There I went in my last guest post for MASN talking about how the Orioles were officially a good team. Then there they went, rattling off five losses in a row and falling into a tie for third place (or fourth if you’re a pessimist) with the Rays. Bummer.
Honestly, though, you knew this was coming. Or, at least, you should have.
A five-game losing streak is one of those things that’s going to happen in a baseball season. Even to the best teams. It might even reach six or seven games. Baseball’s like that. Actually, everything’s like that.
One of the weirdest things about sports fans is how hard it seems for most of them to accept losing. Slumps, in sports as in any endeavor, are part of the package. There’s quite literally no getting away from that. And yet I know that if I tune into today’s chatter on the local sports talk airwaves I’ll hear Chicken Little after Chicken Little, bemoaning what could have been if the team had only upgraded the rotation or bought another bat. As if such moves would have stopped every losing streak at four.
The long game is the hardest to play and the hardest to win. Not because it’s inherently more difficult, but because so few have the patience to play it.
(photo via Flickr user Keith Allison)
Fair warning: this post isn’t about baseball, or really even sports. Not unless you squint. What can I say? The O’s are on the west coast.
So, instead, this is a post about change.
The reason things have been quieter around here for the past year and a half or so is the immense amount of change I’ve been experiencing. New job, new responsibilities, new opportunities, new house (bought rather than rented for the first time), a handful of losses and wins.
The quieter scene here at TLC is itself a change. After 6+ years this site occupies a different spot relative to my overall list of priorities. Not better or worse, just different. Some of that is intentional, some of it less so. All completely acceptable as a good outcome. Hell, I never thought this site would last 6 years to begin with so the fact that it’s still here and I still want to write for it is a nice thing.
Sometimes I find it hard to trace the paths. Change is one of those things that weighs a ton on a conceptual level but is much harder to pin down in real terms. You need more than just moments themnselves to understand their scope — you need to see where everything settles. Once you do you’re faced with a range of successes, surprises, and (inevitably) disappointments. Many of which you probably didn’t notice right away, and each of which is good in its own way. Even (and sometimes especially) the disappointments.
Humans have an uneasy relationship with change. Not knowing what’s coming next is uncomfortable. This is why we get trapped in jobs or relationships or homes or cycles we don’t enjoy. Knowing what to expect offers great comfort, even if we don’t precisely like it.
You want to know why every 20-year old kid with swagger and a guitar and a way with words doesn’t become George Jones (RIP)? Why every workshop hacker doesn’t start the next Apple? Why every Piano Man isn’t Billy Joel?
Talent and luck, sure, but there’s also a heavy dose of inertia. Staying in place because the leap is too much to bear. It’s the devil you know.
But here’s the thing: you don’t actually know that devil at all. Not by a damn sight. Change is coming one way or another and the puncher’s chance lies in figuring out how maybe you can get out ahead of it a little bit. Making some of those leaps before the leaps make you. Or at least learning how to land better.
We are, always, actors and passengers. When a given moment falls fully on one side or the other of that spectrum we do OK. The problem is that life is lived in the overlap, where we’re both in control and not in control. Where we have choices to make but can’t be certain of what the outcome will be or even where those choices will ultimately fall on what we’ll finally, in hindsight, recognize as a continuum.
Why post this? Because based on my own recent experience I can say that I wasn’t really prepared. Which means that maybe one or two of you reading this aren’t prepared. Now, then, is your moment. Think about the fact that at any moment, change is coming. Go ahead and start to get comfortable with it. Because if you do that, and if you get comfortable enough, you might just enjoy it.
Ordinarily I don’t believe in apologizing for not posting much, or even mentioning it. I make an exception here though because things have been quieter than normal at a time when they probably ought not be quiet. This space isn’t destined to return to the days of posts nearly every day, but two weeks is too long. So, mea culpa. There’s been a lot going on.
What I have managed to do, though, is get my first two posts up for MASN.
The first, from last week, can be found here:
What the Orioles need to do this year is show stability. They need to show that they can play well over the course of a full season, which means competing consistently and weathering the adversity of injuries and slumps. Basically, they need to look good.
Given the run of bad baseball that preceded last season, stability in itself will count as meaningful, and important, improvement. Regardless of the win total.
