It took the Orioles all of one week’s worth of “real” games to pretty much squash that whole “hope springs eternal” feeling of Spring Training baseball.
The fact that last night’s paid attendance of 9,129 was the lowest in the history of Camden Yards just underscores the point that the O’s are walking a very thin line with the fans, as the small number of remaining die-hards continues to dwindle year after year. The performance of the team on the field has been completely uninspired, and a 1-6 mark after the first week is worse than even the sky-is-falling-est O’s fans could have foreseen. In reality, they are very lucky to not be 0-7, as their one victory was a 5-4 nailbiter that saw the Rays load the bases on closer Mike Gonzalez in the bottom of the ninth.
The one team that they were supposed to finish ahead of in the AL East this season, the Toronto Blue Jays, just swept them at home. Apparently, nobody told the Jays that it was their turn to be relegated to the basement.
With the exception of Gonzalez, the Orioles’ pitching has not been the issue through the first week. The starters haven’t let the lumps they were taking in Sarasota carry over into the regular season. Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Millwood have pitched 13.1 and 12.2 innings, respectively, over their first two starts, with Guthrie’s ERA at 4.05 and Millwood’s at 2.13. David Hernandez gave up just 2 runs over 6 innings in his first start, and Brian Matusz just 2 runs and 2 hits over 5. However, those quality starts have not translated to wins, as Guthrie is 0-2, and Millwood and Hernandez 0-1.
The problem has been the extreme lack of offense. The O’s are second-to-last in the Major Leagues with 20 runs scored (only the 0-7 Houston Astros have scored fewer), and their team batting average of .232 is 10th out of 14 American League teams. Their .365 slugging percentage is worse, 12th in the AL. They are a dismal 9-for-57 (.158) with runners in scoring position for the season, and just 1-for-17 with RISP over their last three games, all losses.
Will those numbers improve? Of course. Nick Markakis won’t hit .143 all season. Adam Jones won’t hit .233 and Miguel Tejada won’t hit .207. Someone will EVENTUALLY hit more than one home run. Brian Roberts will (hopefully) be back. Comparatively, in 2009, the O’s were 5th in the AL with a .268 batting average as a team.
Still, knowing that the hitting numbers WILL improve does nothing to alleviate the wincing pain of that 1-6 start. Despite what some of the Orange Kool-Aid Brigade will try to convince us, these games COUNT! Just as much as games in July or September, unfortunately. The apologists accuse Baltimore fans of bringing our football mentality to baseball season.
First off, who could blame us for wishing the orange team was more like the purple one? That aside though, their point has a hint of merit. In football, we treat every game as life and death because there are only 16 of them all season, and that one loss can easily mean the difference between playoffs and an early offseason. The baseball season is over six months long, and each team will play 162 games during the course of the year. So, basically, every 10 baseball games have the impact of one football game; that is, a single loss during the NFL season carries the weight of 10 during the MLB year. The O’s have played just 4.3% of their schedule – that would translate to late in the third quarter of the Ravens’ opening game.
Yes, there is PLENTY of baseball left to be played. But for a fan base that was promised, and was banking on, improvement THIS season, in year three of Andy MacPhail’s “plan,” it’s just very tough to suppress our frustrations at being in last place, again, already. Especially when we witness the same kind of inexcusable fundamental breakdowns from our team (Adam Jones, Luke Scott-Ty Wigginton getting picked off last night) that were so prevalent in recent seasons, and that we were told were a thing of the past.
Let’s get it together, birds.