Poor production at top, bottom usually take run at the middle

INSIDE PITCH

May 21, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Unless there is a quick turnaround, you can expect the middle of the Orioles' lineup to suffer the same affliction that's hit the top and bottom of the batting order.

That's not a rash prediction, merely an acknowledgment of the domino effect that generally prevails. It's a fact of baseball life that the sick bat disease spreads faster than the common cold.

Going into the opener of a three-game series against the Yankees here last night, Rafael Palmeiro, Harold Baines and Cal Ripken -- usually the Nos. 3-4-5 hitters -- had been the only consistent producers.

The below-par averages of Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux, the first two hitters in the lineup, have been well documented. But lately, the bottom four places in the lineup have been equally inoffensive, going a collective 0-for-28 in the two previous games.

The result is a six-game stretch in which the Orioles have scored only 15 runs and plummeted to next-to-last on the American League's offensive scoreboard. Going into the weekend, only the Milwaukee Brewers (176) had scored fewer runs than the Orioles (184).

When a slump is as far reaching as the one that has engulfed the Orioles, it generally doesn't run its course before affecting every hitter in the lineup. Ultimately that will take its toll on Palmeiro, Baines and Ripken.

With few runners on base ahead of them, and nobody hitting behind them, it becomes relatively easy to bypass those in the middle. And if there's one thing managers have learned through the ages, it's that you can't hide hitters who are in a slump. They keep showing up at the most inopportune times.

There are no secrets for ending a slump anymore than there are explanations for their start. They just happen. Some are longer and spread faster than others.

Before the Orioles can score more runs, they have to figure out a way to get more base runners. Their .337 on-base percentage ranks 11th in the American League, which explains the extraordinarily low run production.

And unless the top and bottom of the lineup get untracked soon, the returns from the middle will continually diminish.

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