If we’re taking predictions, though, I’m on the hook for 87-75. What about you?
The second, from earlier this week, is here:
Baseball is no different from anything else in that absence of fear amplifies enjoyment, and vice versa. If we’re not afraid that these guys are secretly no good, then we’re going to accept failure for what it is – part of the game. If, on the other hand, we’re waiting for another shoe to drop, we’re probably not going to truly believe in the successes and probably not going to truly enjoy them. We’re going to see every shortcoming as a harbinger of doom, every error as the tip of an iceberg.
The game being as long-form and as complicated as it is, pretty much everything comes with a “Yes, but …” You can frame that any way you’d like.
The short version of both of those together is that what I’m looking for from the Orioles this year is stability, and I expect to find it. They’re not exactly on a tear here to begin the season but I’m not particularly worried. As long as they don’t start losing series after series and digging themselves a hole I think they’re going to be right there at the end.
But, you know, it’s early. That cuts both ways.
Either way I know this: it’s going to be a fun season. I just have a hunch about that.
I’ve remarked before, elsewhere and I think here, that time doesn’t fly. It accelerates. So much so that if you stop to think about it you’ll probably end up in a bad place. Ten years ago doesn’t seem that long. A few weeks or months sometimes feel like days. If you don’t know what I mean, you will.
Thankfully, there’s an antidote. Not to the disappearance of time — nobody loosens that grip — but to the acute feeling of it. That antidote is awareness. It’s remembering to pump the brakes. It’s listening to an old record (even digitally). It’s skipping the Keurig and making a decent cup of coffee. It’s letting go of the bullshit someone’s trying to lay on you. It’s cooking, not just heating, dinner. It’s recognizing the good things and letting them in.
Baseball is, for me, one of those good things. And I’m stoked it’s back.
Not only is it back, but for the first time since I was still in my teens it’s back with the Orioles on the plus side. Winning team. Playoff team. What could be better than that for a long-suffering fanbase? Maybe a World Series. Baby steps.
I didn’t have much to say this spring for a variety of reasons. Busy-ness, sure, but also because there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about. This was a workmanlike spring for the O’s and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. They went down to Florida and got ready for the season. Nice, tidy, and simple.
What’s more, I like this team. I like the pitching depth, I like the fact that they returned a playoff team mostly intact, and I like that they don’t have any issues hanging over their heads. As far as I can tell this looks like a group that’s aligned to a purpose and ready to get to work. Like it should be.
Here’s the thread where we go on record. For me, it’s pretty simple: 87 wins. I think a very small fall back from last season’s high is somewhat inevitable, but I believe they’ll still be in the mix. I have a hunch they’ll be good enough for another Wild Card, although whether or not they get it could come down to a game here or there. However it plays out I definitely do not expect them to fall back below .500.
The reason is simple. You can win with a handful of stars (A, A+ players) surrounded by a bunch of C, C+ players or you can with with a whole roster of guys who net out around a B. I think the Orioles are the latter, and I think that beyond the raw talent they’ve got something else going for them: it’s a true team. That concept may not mean much when the talent isn’t there but when the talent’s good or good enough, playing well together makes a difference. That’s what I expect to see.
What about you?
I’m looking forward to the season, folks. I hope you are too.
“It’s just business.”
I’ve always hated this phrase. It’s bothered me for as long as I can remember knowing what it meant. I think that probably goes back to something basic, if (arguably) a bit naive: I never thought it was cool that screwing someone over could suddenly become OK if it fell under the auspices of “business.” Whatever that means, or meant.
Of course as I’ve gotten a bit older I’ve learned that life comes pre-loaded with some harsh realities, and among these is the occasional need to make tough and/or uncomfortable decisions. I’ve learned, equally, that there’s nothing automatically wrong with this and not much we can do about it anyway. Sometimes “it” really is “just business.”
None of which is to say, however, that there shouldn’t be — that there aren’t — limits.
Back when the Ravens first won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at the helm, then unceremoniously dumped him, I regarded it as a betrayal. That they got their just desserts and then some with the Elvis Grbac debacle did little to sway my feelings. Plenty of folks regard loyalty as a weakness when doing business. I’m not one of them. At the very least I thought Dilfer should have been given a fighter’s chance to keep his job, as he had earned at least that much. He wasn’t much more than an average quarterback, sure, but he did enough to deserve better than he got.
