Thursday, May 31, 2007

We're Not Alone, O's Fans

Saddle up to a bar in these cities and commiserate with the locals

By Matthew Taylor

The fact that they’re in second place doesn’t matter; .500 baseball is what matters. An even record would end the extended run of futility that has overshadowed the team’s glorious past. And it could mean bringing fans back to one of baseball’s most beautiful ballparks.

Sound familiar? It should if you’re a fan of the Birds (25-27) or the Pittsburgh Pirates (23-28), currently two of Major League Baseball’s most futile franchises.

Party like it’s 1979? Hardly. That’s the season when Pittsburgh won 98 games and its most recent World Series. Meanwhile, the O’s won 102 games for the first of two consecutive 100-win campaigns.

Four years later the Birds recovered from a stunning Pirates comeback in the ’79 Series to win their most recent World Series. And things haven’t been the same since.

Where have you gone, Joe Altobelli?

The Birds’ trip to Kansas City this week got me curious about bad baseball. (Coincidence? I think not.) Think things are bad in Charm City? Okay, they are. But misery loves company, so here are some spots worth visiting if you’re looking for fans with whom to commiserate.

Pittsburgh (14 straight losing seasons)

Clouds over the franchise:
-Current record below .500.
-Last playoff appearance: 1992 (lost NLCS to Atlanta, four games to three).
-Average 2007 attendance at PNC Park: 19,358.
-100 losses in 2001.

The silver lining:
-Five World Championships, nine pennants, and 14 playoff appearances.
-Jason Bay.
-“We Are Family” still a classic.

Tampa Bay (9 straight losing seasons)

Clouds over the franchise:
-Team has never had a winning season, a run of nine straight losing seasons to match the Birds.
-Rays have lost at least 90 games every season.
-Thirty percent of the team's seasons have ended with at least 100 losses.
-Never finished higher than fourth in the AL East.
-Average 2007 attendance at Tropicana Field: 14,410 (lowest in the majors).
-Promising young prospects have tested the limits of “no such thing as bad publicity” adage.

The silver lining:
-Wade Bogg’s 3,000th hit at The Trop – a home run, no less.
-James Shields off to a good start in 2007.
-How bout ‘dem Tampa Bay Lightning?

Kansas City (3 straight losing seasons)

Clouds over the franchise:
-Prior to winning 83 games in 2003 the team had eight straight losing seasons.
-Royals have finished below .500 in 11 of the last 12 seasons.
-Lost 100 games in four of the last five seasons.
-A lock to finish below .500 again this season.
-Average 2007 attendance at Kauffman Stadium: 17,820 (29th in MLB).

The silver lining:
-Alex Gordon.
-Joakim Soria (although he’s currently on the DL).
-At least they’ve got good barbecue.

Proof there’s still hope for the O’s -

-Appeared in the 2006 World Series after 12 consecutive losing seasons, including 119 losses in 2003 (a .265 winning percentage).

-Twelve straight losing seasons prior to finishing 81-81 in 2005; finished below .500 in 13 of 14 seasons heading into 2007; currently leading the NL Central behind young heavy hitter Prince Fielder.

Other notable losing streaks: Colorado (6 seasons), Cincinnati (6).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don't

Sports Reporters caught in a Catch-22 with Johnson story

By Matthew Taylor

The big news this weekend, reported Sunday, was that the Birds could pursue Davey Johnson to replace Sam Perlozzo if the team’s struggles continue. Johnson, of course, fired back angrily, blaming – Who else? – the media.

Said Johnson: "That's why people write, because they dream up stuff and want to put pressure on people. Leave me out of these sordid little games you play."

The sordid games here are being played by the Birds front office, not by the media. It’s a case of Diamond Politics at its best.

White House reporters know well the perils of the “trial balloon.” An anonymous source in a high place leaks information in order to safely gauge public without making an on-the-record statement. If the reaction is negative, guess who falls under attack? The media, of course.

Granted, journalists aren’t supposed to deal in speculation, but for baseball reporters it's practically part of their job description: “Ability to speculate about potential trades, free agent signings, and manager firings strongly preferred.”

