O's weighed down by anchor of April's losses

'I don't see anybody hanging their heads,' says second baseman Ty Wiggington

May 12, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

The albatross is always there, and will be until the Orioles pack away the balls and bats in October.

No matter where they go or what they do, they will be dragging April around behind them all season.

Never was that more obvious than the past couple of weeks, when the O's played 10 straight games against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins and won five of them, which might have been respectable enough to give everybody a nice warm feeling but didn't gain them a game against .500.

"We really are starting to play better,'' second baseman Ty Wigginton said.

Indeed, there have been times when it looked like the Orioles might be ready to climb out of the meteor crater they dug for themselves during the first three weeks of the season, but it's hard to overlook the fact that they entered Tuesday night's game against the Seattle Mariners still in possession of the only sub-.300 winning percentage in the major leagues.

That's what a 2-16 start does to you. The O's are 7-7 since then, but they don't have a "since then" column in the standings. Instead, they still have that giant chasm between here and a record that would allow their fans to imagine them in contention in the foreseeable future.

Which makes this eight-game homestand an important opportunity. The Orioles finally appear to have a break in their very challenging early-season schedule, though even the slumping Mariners arrived in Baltimore with pitching aces Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez set to join the parade of high-quality starters who have feasted on the futile O's offensive attack. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals also will visit Camden Yards over the next week, dragging their own poor records behind them.

Somebody has to get up, and Wigginton — one of the few bright lights in the Orioles' lineup — doesn't see any reason it can't be the Orioles.

"I don't see anybody hanging their heads,'' he said. "When that game starts, it's go time."

If you run that concept through the clubhouse, you'll get several variations on that same theme. There's a lot of talk about looking forward instead of back. Everybody's focused on the next game. Nobody is dwelling on 2-16.

"Honestly, yes, you can't dwell on it,'' pitcher Brad Bergesen said. "Once the day is over, the day is over. If you worry about it the next day, it's only going to hinder your performance. Win or lose, it's a fresh start every day."

Of course he's right, but there is no denying that the past is prologue ... and certainly no denying that the club's dismal start has placed a great weight on the young hitters who were supposed to take a big step forward in 2010.

"Every day, I feel like we're going to come in here and win,'' struggling center fielder Adam Jones said. "Who doesn't?"

So, why has the Orioles' offensive slump lingered so long? Is each lackluster performance just a single event, unconnected to either the past or future? Or is April going to be an anchor all season?

Neither Andy MacPhail nor Dave Trembley has the answer, though both have addressed the issue in strong terms over the past week. MacPhail basically gave the young hitters an ultimatum last Wednesday, saying that there is a place in Norfolk for anyone whose performance doesn't justify a place on the 25-man roster. Trembley sent another message Tuesday, bemoaning the continuing lack of plate discipline on display in the Orioles' lineup.

That kind of impatience at the plate is usually a sign that hitters are pressing, trying to do too much to make up for doing too little, which brings us right back to the impact of the horrible start on the psyche of this young team.

Still, it's hard to find anyone willing to acknowledge that.

"If there is a single guy in this clubhouse who is actually thinking about what happened at the beginning of the season,'' veteran reliever Will Ohman said, "then that person has got the wrong set of values and standards to play this game."

Maybe so, but everybody knows how this season started and how it is likely to end. That's a lot to carry around.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) on Fridays and Saturdays at noon and with Brett Hollander on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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