely needed confidence into the O’s locker room, but until the Orioles prove to be more to be more productive with runners on base, O’s fans may need to prepare for a start unlike any since 1988.