As Ravens Loom, O's Need A Conversion

July 13, 2009|By KEVIN COWHERD

Here's the most depressing thing the Orioles take into the All-Star break: Ravens training camp opens in 14 days.

And you know what that means.

That means in a little more than two weeks, the Orioles become an afterthought to lots of sports fans in this town.

Suddenly talk radio will be filled with riveting discussions about the Ravens' backup tight end and whether the sixth-round draft choice can stick as a special teams guy.

You'll open this sports section every day and find three or four stories on such pressing topics as who did well in the morning passing drills and what's the extent of the injury to Todd Heap's shoulder, elbow, hamstring, etc.

And at that point, there will be people all over town turning to each other and saying: "Hey, are the Orioles still playing? Really? How're they doing?"

This is the sad reality of being a perennial loser in a city with another pro franchise that's hugely successful and knows how to treat its fans.

So here we are at the All-Star break and the Orioles are 40-48 after Sunday's win over the Toronto Blue Jays, still in last place, where they always seem to be.

Sure, they're riding a modest two-game winning streak. Sure, they won a series finale and a game on Sunday, when they tend to play as if sedated.

But it all raises the question: What are we to make of this team right now?

And the honest answer is: Nobody's quite sure.

Is there hope for this team? Sure, there's hope. There was hope on the Titanic, even as they lowered the lifeboats and the band played "Nearer My God to Thee."

There's a solid group of good young position players on this team - we know that.

But except for Brad Bergesen, who pushed his record to 6-3 Sunday with his eighth quality start in his past nine starts - the starting pitching is questionable.

On the other hand, the promising, hard-throwing trinity of Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta awaits a major league call-up, which could help matters immensely, especially if Bergesen keeps pitching masterfully.

So ... is that a clear enough picture for you?

After Sunday's win over the Jays, Dave Trembley was just happy to talk about Bergesen and all he has meant to this team.

"Bergesen sure had a great first half for us," the Orioles' manager said. "He's established himself as a real nice story this year as a starting pitcher in the American League.

"It seems like every time he pitches, he gives us a chance to win."

Bottom line: It has been a totally schizophrenic first half for the Orioles.

There have been some inspiring wins, a lot of deflating losses and a few gritty comebacks they can build on, too, especially the thrilling 11-10 victory over the Boston Red Sox two weeks ago, the greatest comeback in team history.

By the way, it was nice seeing Trembley back in uniform Sunday after his suspension, instead of hanging out in a polo shirt and khaki pants in a broadcast booth.

Is it just me or was his vein-popping, thermonuclear meltdown with umpire Tom Hallion last week one of the highlights of the season so far?

Spiking the cap to the ground after he was ejected - now that was inspired. Somewhere in South Florida, a smiling Earl Weaver raised a gin and tonic in a toast to Trembley and silently murmured, "That was brilliant, big guy."

Then - and this was my favorite part - Trembley acknowledged that he hid behind a policeman in the dugout and continued to instruct the team, in violation of league rules, which just about guaranteed a suspension.

Oh, you can't make this stuff up. You talk about first-half memories - that's one that'll stay with me.

But along with the hopeful signs from the first half, there are reasons for concern, too. The starting pitching is Bergesen, period. Melvin Mora has only three homers and 24 RBIs. Brian Roberts has looked shaky at the plate at times and has just 18 steals for a team that needs him to ignite the offense.

Nolan Reimold's batting average is down to .257, and he has looked over-matched recently.

But nobody wanted to dwell on that Sunday.

Sunday was all about building momentum, establishing a positive vibe, wishing superstar-in-waiting Adam Jones well as he heads off to the All-Star Game in St. Louis, and looking forward to the second half of the season.

"We've won some series, we've played a little bit better in the [daytime] and we won on a Sunday afternoon," Trembley said. "Everybody goes into the break positive. You know we've got some challenges ahead, obviously.

"But if our pitching holds up and we can get some production out of some of these guys we feel should be hitting, I think we'll be better."

You wonder whether that's good enough for Orioles fans after 11 losing seasons.

We'll find out soon enough.

The Ravens open training camp July 27.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM.

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