Turn out the lights, this year's O's party is over
Allow me to welcome myself back to The Mojo Wire after my stint last week as Maternity Ward Bureau Chief at Beebe Medical Center.
I have no sooner welcomed my son to the world than I must wave goodbye to yet another lost year for the Baltimore Orioles.
Yes, it's only July, but make no mistake, this team is done like dinner. Correct that, they're overdone, like Clark Griswold's Christmas turkey, cooked so well there's nothing left but bones.
Last night's 10-4 pummeling by Boston confirmed it. Yes, the Orioles have been languishing in their usual spot in fifth place for much of the season, but they were at least sniffing .500 in a tough division.
Now the losses are coming more frequently and are of the soul-crushing, “uh-oh we’ve seen this before” variety. The last two games have seen the Orioles lose by a combined score of 23-9 and it doesn’t even tell the story of how thoroughly overmatched they have been against Texas and Boston.
After being swept by the Rangers in Arlington over the July 4 weekend, the O’s entered the Chamber of Horrors known as Fenway Park.
As anyone who has watched the O’s over the last 8 years or so can tell you, Fenway, more so than Yankee Stadium, has become the Orioles Thunderdome, a torture chamber that makes Eli Roth’s “Hostel” look like Club Med. Like the girl at the end of “Audition,” the Red Sox gleefully slice and dice the Orioles at the Fens. Call it the Boulevard of Broken Seasons.
The Orioles 2011 season was formally broken last night, when the Sox played slow-pitch softball with the Orioles pitching staff, bashing six home runs, most of which needed a passport they were hit so far.
What made it worse was the way the Sox clearly knew they owned the Orioles. Hence, scrawny leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury was able to pose and admire his home run off Jake Arrieta. He knew there was nobody on the Orioles that could do anything about it. The O’s weren’t winning this game, and there was nobody that had the guts to plunk him later.
For years, Oriole fans have cursed their place in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox, far and away the leading financial heavyweights of baseball.
Yes, there are certain advantages the Sox and Yankees have that the Orioles don’t. The Red Sox gave John Lackey and Mike Cameron a combined $100 million in contracts. Both players have been busts, and normally contracts like that would cripple a franchise, but the Sox can just go out and sign a guy like Adrian Gonzalez, the current frontrunner for Al MVP.
But the bottom line is, this Orioles team is simply not good, and they wouldn’t be good if they were playing in the AL Central or the NL West.
For years now, the Orioles have been in a sort of limbo. Never fully committing to a full-on rebuild, never really being a big free agency player. Since marquee free agents won’t come here, the O’s have to sign guys like Derrek Lee (good glove, good guy but an automatic double play these days) and Vlad Guerrero (so washed up you can see the fork in his back from Jupiter).
Hell, the only reason Vlad signed here was because the O’s were the only team willing to give him $8 million. Vlad, like play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne, seems oddly out of place here, going through the motions because the O’s were willing to pay them.
Of this year’s signings, JJ Hardy has thrived since taking over the leadoff spot from the injured (again) Brian Roberts. Of course, Hardy’s contract is up after this year and he would have to be a fool to sign here long term.
Mark Reynolds, the erstwhile “Sheriff of Swattingham,” has been productive (20 HRs), although O’s fans tear their hair out at his strikeouts (amazingly, only 7th in MLB) and low batting average. But what were they expecting? Reynolds was already this generation’s Rob Deer before he came here, an all-or-nothing slugger. Did they think he was all the sudden gonna hit .300? Hell no, he was going to hit around .220 and slug about 35 homers.
Of course, all this wouldn’t be so bad if at least one of the much-hyped Oriole prospects turned into a franchise player.
Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are nice players, good guys and would be great complimentary pieces on a contending team. But the Orioles have been selling us on them being franchise caliber guys, which they are not.
Matt Wieters has developed into one of the best defensive catchers in the game, a decent offensive player and was given an All-Star nod this year. He was also billed a franchise savior, which he also is not.
In fact, that may be the whole problem with the Orioles. The fans and management are so desperate for somebody to be the savior, to rescue them from nearly 15 years of losing, they’ll anoint anyone that shows promise as the next big thing and rush him to the majors, much to the detriment of the player. Unfortunately Manny Machado will likely be next in this vicious cycle.
Like the West Baltimore drug corners in David Simon and Ed Burns’ “The Corner,” all the lawyers, guns and money in the world can’t stop what ails the Orioles.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the O’s similarly much-hyped group of pitching prospects: Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Arrieta.
This year has been a disaster for Matusz and Tillman, both of whom have been shipped back to Norfolk.
Matusz is the most disturbing case, since late last season he looked like he could be the ace the O’s have lacked since Mike Mussina took the money and ran to the Yankees. Matusz started the year on the disabled list, then had a stint in Buck Showalter’s doghouse and has not seemed right at all.
Only Arrieta remains in the majors, and despite having nine wins, his ERA is nearly 5. Arrieta was the starter for last night’s drubbing in Boston.
As has been typical for the Orioles the last decade, the starting staff’s inability to go deep in games has taken its toll on the bullpen. When the ‘pen is logging too many innings in June, it’s a sure sign that your team is due to fall apart in July.
Overuse of the bullpen is bad enough, but the guys the Orioles trot out there are even worse. Kevin Gregg’s palpitation-inducing appearances have been documented here before. Other than Jason Berken, there’s nobody worth anything in long relief and there’s nobody on the horizon that’s gonna make things better.
Last night’s victim was a young fella named Pedro Viola, recently brought up from Double-A Bowie (you mean there was nobody better at Triple-A Norfolk?) whose appearance went like this: home run to David Ortiz, home run to Josh Reddick, home run to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, walk, pulled from game. Is it safe to say Pedro may need to head back to Bowie for more seasoning?
All the losing seems to have gotten to Showalter. Where’s the fire he was supposed to bring to this team? Not expecting him to work miracles with this crew mind you, but Showalter has always been a guy that got players to overachieve. What’s going on Buck?
I must give the Orioles credit for one thing: unlike the Ravens and Capitals, the O’s at least have the temerity to not get our hopes up only to collapse at playoff time.