Starting Tuesday, the O’s will begin a 3 game series with the Kansas City Royals here in Baltimore. After that series ends, the Orange & Black will head West - finishing May with 3 games in Oakland, and 2 games in Seattle.
I think how the O’s end this Month is important. Currently 21-24, Baltimore is dealing with potentially differing motivations. After finishing under .500 for 13 consecutive seasons, the significance of finishing over that ‘barrier’ has increased. The Organization and their fans alike would love to go into 2012 with that monkey off their back.
The 34-23 finish of the 2010 season under Showalter, provided a seismic shift of thinking to the O’s and their leadership. The focus of the Front Office turned towards winning games. If you build a house from the ground-up, the analogy was that the foundation had been laid. While Baltimore is not quite ready to finish the interior trim, or the outside landscaping; this past off-season, and this 2011 season are about seeing the house take shape. Nearly 30% of this season has passed, and the O’s offense has continued to underachieve. The bullpen has been scorched. The team is currently dealing with the losses of Brian Roberts, and Derrek Lee. Still, this team found a way to overcome those adversities, along with being without their starting SS for 25 games, and not receiving a pitch from Brian Matusz. Baltimore is only 4 games out of the Division and Wild Card leads. (Though they are in last-place.) Considering the O’s have yet to play particularly well this year, I think Baltimore has to feel pretty good about where they are.
On the other-hand, is the competing reality that finishing at or above .500 only really matters if you are being led by the players you are attempting to build around, and if you are augmenting around that ‘core.’ The improvement of Wieters, Jones, Arrieta, (and maybe Tillman) has been evident. The emergence of Britton has been clear. The question for the O’s is, is this core (and the players around them) good enough to contend in the near-term (‘12)?. If you believe that group is, the reluctance of trading players like Guthrie and Scott (both under control for ‘12) is probably increased. If you do not believe the O’s core is good enough to contend in the near-term, then you are left thinking the O’s should attempt to trade away every player outside of the younger core that is not under a team-controlled contract going forward. (Lee, Guerrero, Hardy, Uehara, Gonzalez etc.)
These thoughts get me back to the next 8 games. After the beating the O’s took Friday night, Baltimore looked like a team that could potentially unravel. At 3 games under .500, the O’s are still just a bad week away from having all decisions about their future made for them. Even without Roberts and Lee, if the O’s are going to get going - you would think the time is now. If the O’s can go on a 6-2 stretch here to end May, they will be 27-26 starting June. They will have likely seen Matusz’s first Major League start of ‘11. Lee will be ready to come off the DL. Without any additional symptoms, you’d expect Roberts would be ready at that point as well. If the Orioles enter June over .500, with their lineup and rotation in-tact; they will have roughly two months to show everyone exactly who they are. Potentially they could be looking at buying at the deadline vs. just selling. Conversely, if the O’s offense does not raise their game, and the O’s can not quickly get to and above .500 - I tend to think Baltimore will have to be aggressive with at-least shopping their non-core players.
No matter what happens in this 8 game stretch, we are still going to be two months away from the Non-Waiver deadline. My feeling though, is that the path the O’s are going to take will be clearer when the Calender turns to June.
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