Front office, players need to get move on

July 06, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

NEW YORK - The two-day, all-out hammering the Orioles just absorbed from the New York Yankees all but begs for an organizational response.

Make a trade. Replace someone. Shake things up.

At the very least, do something other than stand around saying, "Be patient, it's a long season."

Patience should be viewed as a crutch, not a virtue, in the wake of yesterday's especially dismal effort, which included three early errors, five unearned runs and a fourth-inning knockout - the ugly markings of a slumping team hitting bottom.

Patience? Come on. The Orioles might somehow still be in the running for a playoff spot, sitting just a few games out of the lead in the American League East, but the standings are a mirage, obscuring the unmistakably expanding crisis in which the team now finds itself.

The Orioles have won just 14 of 37 games since May 27, and things are getting worse. Yesterday's matinee snoozer made it three games in a row in which they have fallen behind 6-0.

They. Need. Help.

They have fallen from first place to second, might soon land in third (the Yankees are just a half game back) and could easily fall to fourth before the end of their four-game series against the Red Sox starting tomorrow at Camden Yards.

It's time to react.

"It's hard for us to be having much fun right now," said Rodrigo Lopez, yesterday's starter and losing pitcher, who yielded 11 hits and 10 runs (though only five earned) in three-plus innings, continuing the rotation's struggles.

Of course, it's wrong to believe that some miracle fix is out there, that the Orioles can just snap their fingers and turn themselves around by banishing one underperforming reliever, bringing in a dependable starter in a trade or juggling a few roles.

That's what the fans want, inevitably and understandably, but this team has more problems than any move or two can solve.

If the Orioles are going to salvage their season, which has been so promising until now, the vast majority of any turnaround is going to have to come from within, from players who are already in uniform.

Think about it. Their starting rotation has become undependable, to say the least. Their bullpen is a mess. Their offense is basically tepid beyond Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora. Their defense was an issue yesterday.

That's a lot of problems.

You can't automatically get better on all those fronts just by making a move or two.

"This [slump] is the kind of thing you just have to play your way out of," Roberts said. "You don't ride it out. You just get out of it."

By playing better. And pitching better. Across the roster.

That's not to discourage the front office and manager Lee Mazzilli from reacting. A number of possible moves lay in front of them.

They could move long reliever James Baldwin into the rotation in an attempt to get at least five consistently solid innings from some starter.

They could give struggling left-handed reliever Steve Kline's eighth-inning duties to journeyman Tim Byrdak, who has looked sharp.

They could make a trade, major or minor.

They could rub more miracle oil on reliever Jason Grimsley's reconstructed right elbow in an attempt to get him back on the mound as soon as possible when games are on the line.

They could do all that and more, and that would be fine. They're still close enough to the playoffs to legitimately dream, even after all this.

"It could be a whole lot worse," Baldwin said.

But even if they did make that many moves (and they won't), they still wouldn't stabilize their other starters or clear the heads of their many struggling relievers.

Those guys are just going to have to get better on their own, a dangerous concept.

The front office can't lay over that many struggling players with trade-deadline moves - not even close.

"You just have to grind it out and keep going," Mazzilli said. "Our guys know what they have to do."

To their credit, they don't seem to be panicking.

Asked whether he thought the team now needed to reprove itself as a contender, Mazzilli said. "I think it already is."

And Roberts shrugged when asked if he thought the team might benefit from a move by the front office.

"If they do something, they do something," Roberts said. "But if they don't, we have a pretty good team."

Nice sentiments. But with all due respect, they might not be contenders much longer unless the front office starts making moves and the various, struggling players - mostly pitchers - straighten themselves out soon.

False starts

During the Orioles' three-game losing streak, none of their starting pitchers has made it past the fourth inning, and their combined ERA is 27.00. A game-by-game look:

Pitcher IP H R ER BB SO

Ponson 1 1/3 6 6 6 2 1

Chen 1 1/3 6 6 6 2 2

Lopez 3 11 10 5 0 4

Totals 5 2/3 23 22 17 4 7

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