The Orioles' season is just 16 games old, but is it too early to write them off?
At this rate, the Orioles will finish with a record of 21-141. That's where the team is headed, off a 2-14 start, including a nine-game losing streak. They have lost three in a row as they head to Boston to face the Red Sox on Friday night.
How bad is it? Consider:
• The lineup is riddled with injuries from top (leadoff man Brian Roberts) to bottom (relief pitcher Michael Gonzalez). Outfielder Felix Pie is also out for three months with a back injury. And it's only April.
• The Orioles have already set a franchise record for lowest single-game attendance at Camden Yards (9,129). Fans wear bags over their heads and scream nonchalance.
• Infielders lose pop-ups in the sun. Outfielder Adam Jones muffed a fly ball while blowing a bubble with a mouthful of gum. And the Red Sox and New York Yankees, whom the Orioles face over the next 12 games, are licking their respective chops.
• The Orioles' $66 million man, slugger Nick Markakis, has driven in just two runs.
• Fans on radio talk shows and chat boards are already calling for the head of manager Dave Trembley, who chewed his team out before Wednesday night's 4-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Shades of 1988, when the Orioles lost 21 straight to start the season — a major league mark that may never be broken.
"You couldn't do that again if you tried," Mike Boddicker said of that horrid start 22 years ago. Boddicker, then the Orioles' top pitcher, thinks he knows what the 2010 team is going through. In 1988, as the losses mounted, he said, "We'd look at our lineup and say, ‘How can this possibly be happening?'
"It was bad. It was ugly. Every game, guys would look around and think, what's going to happen now? Who's going to screw up today?"
That's the defeatist attitude that the current Orioles are battling, mental health experts say.
"When they're in a close game, they're waiting for the other shoe to drop," said Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia. "When you're in a slump, you get tentative, lose focus and look over your shoulder. Do that, and it's hard for your natural talent to come out.
"When the other team gets a base hit in the ninth inning, you click into a ‘here-we-go-again' attitude. Major league, Little League, it's the same thing," Fish said.
What the Orioles need to do is to turn that negativism on its head, he said.
"They have to relax and say: ‘We trust ourselves. It's a tie game. Bring it on!' Because the odds are certainly in their favor now [to win]," Fish said.
That the Orioles weren't seen as contenders could help them emerge from their funk, said Eric Morse, a sports psychiatrist who worked for the Orioles from 2002 to 2004.
"The expectation wasn't for this team to come in first. A .500 season would be more realistic," he said. "Are [the Orioles] behind in achieving that goal? Yes, but with a 162-game season, it's still very do-able."
"It is too soon to consider the season a lost cause," said Orioles fan Will Anderson, 43, of Baltimore. "This team has good starting pitching and a lot of injuries. The season is 162 games, and one good hot streak puts you back in the thick of things."
Said Rick Schu, the Orioles' third baseman in 1988: "Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. Once the Orioles get to .500, all of this will be forgotten."
Still, others believe the team has dug itself too deep a hole to emerge from the 2010 season with a respectable record.
"I am young enough to be optimistic about practically everything," said Orioles fan Ben Pockros, 15, of Washington. "Every offseason, I am the type of kid who says to all my Yankees/Red Sox friends, ‘You just wait and see for this year.' Yet here I am, watching the Orioles win two games after three weeks of baseball. Of course this won't go on forever, but we haven't even played the really good teams yet! So yes, of course this season is … a lost cause."
And despite Schu's optimism about the 2010 team's ability to rebound, a break-even season didn't happen 22 years ago. Those Orioles finished 54-107.
"Yeah, we tried to put that out of our minds," said Schu, now the hitting coordinator for the Washington Nationals."But I remember that the fans were awesome. I'd come [in a trade] from Philadelphia, and if the Phillies had started out 0-21, we'd have had to go onto the field wearing Kevlar. Not in Baltimore."
Schu vividly recalled the scene in the clubhouse when the Orioles finally won a game that year, on April 30 against the White Sox in Chicago. Even that celebration was bittersweet, he said.
"The governor [Harry Hughes] sent us a basket of Maryland crabs," he said. "I sat there with Billy and Cal [the Ripken brothers] and, for the first time in my life, ate hard crabs — and cut every finger on my hands."
Not to worry about the 2010 Orioles, who have two victories, Schu said:
"They're already better off than we were."