Tuesday, April 13, 2010

O's fans should be waving rally towels, not white flags

It's a week into the baseball season, and believe it or not the sky isn't falling in Baltimore. If it were, I'd want Carl Crawford chasing it down in left rather than Nolan Reimold.

That much I can say thus far. Otherwise, I'll reserve judgment until we have ... wait for it, stat gurus ... a larger sample size.

Call me an O's apologist if you must - I'll call you Chicken Little in return - but fans should be waving rally towels instead of white flags.

Have the Orioles gotten off to a lousy start? Absolutely. But things really aren't as bad as they seem for the Birds.

Worried about April? See me in September.

If the Orioles finish two games out of the Wild Card race come October, feel free to send me an email with the subject line "Mike Gonzalez: See, I told you so."

Otherwise, let's accept these truths:

-Mike Gonzalez's ninth inning work has been throw-a-shoe-at-the-television maddening.

-Gonzalez's blown saves must be killing fantasy league owners, who probably throw both shoes at the television.

-But Gonzalez hasn't sunk the ship; heck, we're not even done with the sail away party yet.

The O's need to show measurable improvement over the course of an entire 162-game season, not over the course of one week nor even one month. And April is misleading. Think anyone's printing "Toronto Blue Jays: 2010 A.L. East Champions" T-shirts yet?

Consider that the Orioles have won 78 games or more only three times since 1997. One of those times was 1999 when the Birds finished 78-84. Their April record that season was 6-16, the team's worst opening month since the losing streak began. But after an awful start to the season, the 1999 Orioles went 20-8 in September.

Few people will be complaining if the 2010 Birds post a 20-8 September record and win 78 games overall. Rather, the Orioles will be "the next big thing" headed into 2011. Because unlike that 1999 squad, which had a dozen players age 34 or above, the 2010 Orioles have youth on their side. A finish like that would actually mean something.

Cue The Tempos.

Be Brave, my fellow O's fans

O's fans have been suffering for so long that any form of optimism seems naive. It's easier to believe these are the same old Orioles up to their same old tricks. This sort of stuff doesn't happen to good organizations, right? Actually, they do, but good teams are able to recover.

Back in 2005 the Braves sent John Smoltz to the mound as their Opening Day starter. Smoltz, who had saved 44 games the previous season, gave up seven runs in 1.2 innings pitched. The Braves lost 9-0 to the Marlins.

One week later, the team's new closer, Danny Kolb, surrendered three ninth-inning runs in a 4-3 loss to the Nationals.

But one week does not a season make. 

The Braves went through three closers before getting it right, with right translating to a 14th straight division title.  Smoltz, meanwhile, won 14 games in 2005 and was named an All Star.

The 2010 Orioles are not the 2005 Braves. But they can still be a good ball club.

Difficult to ignore, easy to obscure

After Monday's game, the Orioles are 9-for-57 (.158) with runners in scoring position on the season.

Meanwhile, after six games, the team had allowed a total of 11 runs in the eighth and nine innings as compared to 16 runs in the other seven innings combined.

These eye-popping numbers are impossible to ignore, but they obscure the fact that the starting rotation has posted an ERA of 4.00. Take out Brad Bergesen's lone start and that number goes down to 3.22.

Pessimistic O's fans - and believe me, I'm typically one at them - are quick to incongruously decide "the bats suck and the bullpen sucks; sure, the starting pitching is good, but it's only been a week."

In truth, the bats and the bullpen probably aren't as bad as they seem, and the starting pitching probably isn't as good as it seems.

First, take the bats. If a cliche won't do - "the bats will come around" - think instead of regression to the mean.

Granted, there are a many variables at work, but the Orioles' average with runners in scoring position is an extreme that will head back toward a more realistic average over time. After all, the O's batted .284 with runners in scoring position last season, second only to the Angels in that category. It was a somewhat different cast of characters, I know, but things will get  better.

As for the bullpen, did we not learn anything from 2007?

Early in the 2007 season the Birds' new $40 million bullpen looked like world beaters. John Eisenberg was writing columns titled "So far, Orioles right on money with their revamped bullpen" and Jorge Arangure Jr. was quoting players who were all but saying "I told you so" to those who snickered at the team's off-season investment.

Here's Jamie Walker on April 6 after a respectable bullpen performance helped the O's beat the Yankees in New York: "That's why they signed us. They gave us pretty . . . good money and all of us a three-year deal, so we all look out for each other. And we root for our teammates. Tonight it worked out."

Added outfielder Jay Gibbons, "That's what we paid for."

Good times. Until later in the season, that is, when the O's bullpen turned in a historically bad performance (30-3) against the Rangers and entered the conversation for worst bullpen ever.

Bullpens are roughly as predictable as the weather, especially after one week.

Too early to swoon

Bottom line: The Orioles slow start shouldn't be nearly as concerning as, say, a pattern of late-season swoons that reflect a lack of organizational depth. Hopefully, it's just an early hiccup that will be followed by an effort that's easier to digest.

Let's just wait and see.



Anonymous said...

So who closes if Gonzalez isnt? Johnson blew the game open last night in the 8th! Do they give Mick a try?

Roar from 34 said...

Great question. And it's one that Dave Trembley needs to figure out sooner rather than later.

I hate to say it, but I think you have to keep Gonzo in there and hope he can get things in order. Otherwise, the O's may have to look to the minors for a solution.

Johnson certainly doesn't appear to be the guy. What about Koji? Rumor has it he's still on the team.

The closer sets up the rest of the bullpen rotation. As long as that situation is in flux, the whole relief corps will suffer.

Anonymous said...

I think Koji is hurt isn't he? News just came that Gonzo is icing his shoulder and that's all they've released so far!

Kam Mick is the AAA Norfolk closer right? I can't think of who else they could turn to. Koji would be worth a shot, but is he about to return?

Roar from 34 said...

Yes, Koji's hurt. I was joking based on his extended absence from the team. He's been throwing some side sessions in Sarasota and could be a candidate to close. His and Mickolio's names are the ones that seem to be coming up most often.

It'll be very interesting to see what Trembley does in the next few days. Hopefully the team will put him in a position where he has to make decisions in save situations.

Anonymous said...

I've heard Mick being mentioned, but not Koji until you said it.

It sure doesn't appear that today will be that day he will be forced. You never know...they could come back.