|News Archives: May 1999|
We know that Ray Miller isn't on the hot seat because Peter Angelos is a stubborn, arrogant man who would rather watch the Orioles go down in flames than admit that his hand-picked replacement for Davey Johnson is a joke. What we can't figure out is why pitching coach Bruce Kison has apparently escaped the hot seat. While Sidney Ponson has blossomed, the performances of the rest of the pitching staff has ranged from underperforming (Mussina) to incredibly stinky (everyone else). Scott Erickson has fallen in that last category this season. But after a string of adequate starts in May which included one complete game shutout, Scott Erickson had brought his ERA down from a season high of 12.41 to a slightly less ugly 6.02. So it looked as if the Orioles had a decent chance to pull out the rubber match of their three game series in Oakland. Nope. Erickson was awful, failing to make it out of the third inning while giving up seven runs. Meanwhile, Ricky Bones, coming in as long relief, once again failed to do the job of a long reliever, helping the Athletics blow the game wide open with 3 runs in his less-than-3 innings of work. The offense was adequate, with 10 hits and 5 walks, but unfortunately they scattered their production and got just 5 runs out of the deal, losing 11-5.
We've been a little busy lately, so we thought we'd catch you up on a week's worth of highlights and lowlights. The Orioles, the worst road team in baseball, made their first West Coast trip of the year, facing the Angels and Athletics. The Angels were first, and the Orioles sent Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson, and Juan Guzman to face them. The results? The team with the worst road record in baseball actually won a series. Erickson was mediocre, giving up three home runs, including two to slap-hitting Garrett Anderson, and the Orioles dropped the opening game, 4-1. The game marked Will Clark's return from the disabled list, but he went 0-4 and the rest of the offense was also silent, recording just six hits. That contributed to the Orioles playing their quickest game in centuries, at 2 hours and 1 minute. But after that, Sidney Ponson started. And we want to know: has it happened? The unthinkable may have occured. Okay, it's too early to get this excited, but it's possible that Sidney Ponson may have actually surpassed Mike Mussina as ace of this team. Sidney has matched Mussina this year, and he did it again, pitching 8 innings of 4-hit, 2-run ball, walking just one and striking out five in shutting down the Angels. His dominance was necessary, because the Orioles managed just four hits; fortunately, two were home runs by Baines and Bordick, so the Orioles pulled out the game, 3-2. Arthur Rhodes picked up the save. In the third game, Juan Guzman was shaky, walking 6 batters, but he allowed just 3 hits and the Orioles were able to pull it out, 6-4. Harold Baines added another homer, but the big hit was Brady Anderson's grand slam, big news because it came off a left-handed pitcher.
Mike Mussina led off the Oakland series, and pitched a gem, a complete game six-hitter, allowing just 2 runs. Unfortunately, the Orioles' offense continued to struggle, managing just four hits of their own off knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. Will Clark, just three days back from the DL, was given a rest by Miller, and there wasn't any hitting elsewhere, so the Orioles' winning streak was snapped at two, 2-1. The next day was Jason Johnson's turn, after eight days of inactivity. Johnson, unfortunately, was terrible, while the As starter, Gil Heredia, completely shut down the Orioles early in the game. Finally, the Orioles broke through, and once Doug Johns came in in relief, he shut down the As. BJ Surhoff homered, and Harold Baines came in for a pinch-hit home run. Ultimately, the Orioles were able to overcome their early deficit and won, 7-5, despite Ray Miller's tinkering with the lineup. Miller couldn't resist attacking Tommy Davis for Johnson's struggles, though. Apparently since Johnson is Miller's golden boy, it can't be Johnson's fault.
The week's good:
The week's bad:
The week's interesting:
The week's ugly:
In response to questions about the Os' decision to give up on Willis Otanez, Miller defended himself with the claim that he had seen enough of Otanez in three weeks. (Of course, if three weeks is enough time, then isn't three years of managing by Ray Miller enough time to determine how bad he is?) Not only that, but he felt the need to trash Otanez after the Jays claimed him. He also claimed that Ryan Minor has more potential. Otanez slugged .500 at AAA last year; Minor has no idea of the strike zone and is flailing at Rochester right now:
AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS SLG OBP E .237 48 177 22 42 7 0 10 23 14 54 1 1 .446 .297 5
And speaking of minor league infielders who were formerly Orioles, the Os picked up P.J. Forbes in a minor league deal to fill the void left when Jesse Garcia went on Rochester's disabled list after spraining his hand.
