|News Archives: June 1999|
Like we said, the Orioles as contenders this year was merely an illusion. We're not happy about that, but we are realists. We think 1999 is a lost cause, and the sooner the Orioles admit that -- as they almost did before the recent winning streak -- the sooner they can build a team for the next millenium. Saturday's game provided still more proof that having a veteran-laden roster isn't the same as having a talent-laden roster. One of their few youngsters -- Jason Johnson -- started the game, and he was about the only person to do well. But the offense, for the fifth straight day, was almost nonexistent, and the bullpen fell apart. So the Orioles dropped their fourth straight game, 7-4 to the Yankees.
The ugly: repeats from yesterday
Once again, the media acts as if the reasons why the Orioles aren't winning are mysterious. Why is it easier to talk about "A winning way. A knack for coming out ahead." rather than saying the word "talent?" We just don't understand that point. The Orioles aren't the Florida Marlins, but they're not talented, either. They've put together a team full of players who were great five years ago, and then act surprised when they're not still winning.
Minor league notes: Ryan Minor was named to the International League All-Star team, basically on the strength of his home run total, but he's actually hitting quite poorly. Terry Burrows, on Rochester's disabled list, is beginning a rehab assignment. And Lenny Webster, on Baltimore's disabled list is rehabbing in Rochester.
For updates on the progress of the Orioles at signing their draft picks, check out our draft chart. (Of course, the Orioles will just probably trade these guys away as soon as they look promising.)
And finally, there's been a lot of talk about Albert Belle's website, so we wanted to
provide the URL: http://www.athletedirect.com/samplebelle.html. (AOL users
can get the same site by using keyword Albert Belle.)
You may have noticed that this site hasn't been updated lately, and have wondering if it's because we're whiners who don't like writing about the team when they're doing well. We want to assure you that this isn't the case; we've just had real world responsibilities which took precedence. On the other hand, in the interests of candor we should point out that if we had been updating, we would have been the voice of negativity in the sea of optimism. Last year, at the end of July, the Orioles had won 17 of their last 20 games, pulling within eight games of the wild card. The Orioles got excited and decided to trade for veterans (specifically, Juan Guzman) instead of trading them away. We were busy telling people not to get excited, because the Orioles didn't have a realistic shot at contention, even if they did get hot. A lot of you -- our readers -- were dissatisfied, feeling that we were being too negative. Well, as fans perhaps we were. But as analysts, there was no way we could say anything else. And the same was true the last two weeks of this season.
Sure, coming off the annihilation of the Braves, the Orioles proceeded to sweep the Royals and take three out of four from the White Sox. More to the point, the Orioles looked good doing it. During these three series, (actually, starting with the last game of the Marlins' series) in which they won 10 of 11 games, they averaged almost seven runs per game (skewed by the 22-run outburst against the Braves on national television -- but even without that game, they averaged a respectable 5.4 runs per game in the other games.) And their pitching allowed just 3.3 runs per game. Their starters also allowed just 3.3 runs per game, while averaging over 7 innings per start. Only once in those games did a starter fail to reach at least the sixth inning: Jason Johnson, against the Royals -- and they won that game. The streak included 2 very good starts by Erickson, 2 by Ponson (both complete games), 1 by Guzman, and 2 by Mussina.
Even so, there were some troubling signs -- like fifth starter Jason Johnson's continued poor performances -- if he wasn't Miller's pet, he'd be gone by now, or at least buried in the bullpen like Rocky -- and the fact their offense was very erratic. But that wasn't what truly made us pessimistic. What truly made us pessimistic was that it took this huge winning streak just to get the Orioles to within six games of .500. If a huge winning streak can't even get a team to .500, that team can't seriously claim to be in contention. But we know you didn't want to hear that -- you didn't want to last year, either -- so maybe it's not so bad that we didn't have time to update.
