Baltimore Orioles Midseason Report: Seeing Past the Ugliness

baltimore_orioles_logoFrom the very beginning, the goal of the 2009 season for the Baltimore Orioles has been to be respectable on the field while continuing behind the scenes to develop the pieces needed to eventually lead the Orioles back to contention in the American League East.

With the season now three months old and nearing the mid-point, it’s time to see just how the Orioles have been doing in meeting their objectives.

It is probably generous to call the performance on the field so far respectable. Sporting a 32-40 record, the Orioles are in last place in the AL East.

However, there have been a few rays of hope that give indication of a brighter tomorrow.

To illustrate how the Orioles have gotten to their current record as well as what blocks to the foundation have been laid so far in 2009, let’s look in-depth at five players, moments or statistics that reflect the current state of the Birds and then five that reflect some hope for the future:

How the Orioles Got Here – 32-40, 12 games out in the AL East:

Starting Pitching: 19-30 record, 5.40 ERA

Sometimes I think the “Baseball Gods” have a cruel sense of humor. After relishing in some of the best starting pitching in the game for more than two decades, the starting pitching for the Orioles in the current decade has been abysmal.

Baltimore has not had a pitcher win more than 15 games in a season since Mike Mussina won 18 games in 1999 and no Orioles pitcher has reached the 20 win mark since Mike Boddicker in 1984. Given the current starting staff, it will be a while before anyone challenges that level.

So far in 2009, the nine pitchers who have started games for the Orioles have a combined record of 19-30 with an ERA of 5.40. The average length of start has barely been above the minimum needed to qualify for a win at 5.40.

Road Blues: 11-23 record, .238 batting average, 29 home runs, 3.88 runs scored per game

Adam Jones
Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

No team in baseball has had as much of a disparity between performances at home and on the road in 2009 as the Orioles. Baltimore is 11-23 away from home and their bats seem to be getting lost in baggage claim at the airports.

As a team, the Orioles are hitting .238 while scoring 3.88 runs per game with 29 home runs and 126 runs batted in.

Adam Jones is the only starter hitting above .300 on the road and veteran Melvin Mora is languishing at .200 with zero home runs and 4 runs batted in away from home.

June 5-7: Starting pitching vs. the Oakland A’s – 4.2 innings, 18 earned runs, 34.68 ERA

Perhaps no series better exemplifies some of the struggles the Orioles have had on the mound in 2009 than the 3 game set against the Oakland A’s.

In the 3 game set that concluded a disappointing West Coast road trip, starting pitchers Jason Berken, Rich Hill and Jeremy Guthrie were abysmal.

Neither Hill nor Guthrie made it out of the first inning. Berken made it into the fourth inning, but surrendered 9 earned runs in the loss.

The Orioles’ hitters didn’t fare much better in the series as they hit .200 and scored only 5 runs as the Orioles were out-scored 21-5 in the three games.

Felix Pie: .224 batting average, 2 home runs, 6 runs batted in, 1 stolen base

Felix Pie

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

Felix Pie is a reminder that not every trade works out.

A talented prospect who had struggled during his brief appearances at the major league level with the Chicago Cubs, many though all he might need was a fresh start.

When Baltimore acquired Pie in the off-season for pitcher Garrett Olson, some thought the trade had the potential to be a windfall for the Orioles while others saw it as two teams trading disappointments.

You can’t blame Andy MacPhail for making the trade as Pie has been compared to current Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones and who wouldn’t want two Adam Jones’ in the lineup?

Given a chance to start in left field, Pie struggled from the very beginning and is now relegated to an occasional late-inning appearance as a pinch runner or defensive replacement.

Six losing streaks of three or more games with only two winning streaks of three or more games

One sign of a struggling team is the susceptibility to long losing streaks and inability to post sustained periods of success.

Through the first 3 months of the 2009 season, the Orioles have had 6 occasions where they have lost at least 3 games in a row, with 3 of those streaks being at least 5 games.

At the same time, the Orioles didn’t post a streak of 3 or more wins in a row until they won 5 straight games over the Blue Jays and Tigers in the last week of May.