Meanwhile, a few other Ex-O Notes: Luis Polonia (!) resurfaced a year
after failing to make the Devil Rays roster when he was called up by the
Tigers to replace the injured Tony Clark. Tony Tarasco was called up by
the Yankees, playing the same position he played when that stupid ^%&*%
little brat interfered with Tarasco's attempt to catch Derek Jeter's fly
ball in the ALCS. And for some unknown reason, the Cardinals called up recently released Heathcliff Slocumb. Finally,
the Mets released Xavier Hernandez, who they had signed to a minor league deal.
Hernandez announced that his arm wasn't healthy enough and he just didn't feel
like playing anymore. We're sure the $1.75M settlement from the Orioles didn't
hurt in his decsionsmaking process, either.
After (once again) salvaging the final game of a Texas series with a blowout victory on Sunday, this time a 15-6 romp, the Orioles had an off day. With one quarter of the season done, the Orioles ended the first qurter of their season with little reason for hope, although a portion of the Baltimore media seems determined to ignore that. But others put the team in a different perspective. And John Eisenberg of the Sun says that blaming Frank Wren isn't fair.
As expected, Will Clark was activated for Tuesday's game after spending 36 days on the disabled list. As was not entirely unexpected, Willis Otanez was designated for assignment to make room for him. The Orioles decided to keep 12 pitchers because Ray Miller is incapable of managing a bullpen, forcing the Orioles to make a decision. Rather than releasing or trading veteran role/utility players like Rich Amaral, Jeff Reboulet, or Jeff Conine, the Orioles release the only third baseman in the entire organization. (No, Ryan Minor, who struggled at Bowie and who is struggling at Rochester, isn't the answer.)
Meanwhile, Scott Kamieniecki, demoted to the minors, pitched well for Rochester earlier this week in the first of
his three starts before being called back up. And Rocky Coppinger, after being
called up on Thursday, was sent to the bullpen in place of Gabe Molina, who was
sent down to be Rochester's ace reliever. Unfortunately, Rocky performed
badly in his first outing, and his future is up in the air. But that's the way
it goes for all young players in Baltimore, like Tommy Davis, although in that
case Miller uses the excuse that Charles Johnson is hot.
The only thing we're curious about now -- and it's mostly morbid curiosity, kind of like turning your head at a car wreck to look for the mangled bodies -- is how the Orioles will manage to blow each of their remaining 120 games. Because at this point, it seems clear that the Orioles will always find some way. Today they got offense, and they got adequate starting pitching, so it was the bullpen blowing two leads. With closer Mike Timlin on the mound. But not in a normal, simple way. Timlin couldn't just give up a home run or anything. No, he had to find a creative new way to lose. He put two runners on, fielded a ground ball, and then rather than starting an easy double play, chose to throw to third and get the lead runner. A stupid play under any circumstances, but particularly here, since unfortunately, he threw to left field, not to third. That helped turn a 6-4 lead into an 8-7 loss. But not before Ricky Bones came into the game with two runners on base and gave up a three-run homer. ARGH! With the loss, the Orioles fall the farthest behind that they've ever been this year -- 10 games out -- and are tied with the Twins for worst in the AL.
Meanwhile, Miller denies there are any problems between himself and GM Frank Wren, which is about as convincing as OJ Simpson's hunt for the real killers. About the only thing we really do believe is that the talk about Mussina being traded -- a rumor started by Peter Gammons -- is never going to happen.
Finally, note that Roger Clemens won
his 18th straight game on Saturday, snapping the AL record ex-Oriole Dave
McNally shared with Johnny Allen. And earlier this week, Luis Gonzalez had his
hitting streak snapped at 30 games, tying Eric Davis (and a few others) for the
longest hitting streak of the 1990s.