We have to admit, though, that when the Orioles came back so dramatically in the first game of the Boston series, thanks to Albert Belle's three run homer in the eighth, even we pessimists started to waver. Maybe we were wrong -- maybe this team is better than we thought. But they always tell you on standardized tests to stick with your first instinct, so, no. We'll stay with our original assessment, formed this offseason. This team doesn't have the talent to compete with the good teams, even if Thomas Boswell of the Post felt the need to resort to the "chemistry" cliche to explain the Os weaknesses.
Anyway, to make a long story short (too late), after dropping two out of three to the Red Sox, the last gasp of the Orioles' hopes involved sweeping the Yankees. But it was not to be. Unfortunately, Mussina's excellent start had been wasted the previous night on the Red Sox, so the Orioles had to send the erratic Scott Erickson to the mound. And, yes, it was Bad Scott who showed up. He lasted into the sixth inning, but that's only because Miller has incredible patience with Erickson, presumably because he's a white, over-30 player. The offense was productive, thanks to the ageless Harold Baines, and the Orioles actually scratched their way back to a brief lead. But the bullpen was lousy, allowing 2 runs in 3.1 innings, and the Orioles gave back the lead and then the game, 9-8 to the hated Yankees.
Quick transaction update: the only other move made over the last two weeks was Delino DeShields being put on the disabled list, and Jerry Hairston being called up in his place. And for updates on the progress of the Orioles at signing their draft picks, check out our draft chart.
And there's been a lot of talk about Albert Belle's website, so we wanted to provide the URL: http://www.athletedirect.com/samplebelle.html. (AOL users can get the same site by using keyword Albert Belle.)
In ex-Oriole news, Garrett Stephenson was just called up by the Cardinals,
while Tony Tarasco was sent back down to the minors by the Yankees.
The old cliche is that baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, and there's a reason why. There's another old cliche that you're never as bad as you look when you're losing or as good as you look when you're winning. Less than a week ago, the Orioles were a season-high fifteen games under .500, twelve games out of first place. They were coming off humiliating series losses to the Phillies and Marlins, having dropped both ends of a doubleheader. Salvaging the final game of the Marlins series was nice, but they were taking the league's worst road record into Turner Field, home of the best team in the National League. Scenario for a debacle.
Only, something happened on the road to disaster. The Orioles didn't cooperate with the script. Instead, their pitchers woke up. On Friday, Sidney Ponson pitched yet another gem, and the Orioles beat Greg Maddux and the Braves, 6-2. The big news of the day was not the victory, but that it happened while Albert Belle was benched by Ray Miller (snapping Belle's league-leading consecutive games streak) after Belle and Miller had a well-publicized dispute the previous game. And then on Saturday, Juan Guzman went Sidney one better, pitching a complete game shutout as the Orioles jumped all over Kevin Millwood for three home runs in the first inning (by Brady, Mike Bordick, and Will Clark), en route to a 5-0 victory and a shocking series victory.
But the Orioles saved their best for the nationally-televised final game of the series. Maddux (as well as fellow ace Tom Glavine) had been struggling all year, but John Smoltz, Sunday's starter and the third member of Atlanta's three aces, had been excellent. With the Orioles sending Mike Mussina to the mound, it looked like it would be a pitcher's duel. And it was. For about ten seconds, the time between the umpire yelling "Play Ball" and the first pitch being thrown. Then the Orioles came to the plate, and seemingly never left. While Mike Mussina shut down the Braves, Smoltz couldn't make it through the third inning. Even the much-maligned Rocky Coppinger, who has been frustrated by his lack of playing time, kept the Braves off the scoreboard, while every member of the starting lineup for the Orioles had at least one hit. The Orioles set numerous offensive records in a 22-1 annihilation of the Braves. With the win, the Orioles finally move out of last place, a position they have held since the second week in April. The Orioles are 6-0 lifetime at Turner Field.
|Category||New Record||Old Record|
|Extra Base Hits||11||11|
|Margin of victory||21||17|
|Individual (all by Cal Ripken)|
(done 8x in the past, once by Cal)
One of the reasons the Orioles failed to keep several members of the 1998 team
-- primarily Palmeiro and Mills -- was their failure to make offers to these
players in a timely fashion. (On the other hand, the Orioles made possibly
premature offers to Harold Baines and Scott Erickson.) The Orioles seem to want
to avoid the first type of error with Arthur Rhodes, discussing a contract extension with him right now. While
Rhodes' status has to be addressed, as Ken Rosenthal pointed out before Cal
Ripken's big game, the issue of what to do with Cal's option for next year is
a more troublesome one that will have to be resolved soon. Meanwhile, Lenny Webster is wondering what his future is with the
Orioles. There's the not-so-subtle undercurrent that he wants to be traded,
which would be fine with us, but we're wondering how a lifetime backup catcher who
had a mediocre career year last year has the nerve to make such a demand.
