Orioles at the 1/4 pole

May 21, 2011 | Keith Melchior

In 2010 the Orioles didn’t win their 19th game until mid-to late June.  Here it is May 21, 2011 and they are almost a month ahead of that pace.  To be this close to playing .500 baseball by Memorial Day is remarkable and gives hope to those who cheer for improvement.  Now, it appears they are in the midst of another 6 or 7 game slide. So much for progress..

Pitching…

Solid efforts by Zach Britton 5-2 (who wasn’t even projected to join the club because of the dreaded “service time” contract structure, much like Matt Wieters’ contract) and Jake Arietta 5-2 account for about 1/2 of  the teams’ win total.   Brad Bergesen at 1-6 has been on a roller coaster this season and will be the odd man out when Brian Matusz comes off the DL.  He’ll either be shipped back to AAA Norfolk or be buried in the pen for long relief or mop up duties. Too bad for a guy who 2 years ago showed lots of promise with his 7-5 record and solid outings until that line drive off his leg took him out for the remainder of the 2009 season, then last years’ MASN commercial debacle which also put him on the shelf for a few weeks.  If Jeremy Guthrie got any run support at all, he’d be 5-1 instead of 1-5 and the Orioles would be sitting atop the AL East, but if’s don’t win baseball games. Of the 5 current starters, Chris Tillman is the most inconsistent, averaging a little over 4 innings per start a WHIP of 1.55 and an ERA of 5.35.  Bergesen got shelled last night against the Yankees. Too bad for him considering he was  coming off an impressive CG shutout of Tampa Bay. If Tillman can out pitch him, Bergesen might end up returning to Norfolk.

The bullpen is another story, and a similar story it is. A few blown saves by current closer Kevin Gregg and inconsistency from Jim Johnson, Koji Uehara, Jason Berken and Michael Gonzalez have caused late inning meltdowns. Gonzalez is the worst of the group with a 5.83 ERA and a WHIP of 1.9. Not good for a back-end guy in the pen. Berken was lights out the first 2 weeks of the season but has since fallen far short of the dominant pitcher we saw come out of the pen last year and early this year.

The starters are still averaging under 6 innings per start and unless the bullpen can get on track and start getting people out over the final 3 innings, it’s going to be a long hot summer if those guys can’t cut their pitch counts down by 10% and go at least 6 to 7 innings per start.

The good news is the starters have accounted for 14 of the team’s 19 wins, which is a huge improvement over what we’ve seen the last few years. Only 5 of the 21 losses are credited to the bullpen, so that shows the Orioles are probably trailing when the starters  leave the game. The pen isn’t good enough to keep games close and combined, have allowed 152 hits, 75 walks, and 80 earned runs in 140 innings for a 5.71 ERA and a WHIP of 1.62 going in to the series against the Nationals.

Grade: C-  (Arietta B+ and Britton A, rest of staff D+)

Hitting…….

If you said the Orioles would win 19 games by May 20th without much help from Brian Roberts, you’d be called crazy. Roberts is hitting .221 from the leadoff spot and has the worse OBP of the starters.  Roberts helped carry the team to the 6-1 record the first week of the season but has gone into a severe tailspin. Nick Markakis started off slowly too, but has since come around. Derrek Lee started the season as a major disappointment at the plate and wasn’t even hitting .22o. He’s up to .231 now but the power numbers are not improving.  Vlad is Vlad, swinging at terrible pitches but he’s been the most consistent player hitting .303 and lately a doubles machine. Luke Scott, who I still believe should have been traded based on his value after last season, should not even be on this team, especially in left field. He has 6 HRs and only 16 RBI and is currently playing with a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder, which happens to be attached to his throwing arm. He’s also been mired in a slump as of late, but Buck Showalter keeps running him out there in hopes he won’t hurt his shoulder any further and gets into one of his streaks at the plate. Mark Reynolds, aka the Sultan of Strikeout, gives the Orioles exactly what they paid for, a guy who is going to strike out over 200 times and hit .200 this season. He has 45 K’s in 140 AB.  Adam Jones is developing into the center fielder the Orioles had hoped for when they traded Erik Bedard for him. He is hitting .292 with 5 HR and leads the team with 23 RBI. His defense has improved as well and thus far this season we haven’t seen many balls hit over his head. Matt Wieters  has produced with RISP and is hitting .273 with 22 RBI. He has become a force behind the plate throwing out 50% of runners attempting to steal. JJ Hardy seems to have settled in at short and after his stint on the DL and  has yet to make an error in 140 innings played.