Let's face it. The Orioles are 11 games under .500. They aren't going anywhere this season. But tonight, in leading the Orioles to a 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers, Sidney Ponson gave O's fans reason for optimism. Ponson's first major league complete game (and only the O's second of the season) was particularly pleasing given the fact that Ray Miller has been less than supportive of the 22-year old, first publicly criticizing him for being overweight, and then threatening to move him into the bullpen despite pitching better than some of the veterans in the rotation.
And in a surprising move, and one we whole-heartedly support, Rocky Coppinger has been recalled from Rochester, as Gabe Molina was sent down. Given Miller's criticizisms, and Rocky's admittedly poor performances in his brief stay in Baltimore, we feared Coppinger would be banished forever in the minors. Perhaps Ponson's solid performance will open up the door for some other youngsters, but then again, this is the youthaphobic "veteran-gamer" Orioles, so maybe not. Anyhow, here's Miller's quote, one of the only positive things we've ever heard him say about Rocky: "I'm just trying to get our best arms here… In Jason and Rocky, we're maybe the two best arms in the organization up here. I think we'd be remiss not to try that. I think it's a chance to get Rocky started back. He's got a 95 mph fastball and a great curveball. Maybe pitching in relief will be good for him. He won't have five days to sit around and think about his next start. He can just come in and pitch."
In tonight's game, despite a Rafael Palmeiro homer, the Orioles were able to come behind because of a 3-run homerun by the red hot Charles Johnson in the 7th inning, and of course Ponson's outstanding effort. Ponson's gem was particularly refreshing given the baseball Oriole fans were treated to the past two days- a blown save by closer Mike Timlin on Wednesday (how come he wasn't criticized like Armando was last season?) that resulted in a 5-4 loss to the Angels, and a 6-4 loss to the Angels on Thursday, when B.J. Surhoff killed a late rally by getting doubled off third base with the bases loaded because he didn’t realize there was only 1 out.
Finally, in other news, there is a good chance that Will Clark will rejoin the Birds on Tuesday against Anaheim.
The Orioles salvaged the final game of their disastrous road trip on Sunday by whomping the Rangers, 16-5. Albert Belle and Charles Johnson each homered twice, BJ Surhoff had another multihit game, every starter had at least two hits, and aside from one mistake, Sidney Ponson had another great start. And Cal Ripken had success, too. The only fly in the ointment? Once again, the bullpen had problems, as Arthur Rhodes and Ricky Bones pitched 2 innings and gave up 2 runs. Rhodes, badly overworked by Ray Miller, has been ineffective much of the year.
But with an off-day on Monday, it seemed as if Miller's fate might be sealed, despite the victory. Criticism of managerial moves has come from all directions, including from within the clubhouse. (And Miller has returned the criticism, since he has never accepted any blame for anything. The Great Pitching Coach has now decided that it's his catcher, Charles Johnson, who is at fault for the pitcher's struggles.) And yet, for some reason, Ray Miller's job is safe. Even Frank Wren wants him gone, but the only person whose vote matters, Peter Angelos, still supports Miller. If, by any chance, Miller does get fired, a new name and an old one have popped up as potential replacements -- Ken Griffey Sr. and Cal Ripken Jr.. Neither of these seem likely, though, despite the fact that nobody thinks Miller should keep his job.
Meanwhile, the Orioles returned home, where they've been a .500 team, on Tuesday to play the Anaheim Angels. They sent struggling ace Mike Mussina to the mound, and he delivered. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball before tiring and allowing a 2-run homer in the eighth. And the offense managed to score runs before the game was a blowout, for a change. And the bullpen came through, perhaps because Miller didn't overuse it. So the Orioles won, 5-3, to pull to within 11 games of .500.
There have been several roster moves lately, part of the power struggle in the organization. Doug Linton was demoted on Friday and Doug Johns called up, and Linton was extremely unhappy with the decision. That's what's known as chutzpah -- complaining about losing a job with a 6+ ERA. And on Tuesday, the Orioles demoted Scott Kamieniecki and called up Jason Johnson, as Ray Miller had been lobbying for. Johnson has pitched well at AAA (but so has Coppinger, and so has Chris Fussell), and certainly has more to contribute than Kamieniecki.
Finally, it seems that Xavier Hernandez, who the Orioles had signed in the
offseason but then released, claiming he had an injury, may have settled his $2.7 million grievance against the
Orioles. Hernandez recently signed a minor league deal with the Mets.
