Orioles a Failure on Many Fronts
NEW YORK -- There is no easy way to get to this place.
To two series wins in the first 17 series. To a .288 winning percentage and 19 1/2 games out on June 1. To a manager whose job is hanging by a thread thinner than Ubaldo Jimenez and his ERA.
But the Orioles were able to put it all together to reach this nadir.
How did they get here? They were a popular pick to improve this year, what with a promising outfield and a crop of pitchers that had arrived or were about to and some veteran acquisitions to supplement that group.
Instead, Baltimore is the most underachieving team in the majors.
"I think we're way past the point of asking me about being frustrated or disappointed," manager Dave Trembley said after Tuesday's 3-1 loss at Yankee Stadium. "We're way past that. That's an understatement."
It took a number of coinciding events to make this happen:
• Injuries to the guys who were supposed to see the first pitch of the game and throw the last pitch of the game;
• Potential stars whose progress has, at best, stalled;
• A lack of motivation or leadership that would push players toward achieving their potential.
As a result, the general perception in Baltimore and elsewhere is that Trembley will be an ex-manager sometime soon.
"My approach never will change," Trembley said before Tuesday's game. "Never.
"I'm the steward of the ship. I'm here to do the very best I can all the time [and] not think about myself and think about the team, the organization.
"You see all these other teams reaping the benefits of big innings and well-pitched games. I would certainly say it's our time. We're long overdue for some of those festivities."
Trembley said he believes in projecting optimism.
"If you come in here with your dauber down all the time," he said, "and you don't deal with people and you don't deal with it honestly, you can't expect them to."
Maybe that's part of the problem; Trembley -- unquestionably a class act and a good man -- is leading by example when the team probably needs a collective kick in the pants.
As an official from another team put it, you can tell a lot about a team by how it goes about its pregame work. And from that person's observations, the Orioles don't go about it with a lot of drive to improve.
Two who haven't improved as expected are center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Weiters.
Jones is hitting .252 with a .275 on-base percentage and 15 RBI in 201 at-bats. And Wieters is batting .246 with four homers and just one extra-base hit in his past 19 games.
It may be that the organization, desperate for drawing power after 12 straight losing seasons, has promoted their budding stars too quickly. And perhaps as a result they feel they have arrived and abandon the habits that got them to the majors in the first place.
Consider Jones, who seemed poised to break out a year ago. From June 1, 2009, to May 31, 2010, he hit .241 with 49 RBI and 96 strikeouts in 124 games. In Tuesday's sixth inning, the Yankees intentionally walked Wieters to load the bases for Jones with one out. He struck out, Baltimore didn't score and the Yankees won to drop the Orioles to 15-37.
It hasn't helped that the Orioles haven't had their closer and leadoff hitter since, essentially, the first day of spring training.
Mike Gonzalez, signed to close, showed up in Florida throwing 87 mph and made three regular season appearances before going on the disabled list.
Second baseman Brian Roberts arrived in camp with a herniated disk in his back and made it four games into the season before hitting the DL. He is scheduled to begin playing in extended spring training games Friday.
The offense misses Roberts' ability to set the tone at the top of the order; Baltimore has been out-scored 35-18 in the first inning. And without Gonzalez, the closer's job has fallen to Jim Johnson (1-for-3 in save chances before being sent down), Alfredo Simon (6-for-7 before going on the DL with a strained hamstring) and now Will Ohman, since Koji Uehara, who was next in line after Simon, also has a strained hamstring.
Baltimore has lost four games in which it led after eight innings.
"It's not to make an excuse," Trembley said, "but we have not been able to replace Roberts. I think [no] team in baseball, with the way the game is played now, can go without a closer. You have to have a closer. And you have to have one guy; you can't do it by committee. You have to have a guy you say is the closer and you run with him. We haven't been able to do that. And if you go back and look at the games that we have squandered, we've got guys in situations that haven't been there."
Meanwhile, some of the offseason moves have failed badly. Garrett Atkins, signed to play first base, is hitting .214 and has started just four of the past 11 games, all at DH. Miguel Tejada, brought back to play third, has a .254 average after a .237, no-homer May.
"There's no point in us looking at the past or looking in the future," said Ty Wigginton, perhaps the lone offensive bright spot with his 13 homers and 32 RBI. "We've got to stay in the moment, I guess."
Is that hard to do?
"Obviously," Wigginton said, "some days are harder than others."