Puzzled O's say pieces are there

Players can't explain struggles, but all agree they have talent to win


May 18, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun Reporter

TORONTO -- If Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo's job is in jeopardy - despite statements to the contrary from the club earlier this week - he could be catching a break from the schedule.

The reeling Orioles will play nine of their next 12 games against teams that currently have a losing record, starting today with a three-game series against the Washington Nationals, who despite a recent hot streak still have the worst record in the National League.

They also will play the American League-worst Kansas City Royals during the stretch that includes three home games against the Toronto Blue Jays and three against the Oakland Athletics, who are at .500 and dealing with a plethora of injuries.

"We'd obviously like to be a little bit better than this," said Perlozzo, summing up where his 18-23 team stands at the quarter point of the season. "We just got in a little bad streak right now and we need to turn it around. Obviously, when we went through our good streak there, we were able to do a little bit of everything. We need to get a little consistency going.

"Our starting pitching looks like it's coming around and then our bullpen failed us a couple of times. And then our offense failed us a couple of times. We still have good players, and I see some good things happening right now. I see our starters getting better. Our bullpen is going to be fine. We just need to be a little more consistent to get this thing back to where we want it to be anyway."

Perlozzo's job may be dependent on it. Whether it is fair or not, it has become an issue after a three-game sweep by the Blue Jays, which sends the Orioles into interleague play with a five-game losing streak.

The Orioles are a season-high five games under .500 and alone in the AL East cellar. Only one time during their current stretch of nine straight losing seasons have they gotten off to a worse start. In 1999, Ray Miller's Orioles were 15-26 through 41 games. Even last year, when they lost 92 games, the Orioles were one game better at this point of the season.

The club seems to be at a loss to explain why it is struggling. On Wednesday, Chris Gomez shifted in his seat several times and threw out a couple of theories before he finally acknowledged that he had absolutely no explanation. Jay Gibbons tried to pinpoint it and settled on, "It's one of those things, I guess."

Melvin Mora also weighed in. "I don't know," he said, shrugging his shoulders and doing all he could to muster a smile. "Believe me, I don't know. I guess we need to do something here. I don't know."

Perlozzo, and not a stagnant offense or a suddenly vulnerable bullpen, has caught the brunt of the criticism. Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said Monday that the front office hasn't had any "internal discussions" about Perlozzo's job.

However, the next day as an in-game guest with MASN, Flanagan missed an opportunity to give his manager a vote of confidence when he answered Gary Thorne's question about Perlozzo's job security by saying he didn't think it was appropriate to comment on his manager's day-to-day status.

Orioles vice president Jim Duquette did not return several phone calls yesterday, but it's hard to imagine that Perlozzo's status wasn't at least broached during the day off.

The players have also mostly avoided commenting on the topic, though frustration with the way the team is playing was obvious this week. Mora and Jay Payton got into a dugout squabble Monday, and Freddie Bynum exchanged words with first base coach Sam Mejias after Wednesday's series finale.

In the Toronto series, the Orioles' offense was the obvious problem as the team managed just five runs in three games and only two in the last 24 innings of the series. The silver lining is that even without Adam Loewen, Kris Benson and Jaret Wright, Orioles starters are in their best stretch of the season with a 3.20 ERA through the past 14 games. But the Orioles still have yet to pair good pitching with good hitting.

"We don't worry about how we're not hitting, because every team in the major leagues passes through this moment," said Miguel Tejada, who is in a 1-for-14 slump and has just eight extra-base hits all season. "Right now we're not hitting and we're not winning, but there are still a lot of games left. We've got to keep playing and not think about what happened in the past."

Perhaps the losing would be easier for them to accept if they thought they were significantly short on talent. But to a man, the Orioles insist they have more than enough in place to be a winning team and they are just underachieving.

"We're way better than we have been in the past. We're 100 percent better," Gibbons said. "We're just not playing up to our capabilities."

Said reliever Jamie Walker: "Nobody is content where we are right now. We are better than this. We just have to go out and prove it."

That's about the only thing the Orioles all appear to agree on these days.

"I think we all feel that we are a much better team than we are showing," Gomez said. "I am sure guys are frustrated. It's not like we can't sleep at night. But if you talk to most guys, I think they'll tell you that we should be much better than we are."


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