The Orioles have put together another lackluster effort in being swept by the Blue Jays, and any fan has to wonder at this point whether this team has been afflicted by bad luck, injuries, a poor manager, or is simply a terrible team equally terribly assembled. As Memorial Day is upon us at the second month of the season draws to a close, Orioles fans must face the cold reality that this team may not be waiting to wake up, and all of the Yahoo Sports, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN prognosticators who were so bullish on this team were all horribly wrong. It is easy to throw stones at Andy MacPhail and Dave Trembley as the culprits of this disaster, but I am afraid that kind of analysis is both shortsighted and minimalistic. The true roots of this team’s failure to fly might go deeper than that.
First of all, I have trouble with the notion that this was a poorly constructed team on the level of Cleveland, Kansas City, or Pittsburgh. Coming into this season the team had a #1 pitcher better than on many American League staffs, a core of young talent that wasn’t only young but had been touted as great prospects throughout their careers. These were not upstarts who simply had a good year. The bullpen, compared to the rest of the league, did not have a track record to indicate that it would be a horrifying liability. The lineup lacked power, but it didn’t lack for average- this was a team that could hang with most American League clubs. Oddly enough, the starting rotation was one of the biggest concerns, but it hasn’t been the Achilles heel we thought it would be. This was a projected .500 team not because of a dozen or so rabid fans- there were reasons for optimism.
Nor will I blame Andy MacPhail. What exactly has he not done or done poorly? Should he have overspent to get John Lackey? The starting rotation hasn’t been the issue. Adrian Beltre? Miguel Tejada has outplayed him at third base. Matt Holliday? Left field has been a major issue, so while he would have been a good investment, I am not sure whether this team has $100 million to spare. Besides, coming off the year that Nolan Reimold had, it made sense. But then again, General Managers aren’t judged on what’s good at the time, they are judged on how it turns out. I don’t care if this team doesn’t win another game this season- the organization is in better shape now than when he arrived. He has brought in a glut of new prospects- the team no longer relies on the likes of Adam Leowen, Hayden Penn, and Daniel Cabrera. I think I would take Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta over that trio any day. The Orioles have lost no contributor of note during his tenure while gaining a number of talented players. Is he the best GM in baseball? No. But he is better than most of them- it just has to get worse before it gets better.
I can’t take the blame off of Dave Trembley, however. He has a losing record as a minor league manager and a dismal record as the O’s manager. He plays lefty-righty matchups too heavily and tends to pull his starters too early. Is he why the team is 20 games under .500? Not entirely, but he isn’t helping. I do like him, however- he is a good baseball guy and would make a fine bench coach, but as much as I like him the numbers just don’t back him up. His teams lose, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. I don’t want to spend too much time on him because he probably won’t make it out of June. For that matter, if there was a better alternative in the wings I am certain that management would have already pulled the trigger.
The only thing that I can look to, the only thing that has been a constant throughout all of the losing seasons, is the mentality of the ballclub. When I first heard Jim Palmer mention that he felt that this team had an ingrained mentality of losing it was 2005, and I laughed at the notion. I said to my brother, “It’s amazing how a mentality can change when the team has great players, huh?” But seeing this team find ways to let it slip away, as though the slightest crack in the game will send it all crashing down, makes me think that this team comes into the game wanting and perhaps thinking that they will win, but that when something goes wrong it all slips away. I can’t help but think that if this roster was in another city with another mascot and another uniform, that winning would follow. The Oriole has become so synonymous with swimming upstream, with desperation, that even the best personnel would underachieve. I hope I am wrong, but with a disaster like this, where else can you look?