As evidence continues to mount that the 2011 Orioles may not be quite who we hoped that they would be, as fans we can at least take solace in the fact that we’ve been down this road before, all too often in fact these days. And for as bad as things in Birdland seem to be these days, we don’t have to look back too far to realize that things could be much worse for this team. In fact it’s arguable that as things stand today, 20 games into the 2011 campaign, not only could things be worse for these Orioles, but they should be worse…arguably much worse.
Consider first that no matter how anxious any or all of us may have been to buy in to the perception that this team would be much improved, you still had to squint a bit to see these O’s as legitimate contenders. The expectation was more likely a run at .500 (which typically means wildcard contention through July) and respectability while playing some entertaining baseball in the process…for a change.
Even for the most pie-eyed of optimists the April schedule must’ve looked daunting. The first month of the season charged this team with facing the big 3 in their own division (2 series with NY, 1 with BOS and 1 with TB) along with the defending AL champion Rangers, and the 3 teams (CWS, MIN & DET) that look to be fighting it out for the central (and perhaps the wildcard) when the dust settles on this season. The Indians looked to be the O’s only April reprieve, and we all saw how that turned out too.
At 8-12 the Orioles should be counting themselves as fortunate. Couple the daunting April schedule with the statistics that the team has managed to produce, the injuries and illnesses that they’ve been forced to deal with and suddenly 8-12 (3-4 in the division) looks nothing short of miraculous.
– Brian Roberts currently leads the team in HRs (3) and RBI (15)
– Adam Jones is batting .229 and is still one of the team’s most productive bats
– Luke Scott (who will carry the team at stretches) is hitting .214 with 4 RBI
– Derrek Lee is hitting a Garrett Atkins-like .211 with 2 RBI
– Nick Markakis is not seeing many pitches and is batting .209
– Mark Reynolds is hitting .179 and striking out nearly 1 in every 3 at bats
– Robert Andino leads the team in batting average
If all of the above persist, it’s fair to say the Orioles will be playing much closer to their record from last year than the 8-12 they’ve played to so far.
– Jeremy Guthrie has already had to be skipped a turn in the rotation due to illness
– JJ Hardy has been out and seemingly took all of the team’s momentum with him
– Brian Matusz has yet to make a start
– They can’t find at bats for Jake Fox
– No one is trying to win the job in left field.
– Their most credible closer is dealing with a murder wrap and is currently in extended spring training
– The back end of the bullpen is a mess
– Koji’s durability still can’t be counted on in an important role
– The only suspect April opponent (CLE) swept the O’s
All things considered it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team producing those stats to be closer to 4-16 like the O’s were last year after 20 games than the 8-12 that they are currently.
Most of the issues laid out above have a way of correcting themselves over the course of 162 games; others may require more creativity in solving. It stands to reason though that as the level of competition goes down and the numbers go up, these Orioles could still be a scary proposition at some point. If they’ve managed to stay near afloat through this tough first 3 weeks of the season, they’re bound to be scary as the hits begin to fall.