We're not sure which is worse torture -- having to watch the Orioles all year, or having to come up with creative new ways to say "this team sucks." (We've noticed that readers tend to like it when we're circumspect and say things like "This team is struggling." But they're not struggling. They suck.) On Saturday, they dropped their sixth straight game, this time 8-1 to the Rangers. For a change, they played well early, as Guzman shut down the potent Ranger offense for the first four innings. But then he was forced to leave the game with back pain, and the floodgates opened. Doug Johns almost immediately gave up a three-run homer to ex-Oriole Rafael Palmeiro, and Mike Fetters gave up three more runs by allowing five hits in one inning of work. And the Orioles never mustered any offense of their own, falling meekly to Rick Helling, who entered the game with a 6+ ERA. The Orioles are now an awful 3-15 on the road this year, so we guess the good news -- if there is any -- is that the road trip ends after Sunday's game. Not that they're exactly world-beaters at home, either.
The good: not the offense, this time.
Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal of the Sun announced that, in hindsight, maybe the Orioles didn't do such a good job in this
offseason. And in other news, the St. Louis Cardinals inked recently-released
Heathcliff Slocumb to a minor league deal. Why?
At least the Titanic sank quickly. The Orioles are spreading it out over six months. Does anybody in the front office get it yet? This team isn't very good. They can't compete with the Indians, they can't compete with the Rangers, they can't compete with anybody. They have the worst record in the American League, the third worst in baseball, ahead of only the Expos and Marlins. Another game, and yes, yet another loss, this time 7-6 to the Rangers. Friday's game was closer than Thursday's blowout, but the outcome was nevertheless the same. Scott Erickson, coming off a complete game shutout, the Os' first complete game of the year, was the starter, and had a chance to snap a losing streak. But he was mediocre (to be charitable), and was lucky to leave with the game tied. But the bullpen was lousy and the offense wasn't enough, yet again, although Cal Ripken almost helped the Orioles catch up with a shocking ninth inning 2-run homer off closer John Wetteland. (Unfortunately, the Orioles were down by three at the time.) (Note that umpire John Hirshbeck, the man in the middle of the Alomar spitting controversy, was involved in controversy tonight, too. He just can't get along with players.)
The good: the offense, again.
On Thursday the Orioles replaced Cal Pickering with Cal Ripken. And Ken
Rosenthal of the Sun notes that it may have been the best thing for Cal Ripken to
take some time off. On Friday, as was expected, Lenny Webster was placed on the disabled list and Tommy
Davis was called up from Rochester. Meanwhile, after the game, the Orioles made
another move, demoting Doug Linton to Rochester and calling up Doug Johns.
The most optimistic person might have dismissed the last series because it was against a great Cleveland team -- but coming to Texas changed nothing. The story of the Os is that they're a high payroll disaster. And now even Peter Angelos is starting to whine about the payroll.
And the debacle continues. The problem with the 1999 Orioles is not that they're bad. The Orioles have been in the past, and will be again. The problem with the 1999 Orioles is that they're embarassingly bad. They don't just lose -- they lose ugly. This one was a 15-7 shellacking by the Rangers. As was predictable, Scott Kamieniecki was terrible, and as always seems to be the case, the Orioles' offense woke up only when down by too much to come back. And as also always seems to be the case, when they did make a near comeback, scoring 5 runs to cut the Ranger lead to 9-7, the fielding and bullpen combined to make sure the Orioles never caught up.
The good: the offense
Just as expected, one Cal replaced another Cal on the roster. And more roster moves are to come, because Lenny Webster is apparently going to have to go on the disabled list. The Orioles probably will call up Tommy Davis, who can't play, or Tim DeCinces, who can.
