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Orioles: It Wasn’t Supposed to Go Down Like This

Given the way 2010 unfolded for the Orioles, I entered last offseason believing — knowing — the worst was behind us. It never crossed my mind that what we had just witnessed at the time was anything other than the bottom, the Lost Season to literally end Lost Seasons. The late surge and the Showalter optimism were fresh. 2011 was going to be the start of something great.

Now here we are at the All-Star break, 16 games under .500 (36-52) and riding a seven-game losing streak. Better in record than only one team — the Astros at 30-62. Houston, however, has only lost four in a row. Real talk, the O’s are the worst team in baseball today. Things in Birdland not only aren’t any better than last year, they’re worse.

How is that possible?

We can find reasons. Losing Brian Roberts hurts. Losing (basically) Brian Matusz hurts even more. The young pitchers have largely failed to meet expectations. Vlad Guerrero and Derrek Lee are failed experiments. More broadly, we entered the year depending on a lot of breaks going our way. Few of them have.

Thus, we arrive at the rub. The Orioles are not presently built to absorb, let alone overcome, adversity. Their line is too thin.

They don’t suffer from a lack of top-level talent. They’d be fine if the team we envisioned in March was fully intact and performing at a high level. We saw that much early on. The problem is, well, problems.

That’s a pretty simple thing on its face but it’s actually quite terrible. The takeaway from this dismal first half of 2011 is that the Orioles have a very deep and very serious structural deficiency. They can’t do anything right unless everything goes right.

Success isn’t about having a great Plan A. Everyone has that. It’s about having great plans B and C and D and also having an organization built to pivot when variables dictate change. Plan A is just the roadmap. Other plans are contingencies. All of them are useless without the ability read and react.

Right now, the Orioles don’t have that ability. They don’t appear to have any organizational sense of what it means to win. Indeed, I have doubts as to whether or not they actually understand success. I know they want it — badly — but I’m not convinced they really “get” it.

To be fair, I’m not in the room. I don’t know how the conversations go. I don’t know if the organization is truly dysfunctional or just stuck in a tough spot. To speculate either way would be both unfair and disingenuous.

That said, results are evidence and it’s straight-up unacceptable to be where they are in 2011 as Andy MacPhail nears the end of his contract. I’m OK with not contending this year. I’m not OK with 36-52.

The bitch of this is that there’s really no good solution. Fire MacPhail? OK, then what? Blow it up again and embark on another three, four, five-year plan? Trade everyone with value and hope for a hail-mary infusion of young talent? Get rid of Hardy and Guthrie and hope the prospects arriving in return mature quick (and meet or exceed expectations) while we fill major-league holes with stopgaps?

We’re staring down a deeply uncomfortable truth, which is that winning might not be in the cards for either the short or the mid-term. It might literally take another three or four years, and even that’s an optimistic forecast based on the questionable premise that somebody steps up and starts showing real leadership.

It is, however, fixable. Things can still go right. There’s talent in the system. But for this team to become what we both want and have every right to expect it should be, we’re overdue for bold change in both strategy and tactics.

Until that happens I’m afraid that the glory of the game itself — and the love of the team — might be all we have.

Your move, Peter/Andy/Buck. This is rock bottom. And when you’re reading those words at The Loss Column — a site derided many times in the past for being too positive — it’s time to believe they’re real.

PS — Pain still don’t hurt.

17 comments to Orioles: It Wasn’t Supposed to Go Down Like This

  • dan the man

    Keith Law was on 105.7 recently and basically summed it up like this: the Orioles do pretty well in finding and drafting talented players. We can rattle them off pretty easily: Britton, Arrieta, Matusz, Wieters, Markakis, Jones, recent trades for Hardy and Reynolds, Machado, etc etc. It’s having those players translate into success at the major league level. He thinks it’s more than dumb luck, and that the Orioles’ first priority should be sitting down and really figuring out what’s going wrong to have their young players continually regressing at the major league level. The hard part, he said, was good to go – and that’s finding the talent. The Orioles can do that pretty well.

    But I agree it’s more than dumb luck. Something in the system is flawed and creating these fragile, half-or-one-year wonders who immediately regress.

    Anything is possible: Matusz, Tillman, Bergesen, Arrieta, and Britton could all click next year and we make some good offseason moves and we’re right where we thought we’d be this year. This is the Orioles though, so it’s not that easy. Either way, priority #1 is figuring out why this club can’t create a David Price and an Evan Longoria, or even another Nick Markakis and Jeremy Guthrie for that matter.

  • Ballmer Bruce

    McFail did an interview on the MASN website. Said he did not believe in throwing big money at Latin free agents and then, in a rare mistake, told the truth and said that he had not really done a study on this and maybe he should. MAYBE HE SHOULD? This is our so called GM. Orioles are always in bottom five in Latin free agent dollars spent. Book it, this will not change until the Orioles clean house and get a real GM who understands that this team needs to look under EVERY ROCK talent in order to have a chance to compete in AL East even a couple of times per decade. McFail is a clueness lazy GM stuck in 1960.

