The Real Orioles Are On Display Now For All To See

April 30, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

The only thing to do at this point is to channel Dennis Green, the former NFL coach who is remembered as much for one post-game tirade as just about anything his teams did on the football field.

Watch this Orioles team for any length of time and you can't help but hear Green in your head, reminding you that "they are who we thought they were," a rebuilding team in the midst of a transitional season that isn't going to be very pretty.

The Orioles teased you for a couple of weeks. They won three straight series against some pretty good competition. The top half of the batting order produced impressively - and continues to do so - and temporarily masked some of the weaknesses that were more apparent throughout spring training. You had to know that wouldn't last forever, though that isn't a whole lot of consolation after 11 losses in 14 games.

Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara tried to hold back the tide Wednesday afternoon, and he might have succeeded if the Orioles could have exploited a couple of prime opportunities early in the game. Instead, the offense fell flat and Uehara followed suit when he was struck in the chest by a line drive in the seventh inning. He's OK, but that's probably more than can be said for this team at the end of the first month of the 2009 season.

"It's kind of funny," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "When we get good starting pitching, we're not scoring runs, and when we don't get good starting pitching, we seem to score some runs. It's kind of backward right now."

And, to correct him, it's not really very funny. The Orioles fell to 9-13, which might not sound so bad if they didn't get off to a 6-2 start against the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. They played just well enough at the outset to lure their fans into the false sense that they might just be a year ahead of schedule - or a super catching prospect away - only to fall back in such a frustrating manner that it can't be long before the cynicism sets back in.

The difference between early April and late April was encapsulated in Wednesday's loss. The Orioles had Los Angeles Angels starter Shane Loux on the ropes early. They loaded the bases with no one out and Huff at the plate, but the rally fizzled after Huff drove in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly. They also had a prime opportunity to score in the second inning when reserve catcher Chad Moeller led off with a rare triple. One out later, he was hung up between third and home, and the Orioles came up empty.

"Our pitching has been giving us a chance," Moeller said. "We've been in these ballgames. We have to take advantage when we get in those situations."

True enough, the Orioles have weapons and can score runs in bunches. They've done that on a number of occasions; though on some of those occasions - as Huff pointed out - a bunch of runs was not enough. It would have taken only a handful Wednesday.

"They made one more pitch," manager Dave Trembley said. "They got one more hit. That's just baseball. It's a funny game. Things just didn't go our way."

Don't know if it will still seem funny when the Orioles get back from the coming road trip to Toronto and Tampa Bay. The series at Rogers Centre opens with a matchup between Mark Hendrickson and Roy Halladay, which is about as close to the proverbial "reverse lock" as you can get.

It isn't all bad. Uehara has pitched well, and the top four batters in the order have produced a ton of runs, which can only bode well for the future. But the defense has performed well below expectations and the sum total of the starting pitching is pretty much as it was advertised coming into the season.

That all adds up to the same conclusion, that this was and is a team that will struggle to win 70 games this year but still has a chance to make real progress over that period to some brighter days in 2010 and beyond.

In short, they are who we thought they were.

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