The Orioles continue to hint that Coppinger, Otanez, and Kamieniecki are on the trading block. Of those, Kamieniecki is making $3.3 million to throw batting practice. Who'd want him, unless the Orioles paid his whole salary? (And who'd want him even then?) Otanez, of course, is out of options, meaning the Orioles may be forced to release him soon. So who'd trade anything for him? Coppinger's a hard-throwing young pitcher, so he has trade value, but of course he's somebody the Orioles need to be using. Of course, they gave up on him after 6 innings, while Kamieniecki's still on the roster. Compare these two lines:
PITCHERS W- L ERA BA G GS CG GF SH SV IP H R ER HR BB SO Coppinger 0- 1 13.50 .346 2 2 0 0 0 0 6.2 9 10 10 1 9 7 Kamieniecki 0- 2 23.40 .385 2 2 0 0 0 0 5.0 10 14 13 3 7 3
If there were any illusions that the Orioles are an elite team this year, they were probably dispelled as the Orioles fell to the worst record in baseball. But some felt it was just a fluke, and when the Orioles won 5 games in a row after the Cuba disaster, and actually won two series in a row, people might have started thinking the Os could turn things around. But if anything will show the Orioles they have overestimated their talent, this past series has to be it. Even with their best pitcher on the mound, even when the Indians did everything wrong, the Os couldn't beat Cleveland. Not once in a three game series; the last time that happened was 1995, when the Orioles were managed by Phil Regan. (Come to think of it, has anybody seen Ray Miller and Regan in the same room together?) Today the Orioles managed to take an early lead, 4-1, thanks to BJ Surhoff's home run and some poor fielding by the Indians, but Mussina couldn't hold it. Even so, the Os took a two run lead into the eighth inning, where Mussina and Mike Timlin combined to blow it, and the Os lost, 6-5. Mussina, clearly tiring, never should have started the eighth inning, but Ray Miller's insistence on using 18 pitchers no matter what the situation meant that the bullpen was depleted after Tuesday's game.
As we've been noting in this space, Cal Ripken is set to return from the disabled list on Thursday evening. When he does, Cal Pickering is expected to be demoted. But Willis Otanez could also be in jeopardy, and the Orioles are apparently looking to trade him, as well as Rocky Coppinger and Scott Kamieniecki. However, the Lenny Webster injury could force the club to make other moves.
The Ripken return is only one of several subplots for the upcoming four-game series with the
Rangers; another is that Rafael Palmeiro is facing the Os for the first time this
year. He's on a first place team, while the Os are in last place, but he's not gloating. Meanwhile, the catchers generally
acclaimed as the best in the game, defensively, Ivan Rodriguez and Charles
Johnson, will be facing each other for the first time.
It was obvious that the Orioles weren't as bad as they were playing early in the season, but it was also obvious that their recent mini-winning streak didn't mean they had suddenly turned into contenders, either. But for those fans who didn't believe it, the test of the Orioles' talent level would occur this week, when the Orioles faced the real contenders, the Indians and Rangers. So far, they're failing. After winning five in a row over Minnesota, Chicago, and Detroit, they have now dropped four of their last five games, including the last two against Cleveland. Today, Sidney Ponson started out strong against the hot-hitting Indians, cruising through three innings. Unfortunately, the fourth was a different story, as he got pounded for six runs, with three coming courtesy of an 0-2 fastball left over the plate for Richie Sexson to crush into the seats. In the fifth, he left another 0-2 pitch out there for David Justice to crush into the stands for a 2-run homer. While the offense tried to claw its way back into the game, the bullpen let the Indians get the insurance runs they needed to pull this game out easily, 11-6. The Orioles now send Mike Mussina to the mound on Wednesday in an attempt to avoid being swept. (But if you think the Orioles are playing bad baseball, take heart: so's Rochester. This gives the organization all the excuse they need to avoid rebuilding.)
Yet another Cleveland sportswriter has taken this series as an opportunity to bash Albert Belle. Gee, aren't they taking this vendetta a little far? (Or, more likely, is this just the result of sportswriters too lazy to come up with original column topics, and taking the cheap shot as the easy way out?)
Finally, the Orioles are talking about retiring Cal Ripken Sr.'s number for his years of service to
the organization. (For a list of other Orioles honored this way, check out the records section of the Warehouse.) Maybe they could do this
at the same time that they retire Cal Ripken Jr.
