This was supposed to be the year that the rebuilding Orioles began their long climb back up the AL East standings. They weren’t supposed to win, but they were definitely supposed to improve thanks to the young bats in the heart of their lineup and the first of a strong supply of pitching prospects breaking into their rotation. Mix in some solid veteran stop-gaps such as Miguel Tejada and Kevin Millwood and the Orioles were supposed to be, well, not terrible. That they started the season by going 1-11 and 2-16 was supposed to be a fluke, but in their last 15 games coming into this week’s three-game set in the Bronx the O’s have gone just 3-12. It’s just not happening. The Orioles not only aren’t better than last year’s last-place team, they have the worst record in baseball and a winning percentage below .300.
What happened? Well, to begin with, no one is hitting. Adam Jones, an All-Star in 2009, is hitting .251/.274/.382. Matt Wieters, the organization’s can’t-miss catching prospect is hitting .250/.323/.351 as a sophomore. Nolan Reimold a solid-hitting rookie left-fielder last year, hit just .205/.302/.337 and lost both his job and his roster spot to Corey Patterson of all people. Nick Markakis, the one established star in the Orioles’ youth movement, is hitting .307 with a solid .405 on-base percentage, but is slugging a mere .434 with just three home runs after slugging .476 and averaging more than 20 homers a year over the last three seasons. Tejada is slugging just .365.
Garrett Atkins, signed to be a stop-gap at first base, has been a total bust, hitting .214/.261/.294. Atkins first lost his starts against right-handed pitchers to rookie Rhyne Hughes, but once Hughes stopped hitting, the Orioles were forced to move Ty Wigginton to first base. Wigginton has been the lone bright spot in the Baltimore lineup, putting up MVP-quality numbers, but he only got to play because Brian Roberts has been out all season with a back injury and isn’t close to returning. So with Wigginton at first, the Orioles have turned to Julio Lugo at the keystone. Lugo is hitting .234 in 81 plate appearances with three walks and no extra-base hits.
That just leaves shortstop Cesar Izturis, who wasn’t supposed to hit and isn’t (.227/.295/.250) and Luke Scott, who is doing his modest best as the DH and occasional fill in at first base and in left field. The result isn’t the worst offense in baseball (thanks Pirates and Astros!), but it’s darn close. The Orioles are scoring just 3.43 runs per game. Apparently they heard about Ubaldo Jimenez and thought it was 1968.
As for the rotation, heralded rookie lefty Brian Matusz, who faces Javy Vazquez tonight, got off to a solid start, but perhaps frustrated by a lack of run support (he lost consecutive starts to the Yankees despite turning in quality starts both times because the O’s scored a total of one run in those two games), he’s been struggling of late, turning in disaster starts in three of his last four outings. The young pitcher who was supposed to join him in the rotation this year, 22-year-old righty Chris Tillman, only just got there, making his first major league start of the year on Saturday.
Millwood, who faces CC Sabathia on Thursday, has pitched well, but is 0-5 on the season thanks to a mere 2.75 runs of support on average. In Millwood’s 11 starts, the O’s have scored more than three runs just thrice. The O’s have won four of Millwoods starts, with the veteran righty taking a no-decision all four times, by a combined margin of five runs. One of those came against the Yankees. It was the only time in six games the O’s have beaten the Yankees this season and was a game I, among others, blamed on the Yankees having something of a hangover from a busy off-day in Washington, DC the day before.
Phil Hughes faces Brad Bergesen in the middle game of the series. Bergesen has a 5.96 ERA and has walked three more men than he has struck out, a stat that has more to do with Bergesen’s inability to strike anyone out (just 2.4 K/9) than anything else.
So, yeah, the Orioles are a terrible team right now. They still have the potential to suddenly click and have a solid second-half, but even with a pair of fair pitching matchups (the talented lefty Matusz against the struggling Vazquez tonight and the solid vet Millwood against a struggling Sabathia on Thursday), the Yankees should be embarrassed by anything less than a sweep this week.
2010 Record: 15-36 (.294)
2010 Pythagorean Record: 17-34 (.333)
Manager: Dave Trembley
General Manager: Andy MacPhail
Home Ballpark: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-104, LH HR-115
RH Avg-107, RH HR-129
Who’s Replaced Whom:
- Corey Patterson (minors) has replaced Nolan Reimold (minors)
- Scott Moore (minors) has replaced Rhyne Hughes (minors)
- Chris Tillman (minors) has replaced David Hernandez in the rotation and Cla Meredith (minors) on the roster
- Frank Mata (minors) has replaced Alfredo Simon (DL)
1B – Ty Wigginton (R)
2B – Julio Lugo (R)
SS – Cesar Izturis (S)
3B – Miguel Tejada (R)
C – Matt Wieters (S)
RF – Nick Markakis (L)
CF – Adam Jones (R)
LF – Corey Patterson (L)
DH – Luke Scott (L)
R – Garrett Atkins (1B/3B)
R – Lou Montañez (OF)
L – Scott Moore (IF)
R- Craig Tatum (C)
R – Kevin Millwood
R – Chris Tillman
R – Jeremy Guthrie
L – Brian Matusz
R – Brad Bergesen
L – Will Ohman
R – Matt Albers
L – Mark Hendrickson
L – Alberto Castillo
R – Jason Berken
R – David Hernandez
R – Frank Mata
RHP – Koji Uehara (right elbow strain)
RHP – Alfredo Simon (strained left hamstring)
RHP – Jim Johnson (slight tear in right elbow)
2B – Brian Roberts (herniated disc)
OF – Felix Pie (surgery to repair ruptured latissimus dorsai)
LHP – Mike Gonzalez (strained left shoulder)
L – Corey Patterson (LF)
R – Julio Lugo (2B)
L – Nick Markakis (RF)
R – Ty Wigginton (2B)
R – Miguel Tejada (3B)
L – Luke Scott (DH)
R – Adam Jones (CF)
S – Matt Wieters (C)
S – Cesar Izturis (SS)