After a life ruining 3 hour 45 minute rain delay on Sunday resulted in a 12 hours of work, I got about two sentences deep into this column Sunday night before my face hit the keyboard. So one day late, with the guy sitting next to me eating a sandwich that smells unspeakably awful (like somebody slathered dirty socks in Sweet Baby Rays. How can he enjoy this? Is it a southern delicacy?), here’s what sports made my brain think.
If the Orioles were a boxer (and they’re going to be a boxer, because I like boxing), they’d be Cristobal Arreola. Let’s get past the doughy appearance here, and the awesome nickname “The Nightmare” (The only other nightmare who hasn’t eaten himself out of boxing is a Fin named Robert Helenius. Nightmare vs. Nightmare fight, do it before Christmas, Tim Burton special guest judge. It would promote itself if I wasn’t promoting it).
Anyways, Arreola fights don’t win beauty contests. Neither the man nor the team is light on their feet (Baltimore is dead last in the league in SB’s (10) and SB % (coin flip)). They’re not the embodiment of pugilistic precision (an exceedingly average average of .249, 13th in MLB), and just like Arreola in the Molina fight, the O’s are going to look bad at times because of how much and how hard they swing and miss (277 K’s – 3rd in the AL). Because of all these reasons, opponents can get confident and start racking up some nice numbers in the early going.
But just when the other guy starts to gather some confidence – KABOOM. The word “unloads” is apropos, as Arreola has a particular proclivity for caving in temples like Harrison Ford. When he swings, it actually looks like a guy trying to box with bowling balls glued to his palms. So unsurprisingly, when he hits, he hurts. The same can be said for the Orioles (5th in SLG %, 3rd in XBH, 1st in HR, 1st in Isolated Power). The offense for both is not a beautiful ebb and flow, but rather blunt force trauma. Like getting hit by a chunk of ice falling off of your house.
But the biggest negative that both boxer and Baltimore share is the inability to take what is given to them. Arreola has 35 wins, 30 by KO. In case that doesn’t make it obvious enough, he’s not nearly as interested in reconfiguring scorecards as he is in reconfiguring faces. He looks for the knockout all the time, every time, and mainly in his loss to Tomasz Adamek, it really bit him in his giant ass. He just kept walking into combinations and blindly pawing at Adamek’s face like a starved zombie.
The Orioles are in love with winding up and looking for that one big shot, and they’ve landed it plenty of times this year (56 HR, 1st in MLB). But plenty of those long balls haven’t carried much weight behind them. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are both in the top 10 in home runs, but barely inside the top 30 in RBIs. That’s because – as their mascot would suggest – the Orioles are much better at flying than walking (.311 OBP, 10th in the AL, 13.44 PA/BB, 10th in AL).
This is where the boxing metaphor ends, and I break into the $2 words. Because my big question is, can an offense subsist on the model the Orioles have built? Chicks definitely dig the O’s, but they simply don’t make scoring runs easy on themselves.
More worrisome is that despite the early power surge, the O’s are actually having a worse offensive season as a team than last year (lower BA and OBP than in 2011). Yet because of the insane rate at which they’re leaving the Yard, they’ve seen a jump in runs per game (2011 – 4.37, 2012 – 4.66). Either they’re going to have to start walking more, or the R/G is going to regress to a level maybe even slightly below where it was in 2011.
So if I were to say to watch for anything in the upcoming weeks, it would be patience as measured by PA/BB (plate appearances per walk). Of the teams that made the playoffs in the A.L. last year (and I’ll include the Red Sox in this discussion, because under the new format they would have made it) three of them finished in the top 5 in PA/BB: New York (1st), Tampa (2nd), and Boston (4th). The Tigers finished 12th, and had some help in the form of one of the most dominant pitching seasons since the mound was raised. The Rangers finished 22nd in PA/BB, but they’re excused due to their lineup being stocked full of more arms than North Korea (they’re almost hitting .300 AS A TEAM this year).
Baltimore finished 24th in PA/BB, and it cost them heavily in run production. They finished with the same number of runs per game as the Rays despite hitting 19 more homers, and look to be headed down a similar road this season. Knowing how to win with the knockout is definitely a great skill to have. But it’s just not always going to be there. Good boxers and good teams (except for the Rangers and their nuclear lineup) know how to win ugly.
Walks, singles, sac hits: essentially national league baseball. Knowing how to outpoint another team by being more active is of paramount importance over a long schedule. Over 6 months, hot and cold streaks undulate like the stock market, and small ball is how the good teams win when they’re not at their best.
