Tall order? Orioles should aim high, shoot for 92 wins

April 15, 2005|By Laura Vecsey

IF THE ORIOLES are playing for third place in the American League East, they ought to just go ahead and do it in style. We're talking swagger. Thump, thump. Kiss, kiss.

The goal to finish above .500 is no longer acceptable. The reality of finishing 23 games out is inexcusable. The target ought to be 92 wins. If that means four or six games back, so be it - for this season.

Why such an incredibly lofty goal? Because 92 wins is (approximately) how many the Orioles could have had in 2004, had they not bombed in three distinct but reversible areas.

The Orioles went 5-13 in interleague play in '04, marking the second consecutive season in which they fell on their faces against National League teams. Let's move four losses to the win column if they had split.

In August, the Orioles coughed up a 12-game losing streak so atrocious that rumors of Lee Mazzilli's job security were properly floated all across baseball America. Let's move six of those losses to the win column, had the Orioles played .500 during that stretch.

Most alarming and most dispiriting of the Orioles' woes in 2004, however, was their 5-14 mark against the Yankees. So let's take four of those losses and move them to the win column, as if the Orioles had gone 9-10 against the Yankees.

If the Red Sox can reverse the curse, the Orioles can, too. Swagger, fellas, and 92 wins isn't as outlandish as it seems.

Unlike Boston, against whom the Orioles posted a winning record (10-9) in 2004, the Yankees were the Orioles' personal pile drivers, pummeling them into submission at regular intervals throughout the entire season.

The Orioles fell from six to seven games behind the Yankees during their first series in late May; then from six to eight games back two weeks later. They went from 14 to 15 games back during a series in June; from 16 to 19 games back at the end of July and, the finale, the Orioles fell from 22 to 24 games back during a three-game series against the Yankees in early September.

Time to stop the bleeding, which is what the Orioles started in New York last weekend, taking two out of three from the Yankees.

With a winning record after a good road swing through New York and Tampa Bay, the Orioles can start to emerge from the haze and depression that had settled over this mid-Atlantic baseball burg after so many years of Double-A pitching staffs and Triple-A lineups.

This isn't to say the Orioles will win the division or the wild card, but there's no harm in acting as if they could.

A 14-game swing over last year's 78-84 record probably still puts them four or five games behind the Yankees and Red Sox, but what happens if the Orioles eradicate these trouble spots? What happens if the Orioles are only trailing the AL East leader(s) by three or five games at the trade deadline?

Anyone with a calculator can figure there's about $94 million of Peter Angelos' money left on the table after Carl Pavano, Richie Sexson, Carlos Delgado and Magglio Ordonez declined to come to Baltimore.

With no more financial insecurity about the future of the Orioles' market share, now that the Orioles/Nationals TV agreement is done, the Orioles have no more excuses to not spend. They could even justify doing what some of their competitors have cravenly done, which is overpay for a key player or two.

Also, potential trades with the Athletics, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks that didn't go down have left the Orioles with a few prospects and players they'd be willing to deal.

Granted, the Orioles have to get past June, with its endless series against the Pirates, Rockies, Reds, Astros and Braves. The Orioles can't give away wins to these NL clubs anymore.

However, the time to set a new tone is now. And that has to do with competing in the AL East - if only to establish some swagger. It isn't written in stone that the Orioles couldn't, at the very least, insinuate themselves in the mix. They relish what they did last year against the Red Sox. They seem bent on adding the Yankees to the list, with solid wins by Sidney Ponson and Rodrigo Lopez last weekend at Yankee Stadium.

The Orioles would have swept the Yankees except for a horrific little pop fly that fell in, prompting reliever Steve Kline to serve up a three-run homer to Ruben Sierra.

The Yankees and Red Sox leave little reason to doubt they're superior baseball teams. Talent and payroll are irrefutable advantages - on paper. However, one observation gleaned during forays into Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park:

The Yankees and Red Sox may each have a significant disadvantage compared with other teams in that The Evil Empire and The Idiots must bear the weight of not only their rivalry, but also the inflated and outsized legend of that rivalry.

That, folks, is no small burden. It's big. It's heavy. It's relentless. It's draining.

The Orioles would be wise to consider themselves lucky. They are free from all that drama. Now, the Orioles need to establish an identity to further sustain that momentum. It's what they lacked last year.

Swagger.

Ninety-two wins.

Starting now.

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