While the city of Baltimore remains inexplicably allied to the Washington Capitals’ playoff run (Why?! I will never understand it. I wouldn’t root for the Wizards and the Redskins and Nats are not my #2 teams in football and baseball so why in god’s name would I root for the Caps? Go Flyers.), the NFL draft drones on (what is it now, three more weeks to go?), the Orioles continue to torment me with their success. Why torment? Because this team is so epically bad on paper, it is the team that truly looked like a rebuilding team, the kind of rebuilding that happens when you are building a sand castle at low tide. The kind of rebuilding that causes you to ditch the few assets with any value for a bunch of assets with even less value.
2011 looked like a team ready to make a leap based on what would turn out to be unfounded optimism. 2010 had a number of proven pieces that resembled a .500 team back in March. We know how those years turned out. Yet here we are about to turn the calendar to May and no matter what happens the Orioles will still be over .500 on May 1. So… what gives?
The schedule, for one, has been kind. After the Orioles face off against the Oakland A’s in a three game series this weekend they get the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Rays, and Yankees again before the schedule eases up a bit. If the Orioles are over .500 after that gauntlet (the Red Sox have too much talent to stay in the cellar) fans can have something to get excited about. With just two series against pre-season division contenders (Angels and Yankees) the Orioles are just 1-5, including a home sweep at the hands of the Yankees. They will have to do better than that if they are going to break their interminable losing streak.
But there are things to appreciate in the meantime. For one, Nolan Reimold seems to be finally showing the promise he had as a rookie in 2009 and holding down the Left Field job and, surprisingly, the lead-off spot. Like too many major league teams, the Orioles lack a true lead-off man. Since Brian Roberts can’t be relied on to stay healthy, this will be a problem that is going to haunt this team down the stretch. This team lacks a traditional lineup, with a lot of hitters playing out of their natural position in the lineup due to a lack of other options. Wherever he is hitting, Matt Wieters has also begin to fulfill his offensive potential, slugging a whopping .610 and tying for third in home runs with 6. Small sample sizes of course, but trends that Orioles fans were looking for and have begun to come to fruition.
For better or for worse, most of the pitfalls in that lineup have come from newly acquired players, most notably Nick Johnson, Endy Chavez, and Wilson Betemit. Robert Andino will not hit .300 this season and Nolan Reimold will not continue at his current torrid pace. Baltimore needs their new pieces to start to pick up their play (in addition to J.J. Hardy, I have given up on Mark Reynolds) if they have any hope of creating the kind of balanced lineup that can survive a season of ups and downs.
I am also skeptical that Jason Hammel will suddenly have a better season than the remarkably consistent mediocrity he put on display in Colorado and Tampa Bay. When Jake Arrieta pitches like an ace for an entire season and Wei-Yin Chen stays healthy I will start to believe that this team is on the right track, but we are far from that. It’s amazing how in baseball a month of games is still too small a sample size to draw any conclusions from.
The next two weeks of Orioles baseball will give us a clue as to whether this team is as horrifically awful as I thought they would be before the season. In the meantime I guess we have to enjoy it. I just don’t want to enjoy it too much, because in the AL East there is no easy path, even to mediocrity.