Writer are damned if they do, damned if they don't. Why do you suppose ESPN has a "Rumor Central" section on its website? And you have to pay extra to access that information!

In this case the writers got a raw deal. I can think of better ways to spend my Memorial Day weekend than to get belittled by a former O’s manager. Shame on the O’s front office, and shame on Davey Johnson.

¿Quién es más macho?

Bullpen boo Birds jeer Baez; What if he looked like Eric Davis?

By Matthew Taylor

With apologies to Steve Kline, I'm curious if Danys Baez has worked his way up to - or even past - Terry Mathews to become the O's reliever who generates the most visceral reaction from fans after the bullpen gates open up.

Baez is now earning the kind of response at the Yard that was (sadly) once reserved for Mathews.

The Post's report on the recent series against the Jays:

"The two sounds Danys Baez heard Thursday night surely will ring in his sleep, worse than most nightmares. One was the deafening crack of his flat sinker off the bat of Alex Rios. The other was the boos that cascaded from every corner of Oriole Park at Camden Yards before, during and after Baez took the mound in the 10th inning."

Oriole Magic started its own "Danys Baez Stinks Discussion" after that game.

All of this "love" for Baez brought to mind the 1997 ALDS when Terry Mathews was forcefully booed while entering a game against the Mariners.

Roch Kubatko of The Sun attended that playoff game. So did I. Fortunately, I didn't have to write a post-game reaction story about Mathews. Roch did, as
he explained last season in his blog entry about "Worst Orioles Pitcher Ever."

Mathews related the fans' reaction to his plus-size weight and called to mind the physique of Eric Davis. O's fans then fell all over themselves apologizing, sending Mathews cards and gift baskets.

So, ¿Quién es más macho: Danys Baez or Terry Mathews?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New Orioles Rules

And we're not talking about beer in the clubhouse

By Christopher Heun

One story out of spring training this year was that manager Sam Perlozzo was running a tighter ship than in the past. But after watching his bullpen (well, mostly just Danys Baez) blow two leads and suffer aching losses two Sundays in a row, maybe this team needs even more discipline.

So, we suggest the following rules:

Rule #1: Erik Bedard after 98 pitches is still better than anyone in the Orioles bullpen.

Last Sunday in DC, Bedard told Perlozzo he was tired after 7 innings. Baez entered the game and quickly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Bedard is this team's version of an ace. Couldn't he take the mound one more time and give it his best shot?

Rule #2: On The Seventh Day, Baez Rests

No Danys Baez on Sundays. Last Sunday makes twice in row that he has failed on the first day of the week. Let’s hope we don’t see him Memorial Day Eve when the A's visit Camden Yards.

Rule #3: Meet Baez Behind the Dugout After the 8th Inning

Last week, Jay Payton and Melvin Mora nearly came to fisticuffs in the dugout, followed the next night by a shouting match between Freddie Bynum and first base coach Sam Mejias (a guy who plays once a month mixing it up with a little-known coach: what’s next, the bat boy making yo’ momma jokes about the traveling secretary?)

The guy who really deserves to be beaten up by his teammates is Baez.

Rule #3A: Not All Rules Are About Danys Baez.

Really. They’re not. Keep reading.

Rule #4: Perlozzo Can’t Pull His Starter Until He Gives Up At Least 3 Runs

Yeah, yeah, we know: a bullpen should be able to get two, three, even six outs before squandering leads of as much as five runs. But how about letting the starters go a little longer?

Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie (the starter on Sunday, May 12, the first of Baez's blowups) are both 28 years old. They're physically capable of throwing 100 pitches, even -- gasp -- 109. Dare to be bold.

Rule #5: We Don’t Want the Real Steve Trachsel Anyway

Let's not look too hard for the real Steve Trachsel, because the one pitching for the Orioles is making us forget everything we said about him in spring training (hint: it wasn't good).

In half of his 10 starts this season, Trachsel has pitched at least six innings and allowed less than three earned runs. He's allowed more than three earned runs only once.

Rule #6: Jay Gibbons Should Stop His Rodrigo Lopez Impression

Last season, Lopez whined when he was banished to the bullpen after his ERA swelled to more than 6.00. This year, an unhappy Gibbons has been singing the same tune when his playing time shrunk.

