Saturday, August 20, 2011

The 2011 Orioles have all but assured the fans of Baltimore they will lose at lease 90 games but after tonight’s loss are now on pace to lose 100. If one were to lay odds on the outcome at the end of the season, the smart money would go on at least 100 losses.

Okay, they’re not the 1988 Orioles that lost 107 games and started the season with a 21 game losing streak. Statistically, it’s hard to imagine a season that bad would be repeated; however, expectations were very low for the team which was clearly in rebuild mode. 1Perhaps the most painful year was 1986. Earl Weaver had been coaxed out of retirement the previous season to attempt to put the fire back in a team that looked complacent. 1986 started off well enough, but with an aging nucleus and having players who clearly were as far from the Oriole Way (an obsolete concept on how players prepared for their game) most notably druggie 2nd baseman Alan Wiggins. August 6, 1986 will be an eternal dark date in Orioles history. A steamy humid night with thunderstorms in the air, the Orioles hit two grand slams but lost 13-11 against the Texas Rangers. They collapsed from 2nd place hot in contention to last place. Weaver had never known a losing career nor finishing in last place.

In hindsight, as horrible as those painful seasons in the 1980’s were, nobody had a clue just how bad, bad could be. Last year’s Orioles were dreadful, no question thing, heading toward perhaps a historically bad season playing .278 baseball, 15-39 upon the dismissal of hapless manager, Dave Trembley. In early August, Buck Showalter was hired as skipper. Suddenly, the young team with some firm leadership came together going 34-23 for the last two months, a .596 pct.

Following GM, Andy McPhail’s blue print, raise the pitching buy the bats, with what appeared to be a strong young rotation finding its pace, the team added Derrick Lee at 1B, J.J. Hardy at SS, Mark Reynolds at 3B, and Vladmir Guerrero at DH. None of these players were likely superstars but all were proven offense generators who’d upgrade the team. However, after winning five of their first six games, quickly the promise of a team that was looking like a sure bet to finally have a winning season, familiar frustration get in getting progressively more frustrating as the season progressed. Brian Matusz who showed so much promise was dispatch to the DL. Brian Roberts suffered a concussion against Boston from a head first slide on May 16th seeming to gut the team of its spark. All young starters spare Jake Arrieta spent substantial time in Norfolk or Bowie. Arrieta struggled more going deeper into the season heading to the DL for season ending elbow surgery. As June passed into July, it was looking clear, the Orioles were heading to their 14th losing season. Mark Reynolds lived up to his reputation, hitting lots of homeruns but also striking out frequently. J.J. Hardy has proven one of the season’s few bright spots hampered by some nagging injuries, but Derrick Lee was a total bust aside from showing the team how first base is fielded properly. He was traded to Pittsburgh. Vladmir Guerrero gets his hits but his power and RBI bat are gone!

A sickly revelation is setting in throughout Birdland. This is not an up and coming young team right on the verge of being a winner. It’s a team with huge gaps and many unanswered questions. This much is known, the Orioles could claim the following players as a strong nucleus: Shortstop, J.J. Hardy; Centerfielder, Adam Jones; Right fielder, Nick Markakis; and Catcher, Matt Wieters. With no return in sight spending most of the season on the disabled list for the second season in a row, Brian Roberts, once the team’s most solid and predictable player provides nothing certain any longer. Not a single young starter has proven himself as a sure major league pitcher, though Jake Arrieta looks the most promising. Enduring season ending elbow surgery quickly throws up the caution lights. Brian Matusz, Brad Bergessen, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman are much less certain prospects than they were in April. The bullpen has been a disaster through out the year. Left field looks like a position much in need of an upgrade, Luke Scott is out for the season, but is a serious liability in the field. While Felix Pie might be a five tool player – now more than ever, he shows he couldn’t tell a hammer from a screwdriver. Nolan Reimold is currently getting the chance to prove himself, but has hardly eliminated any doubts.

Given such a dreadful history and destroying the hopes raised last year, the situation looks as bad as it did when Andy McPhail arrived, but if good baseball men like McPhail and Buck Showalter can’t get the Baltimore Orioles in winning form, the grounds for optimism are arid. Should the team stick with McPhail and Showalter or have another management shakeup? Should the current team by blown up and built from scratch again? How much real talent is in the pipeline in the minor league system? If rebuilding is once again called for, what players could the team move who’d get value in return?

It’s another lost summer in Camden Yards, but can anyone see Orioles Magic poised for a comeback. Kids would have to be in college and have a good memory to recall when the Orioles last had a winning season. Baltimore was without football for a shorter period of time than the Orioles’ long run of futility. It’s to the point now where only magic appears as what’s needed to win.

Start brewing up the magic potions.


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