Every time we get optimistic, something comes along to put us back in our place. Juan Guzman, coming off a strong start. A rested bullpen. Sounds good, right? Nope. Once again, Guzman fails to put together two good starts in a row, getting hammered once again, though the official party line is to Blame It On the Rookie, so Willis Otanez is getting blamed for an infield hit Manny Ramirez got with the bases loaded. But Guzman was the one to load the bases, and his ERA after 7 starts is now 6.27. How long can the Orioles tolerate this performance? Guzman not only gave up all those runs, but he blew leads of 2-0, 3-2, and 4-3 to do it. And a dishonorable mention to Jesse Orosco, who came in with the Orioles trailing 5-4 and gave up an insurance run to the Indians on a Wil Cordero homer. (Though to be fair, Orosco may have been rusty, as he has pitched just twice in the last two weeks.) Meanwhile, the Os offense continued to sputter, and even one of the players who did well, Albert Belle, who went 1-1 with 3 walks, got picked off. In the end, it's just another loss, 6-4 to the Indians.
Cleveland newspapers, sore losers about Albert Belle leaving, are still whining about him. (Of course, they defended him when he was an Indian, so either they were dishonest then or pathetic now. You make the call. After all, you don't see Baltimore papers whining about Roberto Alomar, do you?) In addition, this profile of former Oriole Damon Buford, who was traded to the Mets in the Bobby Bonilla deal, may be of interest to some of you.
Jason Johnson, the right handed pitcher the Orioles got from Tampa for Danny Clyburn just before the season began, has been pitching well at AAA -- at least up until his last start. (Of course, Chris Fussell, the right handed pitcher the Orioles gave up at the same time, is pitching even better.) Johnson's been pitching so well, in fact, that opposing managers are wondering how he's doing it.
Finally, we want to note Nomar Garciaparra's feat: on Monday night, he
hit two grand slams against the Mariners, duplicating the feat of Chris
Hoiles from last season. His accomplishment makes him the third Red Sox player
to do this. Three Orioles have also done it (Jim Gentile and Frank Robinson
being the other two), but it has been done just five times by all other teams combined.
Things might be looking up. Maybe. For just the second time this season, Scott Erickson pitched a good game. In fact, he pitched arguably the Orioles' best game of the season -- their first complete game of the year, and it was a shutout. And with the high-powered offenses of the Indians and Rangers on the horizon, saving the bullpen might be even more important than the win on Sunday. But the win itself was also good. In support of Erickson, the Orioles got home runs from Harold Baines (who leads the team), Brady Anderson, and the white-hot Charles Johnson. With the resulting 5-0 blanking of the Tigers, the Orioles have now won 6 of their last 7 games.
A few feature stories on Orioles: longtime Detroit columnist Joe Falls talks about Cal Ripken, while the Cleveland newspapers gloat about how good Roberto Alomar is.
Finally, a couple of repeat stories:
Since we always love to point out the mistakes of management, we'll note that Joel Bennett, released by the Orioles last year and making his 1999 debut for the Phillies, pitched very well -- in Coors -- while the Orioles were getting pounded on Saturday thanks to their thirty-five year old "proven veteran." Bennett's not that young; we want to emphasize that our problem is not simply that the Orioles always choose age over youth, but that they choose veterans regardless of how those players actually perform.
News of the weird: the Oriole bird has fared no better than the Oriole team has.
Hey, we know the feeling, though we'd have pushed Ray Miller instead. Either
that, or we could send him to visit Memorial Stadium just as it's being torn down.
Following the Cuba debacle, for a week the Orioles looked exactly like the team that management thought they would be. They were getting good pitching, they were scoring runs, and they were winning. Five straight wins, in fact. Then they let Ray Miller make a decision. He decided that Scott Kamieniecki, who had gotten pounded in his minor league rehab starts and against Cuba, somehow had proved he was ready to start in the majors in a game that counted. To Miller, the fact that Kamieniecki wasn't pitching well and hadn't proven he could go five innings didn't matter; the only question was whether to demote Rocky Coppinger or Gabe Molina. If there was anybody on earth who doesn't work for the Orioles who thought this was a good idea, we'd be shocked.
Predictably, it didn't work out. Instead, Saturday's game was basically a mirror of all the early season games the Os lost -- bad starting pitching, bad defense, bad relief pitching, and offense which was too late to have any impact. Kamieniecki was wild and bad, just as he was against Cuba, failing to get out of the second inning while walking everybody in sight, throwing just 22 of 53 pitches for strikes. Doug Linton came on, and of course he felt the need to allow a run to score and then allow another run, thus providing the margin of victory for the Tigers. Then the Orioles hit a flurry of home runs and Gabe Molina and Mike Fetters shut down the Tigers, but it was too late, and the Os ended their winning streak with a 7-6 loss to the Tigers.
