Sunday, September 27, 2009

Three is the Magic Number

The Orioles have eight games remaining including this afternoon’s game. They must win three of their last eight games to avoid losing 100 games. One hundred games, how could that be thinkable? Isn’t this team supposed to represent a team that has finally changed direction? Wasn’t the influx of young talent supposed to show a bold step forward to a brighter future? Last night they lost their 94th game. That’s worse than last year and 2007 where they lost only 93 total.

Early in the year, the talk was the Orioles would start off poorly but start to gel as the year went along. They had a patch work of a starting rotation that would be augmented as the young runs in Norfolk and Bowie were ready. Position players would show growth and before the year was half complete, stellar prospect Matt Wieters would be called up to begin what many believe will be an all-star career.

Those things did happen. Only Jeremy Guthrie remains from the opening day starting rotation. Among position players who could have shown more growth than Adam Jones who represented the team in the All-Star game. Matt Wieters arrived in May and by August was proving himself to be a powerful major league batter. As a bonus, while Jones and Nick Markakis solidified their outfield positions, Nolan Riemold came along as a legitimate rookie of the year candidate until suffering a season ending injury. Not only did he hit for power, but showed tremendous potential in left field.

The youth express unloaded into the starting rotation. Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman surely look like they could be part of the starting rotation for years to come. Brad Bergesen showed good instincts and guts before suffering a season ending injury. However, the jury is out on David Hernandez, and Jason Berken would have been banished to the minors long ago were it not for injuries in higher places. There are still at least four great prospects close to knocking on the door in the high minors.

Trading the team’s one established RBI threat, Aubrey Huff, to Detroit and closer George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers did not help the team from a competitive standpoint as a true successor for either player wasn’t immediately in the wings.

Add it all up, could this team look several losses worse than the last three years? Hardly, one would expect at least a modest gain, but it didn’t happen leaving fans and surely GM Andy McPhail wondering why.

What might not have been likely on August 1st almost seems for certain now. It’s hard to imagine Manager Dave Trembley returning for 2010. Over the past three seasons, he’s proven to be a stabilizing influence and an absolute class act. He runs a good clubhouse, but surely two things appear to be huge liabilities: in game strategy and preparation.

In early August, ol’ #22, Jim Palmer nailed it, the Orioles lack a sense of urgency. He also called out the players for a lack of preparation noting that Derek Jeter provides the perfect example of how a player gets ready to play each day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Sunday afternoon game after a night game, Jeter goes through the same pregame practice routine just the same, but where are the Orioles? Sleeping in or playing video games in the clubhouse?

Some mistakes can be chalked up as youthful inexperience, but other miscues show much more fundamental issues. How often have players completely run the team out of innings through lackadaisical and sloppy effort on the base paths? On defense, all too often, fielders are throwing to the wrong base or missing the cutoff man. At times, no one has even been stationed as cutoff man. Fielders are missing covering bases and the right backup moves are ignored. These problems are not a matter of skill. These are simple fundamentals of communication and preparation. It is management’s responsibility to make sure every player knows what to do and is drilled thoroughly on how to execute in the situational parts of the game. They can’t simply go through their spring training preparation and forget it when the roster has been so full of changes through the year.

Three wins in eight games, one more game in Cleveland, four games in the gray dismal warehouse in Tampa Bay, then Friday, they return for three games against Toronto and all talk in Baltimore will be about the Ravens taking on New England. Three wins versus five loses would be a doable scheme. One would think the current nine game losing streak should not extend much longer. If they play up to their percentage so far this year, they’ll get there.

Suddenly, 100 losses seem almost inevitable. They’ve only needed three wins since their 60th loss on September 16th eleven days ago.

By happy hour next Sunday, it will all be over, and perhaps as soon as the following Monday, Andy McPhail will gather the press, make the obligatory comments of thanks and assuring all what a great man he’s enjoyed working with, but Dave Trembley will join the ranks of Sam Perlozzo, Lee Mazzilli, Mike Hargrove, and Ray Miller none of whom found the winning formula since the losing streak began in 1998.

One has to believe the Orioles are becoming a better team. They also play in same division as the New York Yankees, winners of over 100 games this year and the Boston Red Sox who could finish with the second best record in the majors. It’s the most expensive division in the game.

The Orioles will probably be looking for help on the corners for first and third base. A good DH might be a consideration, and a bulldog closer could help as the starters begin to go deeper with leads into the later innings.

2009 was supposed to be a hopeful year and beneath the surface it has been, but the miserable ways the team has found new ways to lose and the prospect of 100 losses makes this just one more degree of separation from when the Orioles were the model organization for so long.

Gather ‘round the hot stove. There will be much to discuss this winter.

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