Of course, they followed that brief winning streak with losses in 10 of their next 12 games.

They recently put together a second 5 game winning streak against the Mets and Phillies, but then lost 3 straight to the Marlins.

Why the Future Will Be Brighter:

Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold

Nolan Reimold

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

You can’t talk about the future for the Baltimore Orioles without starting with these two talented youngsters.

Since being called up on May 14 and being given a chance to play regularly in left field, Nolan Reimold has shown flashes of brilliance with a .276 batting average, 8 home runs and 17 runs batted in.

When Matt Wieters made his much-anticipated debut for the Orioles on May 29 it was more of an event than a game. No one really cared that Wieters didn’t have a hit in the game, they were just excited to see him.

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

After a rocky start, Wieters has settled down and illustrated why he has been such a hot prospect.

In 20 games, he is hitting .250 with 2 home runs and 6 runs batted in. However, in his last 12 games Wieters has hit .318 with both home runs and all 6 of his RBIs.

Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, David Hernandez

There has been much discussion and excitement about the pitching prospects that the Orioles have been cultivating in the minor leagues. They may not ever reach the level of Palmer, McNally and Cuellar, but they certainly should be an improvement over the starters the Orioles have thrown out there in recent years.

NEW YORK - MAY 19:  Brad Bergesen #35 of the B...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The first three of the young guns have made their major league debuts this season and while they have all had rocky moments, each has shown promise that one-day they can be a quality major league starter.

You can actually argue that Brad Bergesen should be considered a quality major league pitcher right now. In 12 starts, he has posted a 4-2 record and a 3.94 ERA.

He earned a complete game victory over the Atlanta Braves and has pitched into the sixth inning in 11 of his 12 starts.

It has been more of a struggle for Jason Berken, but he registered a victory over Toronto in his major league debut and also has had solid starts against the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets.

Though David Hernandez is now back at Triple-A, he pitched well in 3 starts with the Orioles and allowed only 1 run in earning the victory in his career debut against Detroit.

The best part is that this was just the first wave of talented young pitchers. Within the next year, you can likely expect to see Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz making their debuts at Camden Yards.

June 18: Baltimore Orioles 5, New York Mets 4

If the Orioles ever want to be a true contender, they will have to get used to making the kind of comeback they made against the New York Mets on June 18.

Trailing 4-2 after 7 innings, the Orioles scored once in the eighth inning to cut the margin to 4-3.

However, with superstar closer Francisco Rodriguez ready to shut out the lights in the ninth, the Orioles didn’t seem to have much hope of continuing the comeback.

Matt Wieters led off the inning with a double and the Orioles eventually loaded the bases with no outs. A walk to Adam Jones forced in the game-tieing run and the winning run soon scored on a single by Aubrey Huff.

Batting Leadoff and Playing Second Base: Brian Roberts

Brian Roberts
Image via Wikipedia

Now that the Orioles are seemingly out of contention, some in the national media have rekindled discussions about how Brian Roberts would be a welcomed mid-season addition for any  number of contending teams.

The response from Orioles fans, and I hope also from the Orioles front office should be: NO, NO, NO!

Brian Roberts is good for the Orioles and by signing a 4-year contract in the off-season, Roberts has shown that he wants to stay in Baltimore.

Roberts remains one of the top leadoff men in baseball (.292 batting average, 53 runs, 15 stolen bases) and if the Orioles do start making a run at respectability in the next couple years, there is no doubt that Roberts will be among those leading the way.

What an Outfield Duo: Adam Jones and Nick Markakis

Nick Markakis

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

Though Jones’ bat has cooled off a bit over the last couple weeks, he has clearly illustrated this season that he is the real deal and will be a quality center fielder in this league for many years to come.

When you combine Jones with right fielder Nick Markakis, the Orioles possess two of the brightest young outfielders in the game of baseball.

The Orioles will be able to pencil in both Jones and Markakis in the starting lineup for years to come and the duo should eventually become the two faces of the organization with multiple All-Star appearances between them.

The Orioles may not have had the successful first half of 2009 that they would have preferred, but the foundation continues to be laid for what should certainly be an exciting future.

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