With the Orioles saddled with an 18-48 record and on pace for… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
SAN DIEGO —
When he signed a six-year, $66.1 million extension 15 months ago, Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis was convinced that the organization was headed in the right direction and that he wanted to be a part of it.
But with the Orioles saddled with an 18-48 record and on pace for one of the worst seasons in franchise and baseball history, the normally mild-mannered Markakis publicly expressed his frustration with the organization for the first time, questioning both the direction of the club and the offensive approach of the team in an interview with The Baltimore Sun this week.
"At this point, yeah. Where are we going?" Markakis said when asked whether he is concerned about the lack of progress the organization has made. "I know we have a lot of injured guys. We're in the toughest division in baseball, and we're a last-place team. But at this point, it's mind-boggling. You don't even know what to think, but you still have to be professional and go out and play every day."
Asked how damning it is that the Orioles are just slightly ahead of the pace set by the 1962 New York Mets, the standard bearer for baseball futility with a 40-120 record, Markakis paused and then said: "That's a hard question. I don't know the answer, and I don't know what to say. I really don't. There is only so much you can do. I don't know what the hell is going on around here. It can't get worse. It really can't."
Markakis, the highest-paid and second-longest-tenured Oriole behind injured second baseman Brian Roberts, didn't single out any teammate or team official in his criticism, which came before the Orioles' 4-1 win over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday. It was just one of three victories for the club over the past 20 games.
But he acknowledged that things need to change, particularly with an offense that is last in the American League in runs, last in the majors in batting average with runners in scoring position and near the bottom of the AL in most major offensive categories.
"It's a team game," said Markakis, who leads the Orioles with a .300 batting average, 21 doubles and a .394 on-base percentage but has drawn criticism for accumulating only three homers and 21 RBIs in 65 games. "You can't just rely on one or two guys to carry a team. I don't care if you stick Albert Pujols in this lineup. We still have a lot of holes, and, unfortunately, we have had a lot of injuries. But one guy, one big bat, is not going to make that much of a difference. You can stick a guy hitting 50 homers in this lineup right now, and he really is not going to do anything until we all get on the same page. We all need to have better approaches at the plate."
In questioning the team's approach, Markakis said that means Orioles hitters need to do a better job of working the count, having team at-bats and moving base runners, using both sides of the field and executing a plan against specific pitchers.
Overall, the Orioles are second to last in the AL in on-base and slugging percentage. They have the fewest walks in the league, and they see the fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.73). They also have the fifth-worst "chase percentage" in baseball in that they swing at 30.2 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone.
They've also let 18 of the past 20 starters they've faced to go at least six innings and allow three runs or fewer.
"Sometimes, guys are going up there and it looks like they have no idea what they're doing," said Markakis, who has drawn 39 of the Orioles' 185 walks, a testament to not only his batter's eye and his patience, but also to teams frequently pitching around him.
"I'm not saying that to bash guys. I want guys to be successful. I want this team to be successful, and I have to produce as well. I'm part of this. But it takes a lot more than one big bat. We definitely need that one guy who could hit you 40 home runs, but from top to bottom, you need guys getting on base. You need guys in there who have a plan, who have a clue and who know how to execute that plan and get on base. We don't need every guy in this lineup trying to hit home runs. We're paid to get on base and figure out how to score and drive in runs. You look at the Yankees. They have guys who can hit home runs, but everybody in that lineup can get on base."
Markakis said the team's offensive woes shouldn't be attributed to longtime hitting coach Terry Crowley, who is known for advocating an aggressive approach at the plate.