  • Jack

    I have nothing of any real substance to add. Nothing of any substance whatsoever. I will say that I was at the game last night and these were my observations: Walking towards the Yards from the lot I saw tons of young kids in O’s gear excited to come see a baseball game. I saw tons of teenagers arriving sans parental units, including a carful of young women, all O’s fans. I saw many people my age (early 40s) and up, all of them palpably excited to be arriving at arguably the best park in the US, or one of them, to watch a baseball game. A smattering of Indians fans mingled with the O’s fans. Inside, more excitement. In the beer line I overheard a group of older men saying they hadn’t been to an O’s game since 1982. A gorgeous, gorgeous night for a ball game and a good crowd for a Thursday night game. Good energy. Good opponent. Tasty, cold beer plus an Italian from my man across the street. This is why I own season tickets, I thought, and this is why, through it all, I still love coming to O’s games. All the pieces were clicking into place.

    And then the game started. Guts got smacked in the top of the first. O’s batters were befuddled by Masterson, a guy with 13 losses, who had a perfect game going for a few innings. Exchanged a few texts with my friend in Cleveland, a Tribe fan. Sure, the O’s ended up getting a few hits but all of the players appeared listless, bored (except for AJ, the only O with a pulse right now). The crowd did not appear to care. With the hot dog races, the crabs, fan of the game, the ‘who’s telling the truth?’ and kiss cam diversions, the O’s brass succeeded in shifting just about everyone’s attention away from the fact that Guthrie was exploding and the O’s could not hit or play baseball and it was another disastrous night of baseball for the home team.

    By the 7th I was ready to leave. I loathe and despise the John Denver ‘Country Boy’ 7th inning stretch break. Hate it with a burning passion that is not rational. I think it’s an idiotic novelty song and its continued inclusion in the O’s traditions highlights, for me, the fact that the O’s themselves continue to be a novelty, owners of one of the most horrendous records in baseball over the past years. Still, I looked around and saw a bunch of eggheads mouthing along with the ridiculous lyrics (sun’s coming up got cakes on the griddle/ life ain’t nothin but a funny funny riddle…) and I recognized again that the O’s faithful have been hypnotized into thinking it’s all okay as long as we have John Denver.

    By the end of the end of the game I’d decided I’d give up my share of my season tickets. Can you believe I hung onto my share for this year because I thought there was the tiniest possibility that I’d be able to see some serious August/September games? Next year I’m sure I’ll go to a couple games but I’m not shelling out huge bucks for the tix. Just not worth it. As mentioned above, I have nothing substantial, nothing about the baseball or strategic side of things, to add. I have no idea what the O’s should do. But I suggest canning the Country Boy 7th inning BS.

  • sci

    Will the O’s lose 100 games this year? I say yes.

  • Jack

    I was wrong about Masterson’s record. Don’t know where I got that. Still…

  • Andy’s quotes have been less and less Andy-ish and more and more defensive. This suggests he knows people are pointing the finger squarely at him. I think he’s gone, personally, another good career marred by a failed Orioles tenure. We’ve seen it plenty of times.

    At any rate, here’s my plan for the rest of the season:

    1. Trade Guthrie for young power hitting first baseman, perhaps a blocked prospect, or some young pitching.
    2. Trade as many of Vlad, Lee, Pie, Gregg, Koji, and Gonzo as you can (probably August trades, most of them) for whatever pitching you can get.
    3. Keep Scott for now because he’s damaged goods and he can at least play DH the remainder of the season.
    4. Sign Hardy to a 3-year deal. Even if he trails off at the plate, he’s still arguably as good a defender as Izturis. Plus he can lead off.
    5. Make Reimold the full-time LF and call up a smart scrapper like Angle, who we know isn’t going to be some amazing hitter anyway, so you don’t feel bad about burying him as the 4th outfielder.
    6. Ride or Die Rotation: Arrieta, Britton, Matusz, Bergesen, Simon. It’s not like Guthrie was some innings savior anyway this year, and you just stack your bullpen full of long guys: Hendrickson, Berken, Jakubauskas, whoever.
    7. Begin the transition of Jim Johnson to a starter following the season. I’m not a huge supporter of it, but we have no depth and the Rays crafted an Entire Fucking Decent Scrapheap Bullpen in one offseason.
    8. Pray Prince Fielder even entertains coming here.
    9. Go nuts on trying to find as much pitching as physically possible.
    10. Pray for 2014.