Fast forward to the present offseason and I find myself more than a little bit curious about what’s inside the head of Ozzie Newsome & company as they fashion their roster for 2013 and beyond.
First, they pony up a record extension for Joe Flacco, a quarterback who had an epic postseason but who had been regarded as an iffy bet for most of his career prior to that. He’s been good, sometimes very good, but the sum total of time he’s spent being great amounts to about four games.
Then, they ship Anquan Boldin off to San Francisco for basically nothing. Here’s another player coming off an epic postseason performance, one that in fact had a lot to do with making Joe Flacco look as good as he looked. You can say that without Flacco playing as well as he did the Ravens probably don’t win the Super Bowl. You can say the exact same thing about Boldin.
Remember this with Boldin: we’re not talking about a free agent they didn’t have room to re-sign, and we’re not talking about a role player. That Lombardi trophy has his fingerprints all over it. Hell, forget the postseason for a second. If he doesn’t throw that block on fourth-and-forever against San Diego then who knows what we’re talking about today?
Now, I get it. “Business.” QBs are more highly valued than wide receivers. Boldin is 32 and, as such, exiting the prime years that Flacco is still enjoying at 28. Nobody who understands the NFL — both on the field and in the front office — could possibly argue that Flacco isn’t more valuable than Boldin.
That said, in the NFL it’s well-known that smart teams pay players more for what they’re supposedly going to do than for what they’ve already done. What most people lose in that equation is that the really smart teams also make wise decisions about what their players are doing right now. And, right now, the Ravens are a weaker team without Boldin.
They’re also a team with a mountain of chips in the center of the table on Flacco, a guy they’re paying explicitly for what he’s doing now in addition to what they think he’ll do in the future. A future that includes Tandon Doss where #81 once roamed.
If you’re a Ravens fan you have to hope that Joe Flacco finally worked out the kinks and is ready to become the kind of player who doesn’t need an Anquan Boldin. You have to hope he’s Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning and not simply Matt Schaub or Matt Stafford. All four are good quarterbacks. Only the first two make the players around them better.
I’m not saying Ozzie is wrong. I can’t know that. But what I am saying is that in football, as in life, there’s often more than one way to make a tough decision. I’m not sure Ozzie chose the right one here. I think this just might be a classic case where a little bit more loyalty might have gone a long way. Even if it is “just business.”
In listening to the various sports talk shows lately I’ve been struck by something that seems obvious but is kind of stunning in how different it is: the Orioles are entering the season without any major question marks. No giant holes in the lineup, no concerns about depth, no questions about whether or not there are enough viable candidates to field a rotation. For once, Spring Training doesn’t feel very dramatic.
Sure, there’s a concern about Brian Roberts. Flaherty and Casilla solve that. They’re not Roberts in his prime, but they’re fine if we need them.
Sure, the fifth starter role isn’t settled. The answer to that is the, oh, seven or so guys who could all win the job with a solid spring. Depth is good.
Beyond that, we have: one and maybe two solid players in left, a bona fide star in center, a very solid player in right, a young potential superstar at third, a very solid player at short, a star at catcher, a solid player at first, a deep bullpen coming off a great year, a solid group of starters (even if, granted, there’s no true ace), and a world-class manager.
And, like I said, no drama.
It is through this lens that we might cast a different light on the relatively quiet offseason. What if what some read as inaction or lack of improvement is, rather, simply stability?
I don’t think stability should be discounted as an ingredient for winning. Especially for a team like the Orioles, who for many years seemed to lack a core. It’s somewhat shocking to see them enter a season without a stack of what-ifs weighing down the nascent optimism.
None of which, admittedly, automatically translates into success. For once, though, I’m kind of relieved that things are quiet. It beats the alternative, at least until the games start counting.
Here’s where I could go through and link all of the various preseason prediction columns/articles I’ve read, but I’ll spare you all that clicking and make it simple: pretty much nobody thinks the Orioles have a chance to repeat their 2012 success. There might be a straggler or an outlier I haven’t seen, but for the most part every “knowledgable” sportswriter seems to think the O’s will spend 2013 more or less where they spent the 14 seasons before 2012.