Our reaction to Gibbons is exactly the same as what we had to say to Lopez: who is he kidding? Be thankful you signed that four-year contract when you did.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Everything I need to know I learned from ...

...a desk calendar.

By Matthew Taylor

It's amazing what you can learn from a desk calendar.

First, some trivia -

The calendar asks ...

"Q: Who was the only baseball pitcher to notch World Series wins in three separate decades?

A: Hall of Fame hurler Jim Palmer, who won World Series games for the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, 1970, 1971, and 1983."

Next, some history -

The calendar says ...

"May 9, 1961: Diamond Jim Gentile becomes the first player to hit grand-slam homers in consecutive innings, leading the Orioles to a 13–5 rout of the Twins at the Met in Bloomington. After connecting in the first and second innings, Gentile adds another RBI for a total of nine in the game. Only Tony Lazzeri (1936), Jim Tabor (1939) and Jimmie Foxx (1946) had hit two slams in one game. In all, Gentile will hit 46 homers and 141 RBIs in 1961, the best season of his career."

Some extra research tells us ...

Gentile was a three-time All-Star with the Orioles from 1960 to 1962. He was traded by the Orioles, with $25,000, to the Kansas City Athletics in Nov. 1963 for Norm Siebern, also a three-time All-Star. Siebern's third and final All-Star appearance came with the Birds in 1964 when he batted .245 with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs.

The calendar says ...

"May 17, 1978: Super sub Lee Lacy of the Los Angeles Dodgers becomes the first man in baseball history to hit three consecutive pinch home runs in three official times at bat when he connects off Jim Rooker of the Pirates at Dodger Stadium. Earlier this month, Lacy homered off Rick Reuschel of the Cubs and John Candelaria of Pittsburgh. In 1979 Del Unser of the Phillies will equal Lacy’s achievement, and Matthew LeCroy of the Minnesota Twins will become the third member of this unique club in 2004."

Some extra research tells us ...

Lacy finished his career with the Orioles after signing with the team as a free agent in 1984. He played three seasons in Orange and Black (1985 through 1987), his only three seasons in the American League. Random fact: He appeared on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" - a World Series photo of him sliding into Yankee Fred Stanley at second base - on Oct. 23, 1978.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Down With Pitch Counts

Someone tell Perlozzo to stop stacking his relievers one inning at a time

By Christopher Heun

Let’s get two things straight: Managers shouldn’t be fired because of one bad decision (unless they’re named Grady Little). And relief pitchers can be asked to pitch more than one inning per outing.

It’s easy in hindsight to knock Sam Perlozzo for Sunday’s Mother’s Day Massacre in Boston, when he pulled his starting pitcher, leading 5-0 with one out in the bottom of the ninth, only to watch his bullpen blow the game. It’s not the skipper’s fault when his pitchers can’t throw strikes.

But it is fair to criticize Perlozzo for his faulty logic when calling on his bullpen. He needs to stop counting pitches and go with a hot hand.

We don’t want to get too hung up about what happened on Sunday, because the real problem is not that particular game, but here’s how Perlozzo explained why he yanked Jeremy Guthrie:

“He was going into nine innings [of] work, and he had never gone past six. We were pretty much giving him an opportunity - if he could go 1-2-3 - to stay in the ballgame. It was unfortunate that the guy got on the way he did [by an error], but at that point, I thought we had our fresh arms out there and I didn't want anything to get out of hand. Obviously, it didn't work.”

Why fault the pitcher if a batter reaches on an error on a ball that never left the infield? If a pitcher is throwing strikes and getting hitters out with a minimum of pitches, why not leave him in? This applies to Guthrie on Sunday (just 91 pitches, two outs away from a shutout) as it does to every arm in the bullpen.

Perlozzo rarely asks a reliever to go longer than a single inning. We took a look at the work history so far this season of the three new arms in the Orioles bullpen – experienced relievers with proven track records who signed over the winter for a combined $41.5 million.

All three are on pace to pitch in 80 games this season (a career high for all of them), though their total innings would not exceed their previous marks.

