Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Regular Season is Over -- It's Sad to See the Orioles' Season Over

For the first time in many years, the end of the Orioles season brings a sense of sorrow. The last time that chill set in was 2001, a season ending late because of the 9/11 terrorists attacks, marking Cal Ripken’s retirement from the game. October has meant nothing to the Birds since 1997 when they advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Over the last third of the season, the Orioles have played better than any other team in the American League east. Take that you big rich Yankees, cocky Red Sox, and upstart Rays.

Showalter’s arrival showed just how dreadful the Trembley reign was. There is no reason why the Orioles should not have shown improvement as the 2009 season progressed and the abysmal failure of early 2010 was unprecedented. When Dave Trembley was fired, the Orioles record was 15-39, .278. That would project to a record of 45-117 just slightly off the pace to set the record for the worst performance of any team playing a 162 schedule held by the 1962 Mets, 122 losses. They had lost their past eight games and nine out of the last ten. Perhaps the most striking thing about listening to Trembley address the media, the word “win’ seemed to be painfully absent from his vocabulary, but worse was his lack of leadership and preparation. How often had Jim Palmer spoken out about the lack of practice on day games and other basic elements the team failed to address?

Enter Juan Samuel, clearly a substitute, but he brought some enthusiasm and intensity to the clubhouse challenging players for a lack of hustle. Under his leadership, the team continued to struggle; they’re record, 17-34. Their overall, 32-73 record at that point moved to 49-113, still a historic atrocity and the worst in Orioles. Just like that, they swept the Los Angeles Angels, a team that gave them fits, and they were on their way winning 8 out of 10 games. They’d win just over half of their games under Buck’s short tenure, 33-23. To go from projecting to lose 117 games to losing 96 games, a 21 game improvement since Trembley shows much to be proud of.

It would be hard to imagine that over 162 games, the Baltimore Orioles are ready to compete for the division championship. They have some clear needs. The most important of which is a major homerun and RBI threat in the middle of the batting order. A true stopper to anchor the starting rotation as the young stars of the future develop is also highly desirable. There is no question the bullpen needs to be beefed up hopefully finding a top notch closer.

Carlos Pena from Tampa Bay and Adam Dunn from Washington are both available first basemen. Both have serious liabilities. Pena’s batting average has declined in recent seasons hovering in the low .200’s. His strikeout rate is enormous. Adam Dunn would look great in black and orange, but only as a DH, a step he would not welcome for his career at this point. He is a below average fielder, a real liability for young pitchers.

The Orioles need starting pitching. Who doesn’t including the New York Yankees? The bidding war will be intense with the Yankees ready to pay a king’s ransom to obtain starters like Cliff Lee.

Expectations will shoot up sky high for 2011. If the right players aren’t available by free agency or trade, the Orioles have had a sorry history with stopgaps and to what extent would they be worth pursuing. Remember Garrett Adkins? Say no more.

Fans seem to think there is some great shopping mall where baseball execs can just go on a shopping spree to get whatever they need nor is there some market where we can trade our chumps for the stars of other teams. It’s insane to hear the ideas of talk show callers. How resolutely they think they have all the answers, but any eight year old who loves baseball is no less ignorant of how the real world works.

Buck Showalter and Andy McPhail need to develop realistic expectations for 2011 and pursue them with great care. The most important factor in building a sustainable winning franchise is properly developing the young talent that has been arriving on the roster the past three seasons and who are coming of age in Norfolk and Bowie.

How miserable it has been to see many of these players arrive in Baltimore, show tremendous potential, then fall off the cliff. That is the legacy of Dave Trembley who could not manage or motivate the kids. For a person who was never more than an organizational guy, just having the chance to reach the big league as a manager could be a life’s dream fulfilled. The competitive fire that pushes for postseason was never evident. It seems obvious all players had to do is show up, be polite, and follow directions to be a-okay in Trembley’s book. Showalter is no stern dictator. He’s a fun loving guy, but one who understands nothing’s more fun than winning but doing so takes tremendous preparation and hard work.

The bottom line is results matter. A taste of that made late 2010 so enjoyable and makes the future look bright.


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