The arguments are as well-worn as they are predictable.
“They didn’t do anything to improve in the offseason.”
“They can’t repeat their successes in close games.”
“The division’s too strong.”
“They played better last year than they really are.”
This is the time of year when making predictions is what baseball writers are paid to do so I can’t fault ‘em for that. All the more reason to not bother calling out specific individuals. What I will say, though, is that the dominant narrative of “The O’s will fall back in 2013″ says more about general lack of attention among those who ascribe to it (hey, they’re busy!) than it does about any real assessment of the team’s chances.
Let’s take the main points one-by-one.
Not enough offseason action. It’s true that Dan Duquette didn’t make any major moves. So? To presume that lack of action is failure is to presume that smartly standing pat isn’t a calculated move in itself. I can’t think of a single free agent I’m bummed we didn’t get. Can you? If so, why? Josh Hamilton is an overpaid head case and Zach Greinke is a pitcher, which by definition means that the back end of his contract will be a problem for the Dodgers. He’ll be 34 years old and making $24 million in 2018. Think about that.
Bottom line is that you should pretty much never award high-dollar, long-term deals to players past, say, 25 or 26. Look at the Yankees with Teixeira and Rodriguez. Examples abound.
Making a move isn’t the same thing as making a smart move.
They can’t repeat last season’s successes. It’s true that last year’s team had some crazy weird numbers. 29-9 in one run games, 16-2 in extra innings. 18-9 in August and 19-9 in September. Surely, those numbers are unlikely to repeat. And yet it’s also unlikely that a winning team bringing back its nucleus, including at least one potential superstar in his first full season (Manny Machado), will suddenly fall apart. Even 10 more losses than last year would leave them at 83-79. A collapse could happen, but it seems far from likely.
The division’s too strong. Yeah, the Blue Jays improved on paper. Winning the offseason doesn’t count. As for everyone else, I see the O’s as their equals at least. Not necessarily demonstrably better but by no means demonstrably worse.
They played better than they really are. This is really the crux of things, although not everyone comes out and says it. The idea is that last year was a fluke, and this year will be a correction.
Well, consider this: the correction doesn’t necessarily work on a year-to-year timeframe. What we are, in fact, potentially witnessing is the actual correction, which is that the O’s are on the upswing to correct for so many years of bad play. It’s hard to stay bad for as long as the O’s did, and they’ve been due to fix that for awhile. With a top-notch manager in place and a wealth of talent across the lineup, why would another year of +.500 ball be out of the question?
Answer: +.500 ball is not out of the question. Contending for the division and/or the playoffs is not out of the question.
Will it happen? Maybe not. But it’s not nearly as far-fetched as lazy observers from afar would like to suggest it is.
Spring training’s here, folks. Ain’t the beer cold?
First things first: congrats to the Ravens and the city of Baltimore. The Ravens may not be my team but I can’t hate. What’s good for the city is good for me, mostly. Great run, great game. For those of you who live the purple & black, enjoy it. These things (usually) only come around so often.
As we close the book on that chapter, we come to more good news: baseball season.
Hard as it may seem to believe, pitchers and catchers report for the Orioles on February 12. Which is, as of press time, just five days away. The first official full-squad workout is on the 16th, but if some rumblings on Twitter are any indication several players have already set up shop in Sarasota.
Spring Training, even in the darkest years, is always a great time. Baseball’s cool that way. Even when there’s no hope it’s still possible to feel optimistic when those first reports roll in of guys actually suiting up and taking the field for the first time.
This year, for us, it’s different. There is hope. And not hope like we felt it before. Legit hope.
I know it’s common to criticize Dan Duquette for a relatively quiet offseason but I don’t buy that line. I’ll reiterate what I’ve said once before: there haven’t been any major losses, and the same team that won 93 games last year is basically coming back. We also have a full season of Manny Machado to look forward to, along with the possible arrivals of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. I also like the addition of Jair Jurrjens as a potential high-reward play.
We’ll dig into the details as spring gets underway in earnest but on the whole I’m stoked as hell about this season. And you should be too.