It’s been a long time since we as Yankee fans have had to take the Baltimore Orioles seriously; Camden Yards being one of those places that the Bomber bats go to get healthy. Yes, it hasn’t been generations since a twelve year old boy snatched a Derek Jeter fly-ball out of the clutches of O’s rightfielder, Tony Tarrasco during a playoff game– it’s only felt like it – and Jeffrey Maier? He’s pushing thirty. But the All-Star Break has come and it has finally – mercifully – gone and while they’re not breathing down our necks, when we look in the rearview mirror, it’s the Buck Showalter-lead 2012 Baltimore Orioles squad, that appear closest.
Going into play as I write this on Saturday, the Yankees lead the Birds by a full eight games, but don’t expect them to get any closer. Their remaining schedule and the division they play in don’t do them any favors over the rest of the summer; of their remaining seventy-seven games left to play, forty-five of them (nearly 60%) are against serious contenders: the Yankees, Angels, Rangers and Tigers or versus far better hitting division rivals Red Sox and Blue Jays.
And if you think I am the only one noticing the rocky road ahead, here’s a quote from Showalter this week, “The dog days aren’t August, they’re now until mid-August. Play every day, pretenders and contenders are separated, this is the tough grind.” I suspect Buck’s words to be prophetic, but necessarily in the way he means.
A statistical anomaly or a barometer of bad news, the Orioles have a run differential of negative forty one. For comparison sake, the New York Yankees atop the AL-East have a run differential of plus sixty-six, which is comparable to nearly every division leading team in the game (the National League’s Central and Western divisions bucking this trend) and logical. The Orioles, whose differential is far more in line with cellar-dwellers and also ran’s such as the Royals (-42), Twins (-90) and Mariners (-29). The Indians at -28 are the only other AL contenders who, on average, give up more runs than they score. Yes, the San Francisco Giants and their -4 are serious contenders, but see Cain, Bumgarner and Vogelsong for the explanation to that.
The Baltimore Orioles pitching has been much better this season than it has been for the past decade plus or so, but that’s really a back-handed compliment. Brian Matusz, one of the arms for whom they have high hopes, was sent to the minors. He’s maybe trade-bait, but the AAA stint has got to reduce his value. Jason Hammel has been the guy, but he left his start with an undisclosed “knee injury” and the Bird-bloggers seem to think this will mean an upcoming stint on the DL. There’s some talk that the O’s (thinking they’re needing “just one more pitcher”) will go after Zack Greinke, but they same talk that has had the Yanks shy away from the anxiety-ridden starter, doesn’t make him a great bet in the powerful AL-East. Closer Jim Johnson with his .151 BA against, 0.75 WHIP and 26/27 in save opportunities is a rising star, but one wonders how many chances he’s going to get in the second half, because the team just can’t score runs.
How bad is their line-up? They’d gone nearly a week without scoring a run. Yes, the aforementioned All-Star break was a major part of that, but still? The only guy hitting .300, Nolan Reimold, was just lost for the season needing neck surgery. Yes, they did just get Nick Markakis back from the DL, but Brian Roberts seems to have a permanent place on it along with Nick Johnson. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters (who I’d take in a New York minute) are both legitimate ballplayers, but they are surrounded by far too many strike-outs (yes, Chris Davis, Robert Andino and Mark Reynolds, I’m talking to you, but you’re really not alone) and unproductive outs to make a formidable line-up. Jim Thome, and his mighty left-handed swing, seemed like a natural fit for Camden Yards, but apparently he left his bats in Philly- I know it’s only been a week’s worth of games, but he has yet to take advantage of that short porch, has but a single RBI and is hitting just at the Mendoza-line.
There are more questions than good answers for the problems facing the Baltimore Orioles even before the season heads into the dog days. I didn’t like Buck Showalter (and his Jeff Torborg-esque tendencies toward being persnickety) when he was the Yankees manager, and I don’t like him now, but I do have to respect his abilities to turn teams into contenders, but even he seems to think the deck is stacked against him this season. Last night when asked why he batted Markakis lead-off, Showalter responded with a question himself, “THE ANSWER IS A QUESTION: AS OPPOSED TO WHO?” As if sportswriters would – or could – help him out.
Yes, the Baltimore Orioles are a better team in 2012 than they have been in quite a number of years, but they are falling and will continue to do so. Even with the extra wild-card team this season, that they will make the post-season is a long-shot bet. Improved? Yes. A threat? Very doubtful. The 2012 Baltimore Orioles are still for the birds.