Tough stretch awaits Orioles

Struggling team gears up for 16 straight games vs. A's, Mariners, Yankees

`Schedule's a little more difficult'

O's may be catching A's at right time - Oakland has lost 13 of its past 16

May 22, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, CALIF. — Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Athletics ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http://www.sunspot.net.

OAKLAND, Calif. - The Orioles figure to learn a lot about themselves over the next three weeks.

Last night, they began a 16-game stretch against teams that made the playoffs a year ago - the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees - and the Orioles arrived on the West Coast with six losses in their past seven games.

The questions about this stretch started coming Sunday, before the Orioles finished dropping two of three games to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It was hardly a case of the Orioles (19-23) overlooking the Devil Rays, a team that now leads their season series, 6-5.

"On a certain level you're aware," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said of the upcoming stretch of games. "But I don't think anyone goes holy [cow]. I didn't get that feeling when we were playing Boston and New York every day, and I don't get that feeling now."

The schedule might have made this stretch look a little tougher than it is, and that's because Oakland doesn't appear to be the same team it was a year ago. The Athletics entered this three-game series even colder than the Orioles, with 13 losses in their past 16 games.

After making the playoffs the past two seasons, Oakland (19-24) found itself sitting 10 games behind Seattle in the American League West and 10 games behind the Yankees in the wild-card race.

"There is no aspect of our game that's very good," struggling A's reliever Billy Koch told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Oakland's renowned starting pitching staff has hardly been a strength. The starting staff's 4.96 ERA ranked 12th in the American League entering last night.

Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito haven't been the 1-2-3 punch they were a year ago. Zito, who made last night's start, is the only A's pitcher to win a game since May 2.

The A's chose not to re-sign first baseman Jason Giambi, outfielder Johnny Damon or closer Jason Isringhausen, and injuries to some of their remaining stars have taken a toll.

Mulder, Jermaine Dye and Randy Velarde have all spent time on the disabled list, and David Justice has missed time, as well.

In an effort to shake things up, Oakland sent rookie first baseman Carlos Pena, second baseman Frank Menechino and reliever Jeff Tam to Triple-A Sacramento yesterday. Those three were all expected to make significant contributions this year.

"They have a good ballclub," Hargrove said. "They haven't played well recently, but a club like that can turn it around at any moment."

Oakland has played a pretty tough schedule, going 1-5 against Boston, 2-4 against the Yankees and 2-3 against Seattle. So the A's couldn't help but look at this Baltimore series as a chance to start building some momentum, the way they did last year at this time en route to a 102-win season.

After playing three games in Oakland and three in Seattle, the Orioles will return home for two games against the Athletics and four against the Mariners next week. Then they begin a four-game series at Yankee Stadium.

"It's a part of the schedule that's a little more difficult than the one we just got done with the last two weeks," Hargrove said. "But for the first month of the season we played the Yankees and Red Sox every day, it seemed like, and early in the season when we weren't swinging the bats well, we held on.

"So I don't look at this part of the schedule being any different than what we faced early on. If we pitch the way we continue to pitch on the whole, and we continue to swing the bats, the way we have on the whole and play defense, we'll be competitive."

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