Writing off season? Relax, this team can't really be this bad

Ken Rosenthal

April 30, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

Before panicking over Glenn Davis, demanding a new manager and pulling the plug on the whole season, there's one thing rational Orioles fans ought to consider:

This team can't be that bad.

Yes, the 6-11 Orioles are last in the AL East, 4 1/2 games behind division-leading Toronto. Yes, they can match their worst April since 1956 -- excluding the 0-21 disaster -- with another loss tonight.

Doesn't matter. Manager Frank Robinson admits he's already losing sleep, but he started the season without his best pitcher, and now faces the prospect of finishing it without his best hitter.

Still this goes beyond Ben McDonald and Glenn Davis. Like every team, the Orioles opened with lofty expectations. Right now few of those expectations are being met, to a degree that seems almost absurd.

This was the year the Orioles were supposed to hit, but their .233 batting average is the third worst in the AL. Their extra-base hit total (39) matches Toronto's number of doubles. Think Detroit strikes out a lot? The Orioles lead the league with 7.24 per game.

The pitching is no better. This was the year the Orioles' young staff was supposed to emerge, but the club's 4.96 ERA ranks next to last in the AL. Last night's 10-1 loss to Seattle wasn't anything unusual. Six times now, the Orioles have allowed seven or more runs.

No, this team can't be that bad. Robinson knows it, but he can't help but fear the worst. The Orioles have played only one team (Chicago) with a record above .500. They helped Seattle (9-11) end its five-game losing streak last night.

"We're going to play well, we are," Robinson said. "But right now, we're not doing it. We can't sit here and think about things we might do and just say we'll wait it out. If you wait it out, maybe you dig a hole so deep, you can't get out.

"Part of my job is to figure out how to get out of it. This is when you have sleepless nights. It's tough to sleep because your mind won't relax. I'm not dropping all of this on the players. This is when I'm thinking, 'Is there something I can do?' "

The answer is, "Probably not." Think about all that was expected to happen, and all that has. Only Cal Ripken, Dwight Evans and Mike Flanagan have performed better than anticipated. Jeff Ballard, Jose Mesa and Jeff Robinson aren't pitching badly, but they're a combined 4-6.

The rest of the roster? Take a look:

* McDonald. He was expected to start six of the first 21 games, but began the season on the disabled list with a sore elbow. Not surprisingly, he's still rusty. After two starts, his opponents are batting .429.

* Bob Milacki. He was expected to bolster the rotation, but began the season at Double A Hagerstown. On Sunday he pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings of relief to beat Milwaukee. Soon he could replace Dave Johnson as a starter.

* Randy Milligan. He was expected to build on his breakthrough 1990 season, but is batting only .212 -- with one-fourth as many strikeouts as last year (17). The injury to Davis enabled him to return to first base. Now he must start hitting.

* The leadoff men. Mike Devereaux was expected to win this job for good off an excellent spring, but is batting only .216. Meanwhile, Brady Anderson is 3-for-16 (.188) with five walks, and already has been caught stealing three times -- one more than all of last year.

* The catchers. They were expected to produce numbers comparable to the traded Mickey Tettleton, but they've combined for a .156 average with no homers and only one RBI. The good news: Tettleton isn't doing much better in Detroit, batting .178 with two homers and seven RBIs.

* The third basemen. They were expected to force Robinson's most difficult lineup decision, but not in this way. Craig Worthington is still batting only .191, and Leo Gomez hasn't had enough at-bats to take his job.

* The bullpen. It was expected to be a strength, but it rarely gets the chance to protect leads. Former Oriole Curt Schilling has more saves (three) than Gregg Olson (two). Meanwhile, Paul Kilgus (4 HRs in 19 IP) is starting to look like the one man capable of resurrecting Kevin Hickey.

At the start of the season, no one could have imagined so much would go wrong so soon. Thus, it's safe to expect the Orioles to make significant improvement, especially with the season only one-tenth complete.

"Of course it has to get better," Robinson said. "There's room for optimism, for saying we can't continue to play this poorly. But it's not something where you can turn a switch and -- boom! -- it's going to go on."

Oh, never mind the manager.

This team can't be that bad.

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