The Orioles need to get it into gear, and very soon

April 26, 2011|Peter Schmuck

The Orioles opened another big series against another big American League East rival Tuesday night at Camden Yards and there was no denying the obvious.

The team that can't escape its recent past needs badly to do something with its immediate future.

Look at the numbers — from the third-worst won-loss record in the American League to the league-trailing team ERA to the 29th-ranked on-base percentage in the majors. Look at the 2-11 slump that the Orioles carried into the series opener against the Boston Red Sox. And look out, because the new-look O's are one more bad series from looking very much like the team that opened 2010 in a 2-16 tailspin.

That's why Tuesday night's taut 4-1 victory was so important and why it's even more important that the Orioles pick up at least one of the remaining two games in this series to rebuild their shaken self-esteem.

No one who watched what was happening a year ago at this time discounts the psychological damage that was wrought upon the young Orioles during that horrible start and its almost-as-horrible aftermath. It took the dynamic appearance of Buck Showalter to shake them out of their losing mindset last August, and now Showalter is faced with the equally difficult task of preventing them from falling right back into it.

He must realize that, because at the outset of the final home series of April, he was no longer willing to hide behind the calendar and discount the importance of turning things around ASAP against the Red Sox.

"I'm not going to put the weight of the whole season around it,'' Showalter said before the game, "but our guys are frustrated at not getting some return in the 'W' column recently, especially in some of the games. Sitting in the dugout after the game ended the other day, and in our clubhouse, you could tell — you may not see it, but there's a pretty good edge working there.

"They want some return for what they're putting into it. Some things haven't bounced our way here and there, but we've got to make it happen. I'm not going to say this series … they're all key. The competition's there every day. That's why they call it the big leagues. That's why they call it the American League and why they call it the American League East. Nobody feels sorry for you."

The big difference this year is that there is still something to salvage, thanks to the uplifting 6-1 start. Even after winning just two of their next 13 games, the Orioles entered Tuesday night's game only two games out of second place in the AL East.

The players are still talking tough, as they should.

"I'm not worried about team psyche,'' said pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. 'We've got mentally strong players and physically talented players. It'll come together sooner or later."

"I'm not concerned,'' added veteran first baseman Derrek Lee. "This isn't that young of a team. There are more veteran guys here [this year] that understand that it's a grind. I sense no panic."

Maybe they've watched the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays dig out after stumbling through the first two weeks of the season, and figure that their time of redemption will come, but the numbers don't paint a hopeful picture.

It's not like Showalter can look at his team and pinpoint one area that needs to be tweaked to turn things around. The Orioles have underperformed the league in pretty much every category except team defense.

"You start hanging the whole noose around one part of the game. ... You're never going to have everything clicking together,'' he said. "You try to. You search for perfection. It's just not there. It eludes you all the time. That's what's frustrating. But obviously [it comes down to] pitching — obviously you've got to catch the ball and we've got to score some more runs and give our guys some margin for error.

"You can't always pitch perfectly in the American League. You've got to give your guys a margin for error. I'll bet you if you talk to Boston and Tampa, they're not going to say the only thing that's changed is that their starting pitching has gotten better. I guarantee you."

Indeed, the Orioles desperately need a harmonic convergence of pitching and hitting to bring this slump to an end against the Red Sox.

It's impossible to discount how important that might be.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on "The Week in Review" on Friday's at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and WBAL.com.

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