Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Orioles Find Where They Hid the Bats, Put Them to Use on Derek Lowe

Look, I like the Braves. I really do. I have family down there and spent a year living in Atlanta- it’s a nice ballpark, too. However, few things made me feel better than watching the Orioles let loose on Atlanta like they did over the last game and a half, racking up 17 runs in their last 13 or so innings. Moreover, Sunday’s performance meant even more than the 6-run inning Baltimore strung out on Saturday. On Sunday, the scoring was consistent- 3,2,2,3 for the first four innings. To me that is a sign of the entire order doing their part, a large departure from early in the season. Do you remember back to the offensive showpiece of April? The top three O’s hitters were carrying the entire team and the bottom third of the order was among the worst in baseball. Hopefully as the season wears along the order becomes even more balanced, as Matt Wieters begins to discover his major league swing and Reimold stays hot. Granted these are just two games, but coming after a 2-9 skid against mediocre competition, I will take any good news I can get.

So what made the Orioles bats come alive? Was it the effects of Dave Trembley’s meeting with his players? Certainly, as Peter Schmuck pointed out, it wasn’t an individual player stepping up to motivate the team. I thought his piece was a bit melodramatic to be honest, painting the Orioles as a locker room of jovial characters but ill-suited for leadership. Likewise, Jim Palmer ripped into the team for not having the character or fortitude of a winning team; not knowing “how” to win. These sorts of characterizations are disturbing to me. It seems like having great pitching and a talented lineup has an amazing way of turning ordinary players into “leaders.” No, the Orioles aren’t winning much this year- and the bottom is no where in sight for where this team might be in September. However, it isn’t because of any lack of leadership or lack of winning experience. I would trace it perhaps back to the lineup whose stats- after the “correction” of the previous 11 games are looking more like we expected them to be. In fact, Adam Jones’ .330 average is still leaps higher than anyone predicted, even though Aubrey Huff has yet to get hot and Nick Markakis is slumping after erupting for the first couple months of the season. I have a fun prediction for everyone- let’s see how many articles come out about the newfound “leadership” on the Orioles during their next winning season (it will happen eventually). Never mind that the rotation will be improved and the lineup will be upgraded; the amorphous concepts are much more interesting to bored sportswriters and commentators.

Let me offer a theory as to what woke up Baltimore’s offense. Time and trials. You hit yourself out of a slump, you don’t talk your way out of it. It started when the O’s stranded close to major league roster’s number of baserunners, and is still working its way out right now. I am not worried about this team “knowing how to win.” I am content if they know how to hit and pitch- the winning has a miraculous way of coming around when that happens.

What was even more interesting to me was the performance of one Brad Bergesen. If I told you that Bergesen would be the best starting pitcher (statistically) on this team in April, would you believe me? Okay, for lack of many better options some of you might, but Bergesen is dealing right now. He has done what few Orioles pitchers have been able to do this season- go deep into a ballgame. In his last 4 games he has pitched all but 5 innings, including his complete game on Sunday. Through those 31 innings, he has allowed a total of 6 earned runs. He won’t wow you with the strikeout; he will induce ground balls and field his position. He won’t blow you away with a 97 mph fastball; he will control the pitches he has and not walk batters unnecessarily. Even during his struggles earlier in the season, he wasn’t walking anyone- indicated by his paltry 17 walks given up in 71 1/3 innings this season. I have always been a huge fan of any pitcher who can control his stuff, though it seems as though General Managers far too often become enamored with a cannon of an arm instead of a laser.

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