It's not just lack of affluence that has O's in such poor shape

July 12, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

While you waste another summer wondering why the Orioles continue to be the stumbling, bumbling Orioles year after year and the Red Sox and Yankees continue to dominate the American League, perhaps you might benefit from a bit of comparative analysis.

Sure, those teams have more revenue and bigger payrolls, but the low-budget Tampa Bay Rays have removed that as a legitimate excuse for failing to compete for what will soon be 14 consecutive seasons. The cause-and-effect relationship between money and success in professional sports is well-documented, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Certainly not here.

If it were just about revenue and market share, the Angels never would have replaced the Dodgers as the dominant team in the Los Angeles area, and the A-Rod-depleted Texas Rangers franchise wouldn't have been in the World Series last year.

Of course, money matters and makes it much easier for teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees to win more than the less-affluent teams in the American League, but that doesn't adequately explain why the competitive divide between those teams and O's is so much wider than the economic gap that separates them.

The real reasons for the demise of the once-proud Orioles franchise should be obvious to all by now, so there's not much to be gained by harping about the owner or the disjointed organizational strategy that has made the team a laughingstock for more than a decade. It might be instructive, however, to understand how that affects the on-field competitive dynamic when the Orioles play a quality team.

That's pretty easy, since all you have to do is juxtaposition the first innings of Thursday and Friday night's games against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The Orioles entered their final series before the All-Star break in a tailspin and — by all accounts — needed to do something positive in Boston to get off the mat for the second half of the season.

So, when they opened the series with three straight hits off Red Sox starter Andrew Miller and Adam Jones staged a tough eight-pitch at-bat before driving home the first run of the game with a single, you had to wonder if Buck Showalter's clubhouse lecture in Texas had changed the mindset of the struggling offensive lineup.

Apparently not, since Vladimir Guerrero fished for the very next pitch and bailed out Miller with another deflating double-play ball and the Orioles went back to the same impatient, opportunity-killing approach that has undermined their offensive attack all season.

The next night, the admittedly more-talented Red Sox lineup scored eight runs in the first inning off promising O's pitcher Zach Britton in a rally that featured every aspect of the "pass-the-baton" philosophy that Showalter has been trying to drill into his erratic lineup from the beginning of spring training. The Sox are textbook patient and unselfish at the plate. So are the Yankees. The Orioles are just the opposite.

Combine that dysfunctional offensive chemistry with a starting rotation that has — once again — melted down at midseason and you've got a team that looks way too much like the one that Showalter was brought in to rescue at about this time last year.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not putting this on Guerrero, who is who he is even if he isn't quite who he once was, but it's fairly apparent that the decision to fill the run-production void in the middle of the lineup with two aging, one-year stopgaps has — instead — contributed to the team's inability to mount a consistent offensive attack. And it's not the first time.

President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail tried to patch the 2010 lineup with Garrett Atkins and the second coming of Miguel Tejada. The Orioles also tried to catch lightning in a bottle with an over-the-hill Sammy Sosa in 2005.

Guerrero and Derrek Lee have been frustratingly ineffective with runners in scoring position, and it's not just because time has eroded their skills. I'm guessing it's also because they are one-year players who are here trying to extend their careers and know — at least subconsciously — that they aren't going to do that by squeezing pitchers and passing that baton. Guerrero has never done that, but he had been able to pile up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers because of his otherworldly hand-eye coordination … until now.

The Orioles still are holding out hope that both of them break out over the next few weeks and validate the decisions to bring them here, but maybe it was those decisions and the organizational philosophy that has led to so many others like them that really defined this season before it began.

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