The Orioles salvaged the final game of the series with a 4-2 victory, but when you're the most expensive last place team, every silver lining has a cloud, as controversy looms over the Orioles. After being replaced in the 9th inning on a double-switch, Albert Belle engaged in a expletive-filled argument with Manager Ray Miller; this following his failure to run out a ground ball that would have given the Orioles a 3-run cushion heading into the bottom of the 9th. Thomas Boswell has numerous questions for Belle, whose poor production and indifferent play even led the players to support Miller in the controversy.
Finally, it is probably a good thing the Orioles have done as poorly as they
have this season, because unlike last year, there is no mention of a run at the
wild card. Instead, finally everyone admits that the Orioles need a serious
overhaul. In an on-line interview, Post reporters weigh in with what they think is wrong with the Orioles. And in a candid
interview that is well worth the read, Peter
Angelos says that 1999 has been a very disappointing season, and hints at
the way things will be done in the future. While admitting that mistakes were
made in the past and that "The youth movement is definitely on with the
Orioles," Angelos also says that he'll be more involved with every decision
next winter. Check it out.
Ugly. That's the only word for the Orioles right now. When (on the rare occasions) they win it's ugly, and when they lose it's even uglier. On Saturday, they won, but not in a way anybody wanted to see. The offense was solid, as Brady Anderson homered as part of a 12-hit, 4 walk offensive attack. But after Sidney Ponson was so good, pitching eight innings and turning the ball over to the bullpen with a 5-3 lead, disaster struck. Arthur Rhodes, the newly-anointed co-closer, couldn't find the plate, walking all three batters he faced, and Mike Timlin had to come in and bail him out. He couldn't. Instead, he blew his fifth save of the year, giving up a gopherball to Rob Ducey. The Orioles managed to come back and won the game 7-6 in extra-innings thanks to Mike Bordick's game-winning hit, but a game that should have been easy, wasn't.
And keep in mind that the scenario we just described -- Rhodes and Timlin combining to allow 3 runs in two innings of work -- was the good game. On Sunday, the Orioles sent Juan Guzman to the mound. Guzman was shaky -- very shaky. He allowed 9 hits and 2 walks in just 5 innings of work, and that was the best pitching performance for the Orioles that day. He only allowed one run, but that had a little more to do with the two runners the Orioles threw out at the plate, as well as a Phillie erased on a stolen base attempt, than it did with Guzman's pitching. Still, when he left the Orioles had a 5-1 lead, thanks to Cal Ripken's homer and other runs scratched out by the Os. Turning the ball over to the bullpen was a disaster, as usual. Doug Johns couldn't get anybody out. Mike Fetters, Ricky Bones, and Rocky Coppinger were only slightly better, and the four of them combined to give up ten runs in 4 innings of work. That's 10 hits (3 home runs) and 3 walks, with just one strikeout. Charles Johnson's 2-run homer and 2-run double kept the Orioles in the game for a while, but the ultimate result? Another lost game, this one a pathetic 11-7 pounding, and another lost series.
As we noted, Guzman was yanked early; he was disturbed by the move, and others questioned it as well. Our take on the controversy? Miller blew it. The case for taking him out: (1) Johns had pitched well lately. (2) Guzman pitched pretty badly. He allowed nine hits and two BB in 5 IP. Yes, he had allowed just one run, but that had nothing to do with him. The Phillies had two runners thrown out at home, plus another CS. The case for leaving him in: (1) He had only thrown 79 pitches. (2) He had only allowed one run. (3) He had pitched pretty well the previous inning. (4) The bullpen stinks. (5) The bullpen needs rest. (5) They had a 4-run lead.