With power to spare, the Orioles shouldn’t have to win that way too often, but 10 games in the win column can bridge the gap between the penthouse and the basement. So although it may be a non-traditional stat to look up, keep an eye on that PA/BB for Baltimore. Because if it doesn’t get lower than 13.44 where it’s currently at, you can expect this offense coming up punchless more times than you would care to see.
On the fans
Everybody on this site seems to have an opinion on what the appropriate fan response should be in Baltimore, with the Orioles rocketing further and further away from .500 for the first time in decades. I stand firmly in the camp that if your team is winning, you go watch. I know recent history, and I know it’s tough to trust a team that’s been bleeding the fan base dry for more than a decade. In my opinion, that’s all the more reason to go out and support them now.
Sports in general are so fickle and unpredictable in general that being cynical really saps any joy you can get from them. If you’re one of the fans saying “I want this team to prove to me that they’re for real before I go out and support them”, you’re missing the point. They’re for real RIGHT NOW. Every great team has started at one point as the flavor of the month. Two months from now, the O’s could be wracked by injuries or freefalling down the standings (I don’t want either of these things to happen, but they’re both possibilities), and you’ll just be the same old jaded asshole waiting for Ravens season to start.
Revel in the moment. I’m guessing the percentage of fans in favor of Adam Jones sticking around is about 80%. You want him to stick around? Show it. No more 11,000 fans against Texas, no more blank sections. There are plenty of places (Detroit, Texas, St. Louis) that would absolutely pack the house to watch him roam center.
I’ve been to three Orioles games this year, and I’m not even a fan. If I were still living at home, I’d be going to see the Mets continue to confound statisticians with their ability to stay in the black. Their -17 run differential is the same as the 13-20 Colorado Rockies, but they’ve somehow stumbled upon 6 more wins. I know they’re not for real, I know I’m putting money into the Wilpon’s pockets (for my money the worst owners in professional sports). But none of that matters because right now, there’s results and there’s s hope. As a sports fan, you sign up for that.
The Mets were overwhelming favorites to win the 2006 World Series. Then SI picked them to win the 2007 World Series. The last banner that was hung up in Queens still reads 1986. ESPN had 45 writers pick last year’s playoff teams before the season. 34 picked the Red Sox to win the World Series. 7 picked the Cardinals to make the playoffs.
So to sum it all up, you can put a book down halfway through if it loses your attention, but you don’t start one halfway through. Stop being cynical, stop waiting for the ride to end and just go enjoy and support what is one of the best stories in all of baseball AT THIS VERY MOMENT.
Oh Yeah, and Three More Things
1) I really don’t think Tim Lincecum is going to return to All-Star form this year, more likely is that he’ll finish 2012 as a league average pitcher. I think he ends the year with an ERA near 3.90, and that’s purely because his career numbers dictate that’s what should happen. I’ve watched one full start (vs. the Mets) and parts of others. For the most part, his control has resembled the blacked out kid on the beer pong tables, and when he has been accurate, he’s been touched up (last start vs. the Dodgers). He’s the 3rd best starter on the Giants now, and that’s not going to change.
2) Anybody who watches baseball is waiting for the injury hammer to drop on Josh Hamilton, and his history says it will. But if it doesn’t, the Triple Crown is more within reach for him than anyone since Secretariat. He’s playing in an offense so stacked that teams couldn’t rationalize pitching around him even when he was Chernobyl hot this week (yes, that’s a plug for my 3rd round fantasy movie draft pick. Go see Chernobyl Diaries, it will be good maybe). Last year’s AL batting champ is out for a few months, Albert Pujols isn’t going to win any category this year, and Hamilton has a “Tiger in the Early 2000’s” lead on the field in RBIs and Home Runs. We always say this is the year, but if those red letters don’t show up next to Hamilton’s name in 2012, it actually will be.
3) With my horse in the NBA race knocked out by a fire extinguisher and knee injuries that an actual horse would be put down for, I’m rooting for Spurs-Celtics. The Spurs because Poppovich doesn’t get his due as a coach on the same level as Jackson, and the Celtics because I really dislike every single team left in the East but Ray Allen was my favorite college player growing up. Spurs-Celtics 2012, winner gets first batch of creamed spinach at Shady Acres.
…And Three Things to Watch
1) The whole Will Ferrell SNL Episode. But if you’re a person with stuff to do, then settle for this. It reminds you that Ferrell can be funny without even saying anything, and that Kristen Wiig has apparently always been really attractive but you probably never realized it.
2) If you’re not watching Game of Thrones already, do me and you a favor. Handcuff one hand to a nearby radiator, and use the other navigate HBOGO and play episodes. Catch up, and thank me when someone finds you.
3) Don’t want to count my chickens (I will anways, there are six breasts in the freezer), but the BSR Podcast may be the BSR Videocast this week. Watch me say all the stuff there that I write here.