  • my strategy to orioles fandom isn’t unlike my 6+ mile runs when it’s 100 degrees outside…just look down, close your eyes, keep chugging along.. and throughout all of it, just keep saying to yourself, repeatedly

    “pain don’t hurt, paint don’t hurt, pain don’t hurt, pain don’t hurt…”

    kind of like rambo running through a barrage of bullets…just keep going and hope you don’t get hit with a fatal shot to the head.

    that said, i’ll be at the game tomorrow. red headband and all.

  • I agree with Jack.

    We as O’s fans can’t even be the lovable losers like the Cubs, and the Rays and Bucs (THE FIRST PLACE BUCCOS) have even surpassed us, leaving us in the company of Royals (AHEAD OF US) and the ‘Stros barely behind.

    It’s gotten so bad I even had a couple of loser Natinal fans clowning on me like they were the New York fucking Yankees. No strategy talk, nothing about the sport itself, just 2 lunking idiots laughing at the lovable swingin’ away Oriole bird on the background of my phone going “huh huh THEY SUCK!”

    I’m convinced there are no more real baseball fans left, just morons regressing into tribalism that yell when the appropriate colors are displayed and just throw their shit at any other colors like apes.

    Oh, and this “Pain don’t hurt” stuff is getting pretty stupid. It’s reminiscent of a battered wife consoling herself instead of seeking real help. Optimism is good, but there becomes a certain point when we’re all just deluding ourselves from reality.

  • Mike R

    The last time the Orioles were good, the Rays didn’t even exist yet. The expansion Rays are now considered perennial contenders. 2 division crowns, and holding thier own for the last 3 1/2 seasons.

    I’m gonna be sick.

    They were able to lose Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Rafeal Soriano, and get nothing in return but draft picks. They’re right in the thick of the divison race. If the O’s lost 2 of their best pitchers and 2 ofr their best hitters, which doesn’t amount to much, hard to believe but we would probably be a lot worse.

    Why do we have to suck so bad?

    I’d be lying if I said i wasn’t jealous of the teams like the Rays, Indians, now the Pirates, doing what we should be doing.

  • O’s get Hardy for 3 yrs/$22 mil? That’s cheap as balls if he manages to stay healthy. Plenty of arguments that they should have just traded him, but I for one am glad we can cross “shortstop” off the Holes 2 Fill list. I really think once it was apparent he was a decent leadoff hitter, the O’s knew they had to jump on him because of B-Rob.

  • neal s

    Tomás wrote:

    Oh, and this “Pain don’t hurt” stuff is getting pretty stupid. It’s reminiscent of a battered wife consoling herself instead of seeking real help. Optimism is good, but there becomes a certain point when we’re all just deluding ourselves from reality.

    Wow, man. For real?

    First of all, did you read the post?

    Second, this is still just baseball we’re talking about. At least that’s still what I’m talking about.

    I was at the game for a few innings last night and it was magnificent. I want the team to be better, yeah, and I’m pretty frustrated. Mostly, though, if we really want to get serious, I’m glad we actually have a team and some players I can love watching. Pain actually doesn’t hurt in that sense, even if the joke no longer works for you.

  • Kevin

    Well, even if it means nothing, at least we resigned Hardy for 3 more years

  • @ neal s:

    Of course I read it, I commented on it, didn’t I?

    And yes, I get that there’s not so much we can do as fans by getting angry, hence your argument for optimism even at this point, but I’m beginning to know how Drew felt on wanting to do something to get the organization’s attention. Not sure if I completely agree with it all, but I am just bewildered and beyond frustration that the O’s are this bad of a joke now and it seems like everyone [not accusing you, the organization] in the know is just being “oh well, next year” about it.

    I guess your Pain Don’t Hurt meme has just got under my skin is all.

  • Easy now fellas. Every O’s fan has his/her own way of dealing with the frustration of another lOst season. Seems to me we should vent, but realize that we’re just venting. And no amount of hostility towards the organization is really going to change a damn thing.

    No, O’s fans are in the business of waiting. Waiting for the prospects to succeed, waiting for Andy to make moves, for Peter to sell the team, for Buck to shuffle a lineup, for Brian Roberts, for Prince Fielder, for a series win, for .500.

  • Mike R

    Dear god, let Hardy stay healthy and play at the level he is now for the next 3 years.

    It’s a big risk given JJ’s injury history. But I can’t disagree with the move either. SS has been a gaping hole for years. Now we can move on, try to solve problems one at a time.

  • Big Ben's Motorcycle

    pain don’t hurt 2011:

    http://classic-icon.com/spiderman/1%20(13).jpg

  • neal s

    @ Tomás: It’s a fair point, and I didn’t intend to come off as overreacting to it. What I really meant was that the whole of my post was devoted to expressing frustration, and the PDH postscript was really just a way of reminding myself (and anyone reading it) that I wasn’t giving up.

    That said, maybe it is time to put the concept to rest a bit. It’s certainly not as funny as it once was, if it ever was.