Wake O's up when September ends

August 29, 2008|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

In a year that has been highlighted by hard play, inspired comebacks and clubhouse unity, the Orioles find themselves in a familiar position as the season approaches its final month.

They are again outside the playoff race, buried deep in the American League East standings. They've lost seven of nine and yet again have been reduced to the role of hopeful spoilers facing a four-week parade of postseason contenders.

"It gets hard sometimes, yeah. We'd be lying if we said it didn't," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "But you try not to let years past affect year present. ... It's a different team than we had last year, a different team than we had five years ago. So you try to look at it that way."

With their loss Tuesday to the Chicago White Sox, the Orioles secured their 11th consecutive August without a winning record. Their last winning August was in 1997, when they won the AL East.

Since 1998, the Orioles are 132-176 in August for a dreadful .429 winning percentage (with three games remaining this month). The Orioles are actually worse after Aug. 31, compiling a 117-169 record (.409 winning percentage) in September and October since 1998.

In their past 21 Augusts and Septembers, the Orioles have just two winning months: September 2004 and September 1999.

"That is something I have tried to pay close attention to because it has been an issue consistently enough where it is not just bad luck," said club president Andy MacPhail, who took over in June 2007. "I think there are a couple of reasons."

They are fairly obvious - and well-documented. There is the lack of organizational depth, the grueling final schedule for all AL East clubs, the use of young reinforcements early in the season and the fact that contending teams have fortified for the final months while also-rans might have siphoned off some talent for future needs.

"I don't know [whether] there is one specific reason because each year there has probably been something different," Roberts said. "One year we didn't hit. One year we didn't pitch. One year we got hurt. It could be all sorts of different reasons. But I would say the two main ones would be depth and scheduling."

Then there is the reality that the teams you are playing are living and dying with each at-bat while you know you'll be packing up at the end of September.

"We are going to play no matter what, but I think there is something to be said for every pitch, every out means something, something even more than for us probably," Roberts said. "Not that we take anything lightly or for granted - I don't want that to come across that way, and I don't think anybody would see it that way. It's just the nature of sports."

Orioles manager Dave Trembley said he has no concern that his 2008 club will simply play out the string. It has shown all year that it cares, he said.

"I don't think anything negative will seep in," Trembley said. "I think this is an entirely different group."

Last season, the Orioles lost 28 of their final 39 games, winning two in a row only twice in that span.

"A lot of these guys who were here last year are back this year," outfielder Jay Payton said. "I think last year a lot of guys had a hard time mentally preparing themselves for games or for coming to the park. It's not that you don't give your all; it's more of a mental thing than anything. I think the guys who were here last year, no one wants to go through that again."

Last year's season-ending collapse wasn't even the worst in recent memory. The 2002 Orioles won just four of their final 36. And in 2005, the Orioles were 60-60 before losing 28 of their final 42.

"Guys are aware what has happened around here and are doing everything they can to not only to make it better but to make it as best as it possibly can be," Trembley said.

So how do the Orioles reverse the season-ending swoons?

"You can't change the schedule," MacPhail said. "You just try to build up the depth in the areas that are going to be the most meaningful when you are making that finishing kick for the season."

As 2008 progressed and the Orioles lost key players because of injuries or ineffectiveness, they were replaced with journeymen or unprepared rookies. The pitching staff, for instance, is down to one consistently reliable starter (Jeremy Guthrie) and reliever (rookie Jim Johnson).

And that doesn't bode well for the homestretch. Of the Orioles' final 29 games, 22 are against clubs with winning records. That doesn't include four with the Cleveland Indians, winners of 10 straight and the league's hottest club.

"We are going to be playing teams that are fighting for first and second, and it would be nice to play the spoiler down the stretch," Payton said. "But they aren't going to be easy games. So if you don't come to the park ready to play, you will get your butt kicked."

Tonight: Orioles@Rays, 7:10

TV: MASN2

Radio: 105.7 FM

o's late-season records since '98

Year Aug. Sept./Oct.

1998 14-14 10-15

1999 12-16 20-11

2000 14-15 14-15

2001 11-16 8-19

2002 14-16 4-24

2003 11-20 10-16

2004 13-15 19-13

2005 11-17 12-18

2006 12-14 10-19

2007 9-19 10-19

2008 *11-14 --

Total 132-176 117-169

*Three games to play, starting tonight

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