One columnist points out that it's Miller's supposed strength -- handling pitchers -- which has failed him and the Orioles. Former Oriole Rick Sutcliffe rambles a little bit, as he discusses the importance of team chemistry, in his eyes. Meanwhile, retired great Ozzie Smith argues that their poor start and poor chemistry can be overcome.
Since we always love to point out the mistakes of management, we'll note that Joel Bennett, released by the Orioles last year and making his 1999 debut for the Phillies, pitched very well -- in Coors -- while the Orioles were getting pounded thanks to their thirty-five year old "proven veteran." Bennett's not that young; we want to emphasize that our problem is not simply that the Orioles always choose age over youth, but that they choose veterans regardless of how those players actually perform.
And speaking of those veterans, who get jobs even if they can't play or if they're hurt, there's a litany of injuries to talk about. Lenny Webster's health is a little questionable at the moment, after he got hit by a foul ball. In addition, return dates for Will Clark and Cal Ripken are all up in the air.
News of the weird: the Oriole bird has fared no better than the Oriole team has.
Hey, we know the feeling, though we'd have pushed Ray Miller instead. Either
that, or we could send him to visit Memorial Stadium just as it's being torn down.
Just a day after B.J. Surhoff's two-homeruns and Sidney Ponson's seven inning, two-run effort helped complete a 3-game sweep over the Chicago White Sox, the Orioles defeated the Detroit Tigers 9-4 for their fifth consecutive win.
Mike Mussina improved his record to 5-1 on the season, and 15-2 lifetime against the Tigers, though he still has yet to display his dominating form of past seasons. Ironically, it is Ponson who owns the rotation's best ERA, and it was just a few days ago when Ray Miller was threatening to demote Ponson to the bullpen. In any case, Mussina had help from Albert Belle, who hit a 3-run homer, and Charles Johnson, who had three hits, including a two-run homerun. Jeff Reboulet, Jeff Conine, and B.J. Surhoff each contributed two of the teams 12 hits. Delino Deshields and Mike Bordick, however, still continue to struggle, going 0-11 between them. In other news:
If the Orioles had been playing like this all along, we wouldn't have been ranting about them all along. (That's not really true -- we don't believe they're a good team, and we're stubborn enough that we're not going to change our mind based on a month's worth of games. After all, they played really well for a month after the All-Star Break last year, but that didn't change the fact that they were a mediocre team.) Still, at least there would be some reasons for optimism if people like Juan Guzman could perform well more often, instead of alternating good starts and bad starts every time out. This time was one of his good ones. A really good one. And although the batting wasn't stellar, they managed to get timely hits, compressing all their offense into the fifth inning. Thus, their third win in a row, an 8-0 shellacking of the White Sox.
We still don't understand what's going through Ray Miller's mind -- though
perhaps that's presuming too much about him. Cal Pickering sits on the bench,
Rocky Coppinger gets six innings and is going to be demoted in favor of Scott Kamieniecki, who (a) is 35 years old and
not the future of this team, and (b) certainly hasn't proven he's ready to start,
after getting knocked around by the Cubans in his rehab start. Meanwhile, minor
league pitcher Joel Bennett, who was unceremoniously dumped by Ray Miller last
year, has been called up by the Phillies.
After an absolutely humiliating loss to the Cuban national team on Monday, where the Orioles looked like they didn't want to be playing and the Cuban umpire did more hitting than the Orioles did, it was back to the regular season. And seemingly back to the same old same old. The opposing pitcher, Mike Sirotka, shut down the Orioles, while the Os starting pitcher, Scott Erickson (moved up a day to accomodate his wishes and in an attempt to fix Guzman's problems), was hit hard early. But for a change, the game didn't end that way. With no Heathcliff Slocumb to put the game out of reach, the Orioles were able to climb back from a 5-1 deficit to tie the game. After Erickson allowed 5 runs in 5 innings, the White Sox never scored after that. And with some timely offense (as well as poor defense by the White Sox -- 3 errors) the Orioles finally caught up and blew the game open in the tenth inning, winning 9-5 for their first back-to-back wins of the season. (Sort of. They lost Monday's game, but it didn't count in the standings.)