What that says to us: Perlozzo is using them more often than previous managers, but he’s not asking them to pitch more innings, necessarily. Is one approach better than another? Would they be more effective if used longer but less often?

Jamie Walker 4.20 ERA, 15 IP, 5 BB, 16 K, 1 HR

Last year with Detroit, Walker pitched two innings six times and was called on to get five outs an additional four occasions. This occurred at about the same frequency the previous three seasons.

This year, he pitched more than one inning for the first time last Friday night at Boston. Meanwhile, he’s on pace to come close to his career high of 65 innings pitched.

Chad Bradford 3.07 ERA, 14.2 IP, 5 BB, 8 K, 0 HR

He’s pitched more than one inning twice so far in 2007. Last year for the Mets he did so 10 times; in 2004 he did it 13 times and 23 times in 2003.

Danys Baez 4.91 ERA, 18.1 IP, 8 BB, 8 K, 4 HR

In nine of his 20 appearances this season, Baez has thrown nine pitches or less. All but four times he’s pitched exactly 1 inning; only once has he gone longer. He pitched more than an inning 10 times in 2006 and 17 times in both 2005 and 2004.

Here’s an extreme example of why this matters: on April 11 vs. Detroit, Adam Loewen didn’t allow a run but lasted just 5 innings; the Tigers won in the 12th on a grand slam by Craig Monroe off Kurt Birkins. Perlozzo used seven relievers that night, each one pitching exactly an inning, even though two (Bradford and Scott Williamson) threw just nine pitches and three others threw 15 or less.

We have no quibble with Perlozzo’s decisions on individual match-ups. In fact, asking a reliever to pitch more than an inning contradicts the conventional strategy of lefties facing lefties. Regardless, setting up those match-ups is a luxury Perlozzo doesn’t have most nights when his starter can’t get past the fifth inning.

We're rooting for Sam Perlozzo, an Orioles coach for 10 years before being named manager. The players were enthusiastic about his hiring and seem to like playing for him (though no one has spoken up in his defense this week while fans cry for his head). He deserves a shot to manage a team with a decent bench and bullpen, two things he didn’t have last year, which made it hard to evaluate his skills as a manager.

He still doesn’t have much of a bench, but he does have a better bullpen in 2007. Is he using it wisely?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

New Cleanup Hitter Just 291 Games Away

Should the best hitter on the team bat third or fourth?

By Christopher Heun

“Let’s face it, Miguel Tejada is a great hitter but he’s not a cleanup hitter.”
Joe Angel, during his play-by-play of the Orioles-Indians game, Sunday, May 6.

"That would really be a dream come true [to play for the Orioles]. But at the same time, I have two years here with Texas and I’m going to concentrate on winning with Texas."
Mark Teixeira, as told to Jon Heyman of in March.

Joe Angel calls them as he sees them. That’s one of the many pleasures of listening to him describe a baseball game on the radio. Sunday afternoon, he let forth a quick aside about the reshuffled Orioles lineup and the proper place for the team’s best hitter, Tejada, that had us pining for a particular Severna Park, Md. native.

Instead of hitting Tejada fourth, manager Sam Perlozzo has moved him up to third lately, which if nothing else, guarantees that he gets an at-bat in the first inning. Angel may be correct – Miggy is best suited to bat third (despite hitting cleanup for much of his tenure in Baltimore) – but the sad fact is, now there’s a hole in the cleanup spot.

Let’s hope Peter Angelos and the bean counters in The Warehouse are saving up for local boy Teixeira, a free agent after the 2008 season, because he’s the closest the Birds can come to a real cleanup hitter any time soon.

Teixeira, who grew up an O’s fan, slugged 140 home runs in his first four seasons, the fourth highest total in major-league history. He’s hit more than 30 homers three years in a row, and 43 in 2005.

By comparison, the Orioles have had just two players hit 40 or more homers since 1990: Brady Anderson (50) in 1996 and Rafael Palmiero (43) in 1998. In addition to those two, only four other Orioles players have managed to hit 30 or more homers in a season since 1990 (Palmiero did it four times, from 1995 to 1998): Albert Belle (37 in 1999), Tony Batista (31 in 2002), Tejada (34 in 2004) and Cal Ripken (34 in 1991).

