O's shortcomings add up to another lost season

Team ERA near franchise worst

Markakis, Bedard, Ray give hope

October 02, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

BOSTON -- There were plenty of deflating and humbling moments. Todd Williams' attempt at an intentional walk pitch being smacked into center field. Ed Rogers' attempt at fielding a ball bouncing up his shirt sleeve and coming out through his collar.

Javy Lopez passing Miguel Tejada on the base path, nullifying a home run, and the infield running off the field in Oakland en masse despite there being only two outs.

But embarrassment aside, there was no turning point or single play that signified the demise of the 2006 Orioles. Their ninth straight losing campaign was more about a series of teamwide flaws that were evident in spring training.

The Orioles' bullpen was unreliable and their starting pitching erratic. They couldn't hit left-handed pitching and never figured out how to win away from Camden Yards. They were generally out-manned by the top teams in their division, with an 18-38 record against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays.

Yesterday's rain-shortened, 9-0 loss to the Red Sox in the season finale at Fenway Park left the club with just 70 wins, its worst season since 2002 and its third worst campaign during a franchise-high stretch of nine straight losing seasons.

Progress was not made in the standings, and the Orioles appear as far apart as ever from the American League East hierarchy. There were days - even stretches - when the organization felt good about itself. There just weren't enough of them.

"We expected to improve upon our record from last year and it is definitely disappointing having lost [over] 90 games," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said. "We were all hoping at the beginning of the season that we would be saying that we have seen progress with our young players and seen progress in the standings. But clearly, we haven't seen progress in the standings."

Disgruntled Orioles fans have noticed. The attendance this year was the lowest it has been in Camden Yards' 14-year history, and on one home date, some fans protested the ownership of Peter G. Angelos with a walkout. Angelos would not comment for this story.

The latest blow for the organization came late Saturday night when the Los Angeles Times reported that three of its best players - Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons - were accused of being anabolic steroid users by former teammate Jason Grimsley in a federal affidavit earlier this year.

Duquette abstained from labeling the 2006 Orioles as underachievers, as did executive vice president Mike Flanagan. The Orioles front office acknowledged that some misevaluations were made prior to the season, leaving manager Sam Perlozzo short-handed on the bench and in the bullpen. At some points this season, Perlozzo had no matchup left-handed reliever, no right-handed hitting outfielder and an outfield rotation consisting of several converted infielders.

"The pitching overall was much poorer than we ever anticipated," Duquette said. "There are a lot of bright spots within that, but I don't think we'd ever predicted that we'd be second to last in the American League in starting pitching and relief pitching. Not with the fact that we had a couple of guys coming off good years, not after adding [defensive-minded catcher] Ramon Hernandez, and [pitching coach Leo Mazzone]."

It's hard to fault the Orioles front office for expecting some success from Rodrigo Lopez, who had won 14 or more games in three of his previous four seasons. But perhaps it was ambitious to foresee Bruce Chen, a journeyman who has played for eight major league teams, coming close to his 13-win season a year ago. Lopez and Chen combined to go 9-25 with a 6.26 ERA, and both ended the season in the bullpen.

The ERA of Orioles starters this year was 5.40, and the pitching staff's total ERA was 5.35, not much better than the 2000 team's 5.37, the worst in franchise history.

"If you want to win in this division, you got to get a little better pitching to compete," Perlozzo said. "We know we are kind of short, but you have to make small steps, and I think we've made some good steps.'

The Orioles also seemingly erred in the construction of their bullpen, entrusting prime set-up roles to two well-traveled veterans with inconclusive track records - Todd Williams and Tim Byrdak - and several youngsters who hadn't pitched in Triple-A before. The result was a 5.25 bullpen ERA, better than only the Kansas City Royals.

"I don't think you count on guys having career years, but at the same token, you have expectation levels where they are going to end up having normal years," Flanagan said.

The organization clearly made some smart decisions this season. Hernandez, Kris Benson, Corey Patterson and Kevin Millar, all offseason acquisitions, made solid contributions, with Hernandez enjoying a career year.

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