Finally, if you think we're too pessimistic about the Orioles, we want to note
that Maryland native Tony Saunders, LHP for the Devil Rays, has been demoted to
the minors. Saunders almost no-hit the Orioles just a couple of weeks ago. And
while Ray Miller struggles to get his team out of last place, Davey Johnson has picked up his 1000th career win. And, as is well known, the
last place Os still manage to have one of the highest payrolls in baseball.
The streak is finally over! No, the Orioles still haven't won two games in a row, but they have finally won a series. Again, it was a well-played game, with good starting pitching, good relief pitching, and some offense. The good pitching was no surprise, since Mike Mussina was starting, but going into the game, the lineup looked to be a AA lineup, at best. It had three players batting under .150, five players were under .215, and one of the four over .215, Jesse Garcia, had just 4 ABs all season. There were just nine home runs in the lineup, and the leadoff hitter had a .246 OBP. But on any given Sunday... -- no, wait, that's the wrong sport. But the point's the same. Even bad players have good games. And today everybody did, at once. Not just hits by Reboulet and Amaral and Conine, but extra base hits by Amaral and Conine, as well as by DeShields and Belle, who both homered. Not that it mattered, since Mike Mussina was masterful. If Mussina pitches like that every time out, and the Os continue to get timely hitting, they'll win even more 6-0 games.
Finally, the Cuba game has arrived, the game Peter Angelos has been pushing for for a long time. Cuba has announced its roster, which should be better than the last time the Os played Cuba, because at that time many of the Cuban stars were still playing in their playoffs.
The Os have also made some changes to the roster for this game.
Calvin Pickering (as well as a few others) has been called up to start the game, and will remain in
Baltimore afterwards. Scott Kamieniecki, expected to start the game, will remain
also (if things go well). That will presumably mean the demotion of Jesse Garcia
and Rocky Coppinger, though if Ray Miller weren't prejudiced against people born
after the Kennedy administration, Doug Linton would be the one to depart and
Rocky would remain. There have been silly worries that Pickering is being rushed, but assuming he's healthy,
they're nonsense. A huge number of great players spend little time in AAA, and
it's not because their teams are desperate. It's because great players don't
need time in AAA.
Did Ray Miller claim that Heathcliff Slocumb's release was supposed to be, in part, a wakeup call to the Orioles, and proudly try to take credit for the team's great game on Friday night? (Answer: Yes.) And as usual, Miller was wrong, because he doesn't understand this team. They're not a great team which is underperforming. They're not a good team which is underperforming. They're a bad team. So there's nothing to wake up. They make mistakes, they play badly, because they're a bad team. And if you needed any proof of that, just look at Saturday's game. Mental mistakes and general poor play, poor pitching, poor defense, poor offense, and a 7-2 loss to the so-called small market, low-budget hapless Twins. Rocky Coppinger rebounded from his Sunday disaster where he couldn't find the plate, but he was hardly strong. Still, it's hard to blame too much on him when Os infielders can't even catch pop flies. And once again, the Os offense was silent, as they managed just seven singles and one double.
Thomas Boswell of the Post finally catches on to what we've been saying. This team is no good. It's dysfunctional, as blame has replaced performance. It has the wrong priorities and the wrong strategies. And until they realize that there are no quick fixes, there will be no quick fix. The first step is to replace Miller, but at this point, who's going to even want to do that? Not Tom Treblehorn, the former Brewers' manager who's now overseeing the Os farm system. Cal Ripken might be back soon, but that's not a solution to the team's problems. If anything, it could exacerbate them, pushing one of the few good players, Willis Otanez, out of the lineup.
Unfortunately, the Os are too preoccupied with preparations for Monday's Cuba exhibition game to make any
decisions. Unless a bunch of Cubans defect and join Baltimore, we fail to see how this is
supposed to help a floundering Os team. And what if Cuba beats the Orioles? Do
we really want this team to be a laughingstock in two countries? (Three, if you
count Canada as a real country.) With the Os using the game as a rehabilitation
start for Scott Kamieniecki, that's entirely possible.