Second-half Swoon All Too Familiar For O's

August 13, 2009|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

So now the question is: What kind of nose dive are the Orioles in this time?

Is it the same old nose dive of the past 11 years, when they managed a nifty .410 winning percentage (254-368) in August and September?

Or is this one somehow different, the sort-of-expected cratering of a team trotting out a lot of young arms and a couple of promising rookie position players while prepping for the future?

Go ahead, you decide. Flip a coin if you have to.

And do you even care if this nose dive is any different from all the others?

Or are you already totally focused on the Ravens and their preseason opener tonight against the Washington Redskins, when we mostly get to watch a bunch of anonymous fat guys who'll be looking for work after the first cuts?

Any way you look at it, the Orioles' 6-3 loss to the lowly Oakland Athletics at Camden Yards on Wednesday was another depressing blow.

Look at the big picture. The Orioles are 7-19 since the All-Star break. The pitching has been shaky. The bats have been awful: 8-for-49 with runners in scoring position over the past five games.

What is it about the dog days of summer that brings out the worst in this team?

Is it the heat and humidity? Probably not. You get away with that one only if your entire roster consists of Inuit tribesmen from Alaska.

Is it the fact that they play in baseball's toughest division? And that the grind of competing against perennial contenders like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox eventually wears you down?

Sure, that's a factor.

Contenders play each game down the stretch as if it's life and death.

Teams in, say, fifth place and 24 games out of first place tend to play like the plane's warming up for their Club Med vacation.

Whatever the reason, there have been days recently when the Orioles have been almost unwatchable.

Monday night's lopsided 9-1 loss to the A's was a recent example. There are department store mannequins that show more life than the Orioles did that game.

This latest loss to the A's was no work of art, either, especially when you consider they failed to rough up the immortal Vin Mazzaro, Oakland's starter, who had lost eight of his previous nine decisions.

"It's tough," said Nick Markakis, who had three hits but was thrown out at second on the back end of a double steal in the seventh. "This game's not easy, especially when you're in pressure situations and you have some guys on.

"For the most part, we're pressing too much with guys in scoring position, including myself.. We're trying to scrounge up some runs any way we can."

Scrounge is definitely the right word, too. Give Markakis credit for being a wordsmith.

Here's the saddest thing about this latest late-summer swoon: It throws a wet rag on a lot of the excitement the Orioles created this season by bringing up so many promising young players.

Left fielder Nolan Reimold has performed solidly. Catcher Matt Wieters has struggled, but his huge upside is obvious.

Young pitchers Brad Bergesen (7-5, 3.43 ERA before he took a line drive off his left shin) and David Hernandez (4-4, 3.81 ERA) have been fun to watch.

And the call-up of right-hander Chris Tillman and lefty Brian Matusz gave Orioles fans even more hope in the midst of another dreary season.

Now ... here comes another nose dive.

And you wonder whether the Orioles can pull out of this one.

Look, we can talk about Andy MacPhail's master plan for the future all we want.

But until these late-season nose dives end, and until the whole culture of losing that surrounds this team lifts after a winning season, the master plan is just that: a plan. Nothing more.

Here's a cheery thought if you're an Orioles fan: The rest of the schedule is the usual late-season horror show.

There are 48 games left. And here's how it breaks down: four against the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels this weekend, which should be fun.

Six the rest of the way against the Yankees. Five against the Red Sox. Eleven against the Tampa Bay Rays, not exactly slouches in the AL East. And three against the Texas Rangers, fighting for a wild-card berth.

So now we'll see what this Orioles team does down the stretch.

The 2002 team lost 32 of its final 36 games.

The 2005 team lost 28 of its final 42.

Those were more than late-summer swoons. Those were disasters. Those were mine-shaft cave-ins.

You hope it doesn't happen again this year.

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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