Friday, May 1, 2009

Despite Losing, Still a Lot of Reasons to Watch Orioles

Okay, so the Orioles have lost 11 of their last 14 games, and their starting pitching ERA is approaching Texas Rangers territory, and today the Baltimore Sun is featuring an article about the grand ineptitude of the 7-9 batters, who are combining to hit a whopping .189 (only Cesar Izturis is breaking the Mendoza Line at .242). And yes, the future doesn’t look bright for a team that usually doesn’t swoon like this until August, and in a division in which suddenly the Blue Jays are challenging the top of the AL East, joining the Sox, Yankees, and even Rays (they will come around) in the most loaded division in baseball. For many fans this seems like a time to curl up and hibernate until 2010, to perhaps tune in eagerly for Matt Wieters’ call-up or whenever another of the young guns is forced into a starting role but otherwise not pay much attention to the struggles of their hometown ballclub. However, there is a lot more to this team than preparing for the next season, and it does the players a disservice who don’t have the option of packing it in and waiting for next year- the 2009 season is far from over, and Baltimore fans should be happy for it.

The phenomenon that is Koji Uehara has been a roller coaster ride that deserves attention even as he settles into the majors. The first Japanese Oriole, after winning his first two starts (despite allowing 7 runs in 5 innings in his second outing), seems to have found the middle ground in his last three starts, allowing an average of about 2 runs per start in 6 or 7 innings- which I will take any day of the week. This guy’s composure on the mound has been incredible considering the competition he is facing and the new atmosphere he is in- and it isn’t as though the lineups he has been facing are cupcakes either. He has had to face the Rangers’ bats twice, and the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels each once. The fact that he has maintained a 4.50 ERA through this stretch is extremely impressive to me, and as Jeremy Guthrie scuffles to start the season Koji is quickly developing into one of the more reliable O’s starting pitchers. I am eager to see how he continues along the rest of the season, especially after bruising his sternum on a line drive against the Angels- many pitchers get nervous on the mound after a hit like that.

Windsor and I were talking yesterday about the Felix Pie experiment and how long it ought to continue. I loved the trade for Pie, but I also loved the way Lou Montanez played last year and his work ethic to improve his defense over the offseason. As Reimold also continues to dominate the minors (he hit another home run for the Tides yesterday to bring his season total to 7 and his average to .408). It is odd that these two players should get so hot, as Pie was thought to have struggled in Chicago because he was never given time to work out his issues day-to-day and had trouble handling sitting on the bench for a few games at a time. Pie may find himself in the same situation of Montanez and Reimold continue to impress. Now Montanez is only 3-18 since his call-up, but that is unlikely to continue for a player who has recently buried minor league pitching and performed admirably last season in his call-up. Who will take left field in the long run? Montanez may be reaching his peak soon but Reimold is only 25 years old…

There are so many question marks on this team, how they will be answered is a great reason to watch. However, in the end people watch for the wins, which may be few and far between this season. But luckily to an O’s fan that doesn’t make them any less sweet. When a team charges into Camden Yards and expects to pound Baltimore into submission, they will see something unexpected. This team has not packed it in, they have not wasted at-bats late in games when the outcome was all but decided. And when they do pull off that miraculous upset, when the opposing squad stands in dumb silence aghast at how they could lose, the feeling of victory is so much greater than when the team is expected to win. Sure, in a few years the Orioles could be a strong team, and I would prefer this squad to be the dominant power in the division. In the meantime though, I will take my wins where I can get them and my losses with a shrug.

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