The Orioles placed Mike Fetters on the disabled list after Sunday's disastrous loss; to replace him, they called up Scott Kamieniecki from Rochester, where he has been a joke (5.09 ERA, getting repeatedly pounded.). But they already agreed they'd call him up, so their only other choice would have been to release him. Not that they've got a ton of choice. They've already called up Jason Johnson, who's been lousy but who, for some reason, is a favorite of Miller's. They've so far resisted the temptation to call up Matt Riley, perhaps the best pitching prospect in baseball right now. John Eisenberg of the Sun, as well as his colleague John Steadman, think the Orioles should wait to avoid rushing him and ruining him.
But aside from questions like "When do they call up Riley, if at all?", the only
real issue left for this team is how to break it up, according to Eisenberg. It will come as no surprise to
regular readers of this page that we agree. And judging by attendance, so do many fans. But the real problem is, the Orioles threw
around so much money at mediocre mid-30s players that breaking up this team will be very difficult. Scott Erickson might be attractive to the Phillies, among others, but who's
really going to want a 31-year old pitcher with an ERA over 7 and 4 more years
left on his contract at $6M per year?
So now we know. The Orioles can get blown out in the National League just as easily as in the American League. All it takes is for Scott Erickson to start a game, apparently. We don't want to overreact, but it has gotten beyond the point where you can dismiss his struggles with "It's still early." Now twelve starts into the season -- i.e., one-third of the season -- Scott Erickson has a 7.11 ERA. And it's not just a weird fluke. He has allowed 119 baserunners (89 hits) in 70 innings, while striking out just 38. And that's not just because he got blown out in one or two starts, distoring his numbers -- the Orioles are now 2-10 in his 12 starts this year. On Friday, it was just more of the same. Erickson couldn't make it out of the sixth inning, while giving up seven runs. Meanwhile, while Bones and Orosco helped stop the Phillies temporarily, Mike Fetters came in and, as usual, failed to keep the game close. Meanwhile, the offense once again failed to build on an early lead, and then didn't score again until the game was already a blowout. Thus, the Os' fourth loss in their last five games, 9-5 to the Phillies, dropping them a season-high thirteen games out of first and a season-high thirteen games under .500.
Before the game, the Orioles added Mike Figga to the roster and demoted Tommy Davis to AAA. Figga, a 28-year old backup catcher, was claimed off waivers from the Yankees (where he was put when ex-Oriole Tony Tarasco was added to New York's roster), and has essentially no major league experience. He's basically most famous for being the last member of a 1999 opening day roster to get into a game. NY interim manager Don Zimmer resented being forced to keep Figga on the roster (he was out of options), so he refused to put him into a game. Figga has some pop in his bat (.527 SLG at AAA last year, 30 doubles and 26 HR in 461 AB) but little plate discipline. Think "Mark Parent." Lousy hitter for a starter, but good for a backup catcher. Returning Davis to AAA was part of a general roster shakeup at Rochester, where the team has been struggling. Basically, all the moves involved the acquisition of washed-up veterans rather than anything that might help the Orioles, however.
Speaking of the combination of veterans who can't help the Orioles and Rochester brings to mind Scott Kamieniecki. Kamieniecki, who's supposed to be called up on Tuesday as part of his agreement with the Orioles, has been pitching terribly at AAA:
W-L ERA G GS CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR HB BB SO WP AVG 1- 2 6.60 3 3 0 0 0 15.0 20 11 11 4 1 3 12 0 .328
The Orioles picked up Figga because of the uncertainty surrounding the health
of Webster, but Webster isn't the only Oriole whose health is a question mark; Delino DeShields was forced to leave Tuesday's game with
back spasms. He has since appeared in games, but that's always worrisome. The
other transaction for the week involved trading outfielder Lyle Mouton to the
Brewers for roster filler Todd Dunn, a 28-year old minor league outfielder with
no present and no future.