Funny that Cal’s name should creep into the conversation. He was the Orioles shortstop who played every day, batted third and won MVP awards. Tejada has picked up the mantle.

This may come as heresy to some fans in Baltimore, but Miggy is fast becoming not just the best hitting Oriole shortstop, but the best hitter in Oriole history.

In just three years wearing the orange and black, Tejada has set the team single-season records for hits and RBI, tied another (doubles) and nearly set a fourth; his .330 average in 2006 ranks among the best in team history.

Because of his high average and declining power, he would look better hitting third if there was thunder behind him. Angel did say Sunday that Ramon Hernandez, who’s filled that spot most games, might not be a cleanup hitter, either, but he’s been hot lately.

Overall, we like that Perlozzo’s not afraid to juggle the lineup a bit, dropping Melvin Mora from the No. 2 spot and substituting Nick Markakis against righties and Jay Payton vs. lefties. Because he sees so many pitches, coaxes walks and gets on base better than nearly all of his teammates, Kevin Millar might be worth a shot batting in front of Tejada as well.

Listen long enough to Angel, and he just might tell you so himself.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

How Much Is Inside That Glass, Anyway?

It's really not as bad as it seems. Or is it?

By Christopher Heun

The Orioles have the day off Thursday. But the bullpen will be warming up regardless, just for the sake of routine.

There’s an old baseball adage that says you’re never as good as when you win, and likewise you’re never as bad as when you lose. We’re going to lean on that heavily as we consider the O’s performance so far this season.

The good news about this year’s Birds is they’re not as bad as the team that’s lost nine out of its last ten games. Just like they aren’t as good as the team that won eight out of nine earlier in April.

Of course, it would be a lot easier to nod in agreement if more than two regulars were hitting over .257 or if the starting rotation could familiarize itself with the seventh and eighth innings. But things will change. For the better. We hope.

(Imagine the hand-wringing if the team was scoring runs in bunches and still losing.)

One reason for O’s fans to get excited is that despite the Ruthian performance of Alex Rodriguez in April, an astonishing 14 home runs and 35 RBI – the Yankees still have a losing record. The last-place Yankees, no less.

As poorly as the Birds are playing, the Bronx Bombers are playing even worse. At least we can take comfort in the Yankees’ misfortune. Here are some other reasons to look on the bright side for the rest of the season, countered by equally compelling evidence to throw in the towel.

The Glass Is Half Full:
The Orioles are ahead of the last-place Yankees in the standings.

The Glass Is Half Empty:
The Orioles are only percentage points out of last place. And the Devil Rays jumped ahead of them in the standings with a dramatic extra-inning victory over Joe Nathan and the Twins Wednesday night.

The Glass Is Half Full:
Erik Bedard will not finish the season with a 6.09 ERA, his current mark.

The Glass Is Half Empty:
Erik Bedard, the team ace, has a 6.09 ERA.

The Glass Is Half Full:
Maybe Steve Trachsel isn’t nearly as bad as we thought. He went seven innings Wednesday afternoon, has pitched the second-most innings and has the second-best ERA among starters.

The Glass Is Half Empty:
Steve Trachsel is the good news? Before Wednesday, a starter had not lasted 7 innings since April 12, a span of 18 games. And who pitched April 12? Steve Trachsel!

The Glass Is Half Full:
Orioles pitchers lead the league in strikeouts, with 209. Only three other teams have more than 180.

The Glass Is Half Empty:
They lead the league in walks, too. Apparently, Daniel Cabrera’s case of the walks is highly contagious. Adam Loewen has handed out 26 free passes in 30 innings.

The Glass Is Half Full:
Nick Markakis is batting .239. That’s heads and shoulders above his April last year. That must mean his second half, like last year, will be a monster.

The Glass Is Half Empty:
Aubrey Huff, Corey Patterson, Jay Gibbons and Kevin Millar all have lower batting averages than Markakis. Before the season started, when Huff marveled at the balance of the lineup, do you think this is what he meant?