The reserve players have contributed when called upon, especially Robert Andino.  His bat helped him replace Cesar Izturis, who filled in at short when  J. J. Hardy landed on the DL. Now Izturis is on the DL with a mystery ailment which the team says is numbness in his throwing hand.  On the surface, that sounds like a pinched nerve to me. Given a shot to play every day, Andino produced and still leads the team with a .376 OBP.   Andino is a flexible reserve player who can handle multiple positions, but he’s not in the same mold as  an everyday player and the longer he’s out there we’ll see his numbers decline (see Ty Wigginton from 2010) Jake Fox impressed in spring training then sat on the bench for a week and plays sparingly. His .167 average is a result of his lack of playing time. With Hardy back at SS and Jake Fox able to play multiple positions and give the team that possible pinch hit power, it appears Izturis’ days as an Oriole are numbered, as well they should be. Izturis was signed as insurance, but Robert Andino appears to have cashed in the policy. Now with Roberts and Lee on the DL,  Brandon Synder has been called up in Lee’s absence to play 1st base and he must impress the front office if he plans on being a long term member of this club.

Felix Pie seems to be lost in that platoon system with Luke Scott in left. He’s hitting .259 in very limited appearances, but has shown flashes of excellence over the last few weeks. Look for him to begin playing every day if Scott finds himself on the DL.  Pie appeared to show all 5 tools last year and when given the chance to play every day, he chased Nolan Reimold to AAA where he still toils, even after a very good spring showing.

Grade – (D)  Can you say underachievers? The chatter during the pre-season was based on past numbers alone. By signing Lee, Guerrero, Hardy, and Reynolds they were looking for at least 100 HR and 325 RBI out of that foursome. Thus far they’ve gotten limited production with 15 HR, 60 RBI, but 118 K’s and 48 BB. They are lucky Britton, Guthrie (although his W/L record doesn’t show it) and Arietta have all been solid in the rotation. Other than Wieters, hitting with RISP is lacking. IF Lee, Scott and Reynolds start hitting the baseball out of the park, look out. Someone at the top of the lineup needs to start getting on base to give Markakis, Scott, Reynolds, and Vlad some opportunities to plate him. To lose 4-1 to the Yankees in 15 innings, then getting bombed 13-2 the following night then get blown out 17-5 in the series opener against Washington last night doesn’t bode well for the Buck-Os. Too many men left on base and a RISP of about .200 are killing this team’s chances of being at .500 on Memorial Day.

Overall grade – D   Last place and being outscored 41 -9 in the last 3 games plus 3 innings speaks for itself. This team needs to do a 180 in a hurry. Right about now, people are screaming for the NFL to get the labor deal done so the summer in Charm City isn’t a complete waste.

Here’s a side note……. I didn’t realize this, but only 9 players on the current 25 man roster were home grown. Roberts, Markakis, Wieters, Bergesen, Berken, Johnson, Snyder, Arietta and Britton were drafted by the Orioles. The rest were acquired either by trades (9)  or signed as free agents (10).  Jeremy Guthrie was a waiver pick up.  No matter what the front office might tell you, the Oriole farm systems aren’t really as up to par as they’d like it to be. As I’ve said before, there are no position players at any minor league level ready to push anyone out of a roster spot.  They cannot continue this trend if they want to be successful down the road. They’ll eventually need to find replacements for aging veterans Roberts, Scott, Lee, and Vlad. Unless they start winning baseball games consistently, they will not attract any established free agents unless they choose to grossly overpay for them. You know damned well that isn’t going to happen under PGA’s leadership. Andy McPhail might be looking at his final year in charge of baseball ops.

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