After yesterday’s embarrassing 8-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals due in large part to a masterful performance by a pitcher in Bruce Chen who, along with his 0-7 record and 6.93 ERA, had been castaway by Baltimore at the end of the 2006 season, the Orioles are now 14-16. (To be fair, Chen got plenty of help from the O’s yesterday…another inexcusably disastrous start by Chris Tillman and an offense that couldn’t hit its way out of a wet paper bag more often than not, but I digress.)
14 wins, 16 losses. For a beleaguered fan base forced to lower their standards over the course of the last decade, a .500 season would be viewed as a success by many. At this same point in 2010, the Orioles were just 9-21, so with all due fairness and based on the club’s record alone, this is an improvement.
The Orioles Hangout message board is still today full of varying opinions… from the eternally hopeful optimists to those who think this club can do no right and everywhere in between. Headed into spring training this year, more so than in any of the previous four seasons in which I’ve been a member of the Orioles Hangout staff, there seemed to be a recurring theme of reasonable optimism. While the off-season acquisitions made by President of Baseball Operations, Andy MacPhail, weren’t necessarily earth-shattering, it was difficult to argue that the lineup cards in 2011 that manager Buck Showalter would be exchanging at home plate every night would be markedly improved over the ones ex-manager Dave Trembley was filling out in 2010. Mark Reynolds had replaced Miguel Tejada at third base, JJ Hardy had replaced Cesar Izturis as the O’s starting shortstop, and Vladimir Guerrero was added to the mix late in the off-season, essentially replacing Garrett Atkins and shoving Luke Scott out of the designated hitter’s slot and into left field. On paper, the defensive shortcomings those changes posed were easily countered with the upgrade in projected offensive production.
The O’s hit the deck running from the season’s start, winning their first four games and six of their first seven. In slightly more than a week, the Orioles became the talk of Major League Baseball and how “Buck’s Birds” had picked up right where they left off in 2010. Over the last 57 games of the regular season last year, the O’s had the second-best overall record in the American League as Showalter guided them to a 34-23 finish.
And then the all-too-familiar losing streak reared its ugly head. The O’s lost eight games in a row and 11 of 13 after their red-hot start. Along with the losing came the collective groan of “Here we go again,” from the club’s fans. Suddenly the fact that it was long-tenured O’s like Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, and Luke Scott carrying the club while newly-acquired Guerrero and Reynolds contributed very little. An intercostal strain for the team’s projected #2 starter, Brian Matusz, pushed him to the disabled list and Brad Bergesen into the rotation earlier than the third-year righty was ready for (his spot in the rotation was expected to be skipped due to off-days in early April). An oblique injury to Hardy landed him amongst the wounded, and suddenly the Orioles were back to being a club that couldn’t stay healthy and looked to be well on their way to another sub-.500 season.
Is it fair to say, “Here we go again”? It sure feels that way, however, there are a few positives that can be derived from the O’s so far this season. Former uber-prospect Matt Wieters appears to be improving at the plate, particularly with his bat speed and approach. He’s swinging at more pitches earlier in the count and, at least for now, it’s working. Wieters is also quickly establishing himself as one of the best defensive catchers in the game. Relievers Jeremy Accardo and Koji Uehara have been effective out of the bullpen. Jeremy Guthrie’s shown glimpses of why he was this club’s Opening Day starter in spite of his 1-4 record and gross lack of run support. Lastly, it won’t be long before Hardy’s back in the lineup and Matusz is back in action.
So is that enough to give you hope that things will be different for the Birds in 2011, or are you watching the O’s this season and thinking, “Here we go again?”
- Scott Hoffman, Executive Editor
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Scott Hoffman is a happily married father of two and eternal student of the game of baseball. He's the Executive Editor here at the Orioles Hangout and also pens the blog "Scottie's $.02" where he tries to keep his finger on the pulse of the most passionate Orioles fans. In addition to his baseball habit, Scott's also a huge fan of mixed martial arts and eating up asphalt on his Harley Davidson.