Schmuck: Incredibly shrinking offense can't sustain the Orioles

June 26, 2012|Peter Schmuck

It's tempting to look at the way the Orioles have been struggling at the plate over the past couple of weeks and chalk it up to the normal ebb and flow of the 162-game major league season.

After all, the Orioles somehow managed to win four of the nine games leading into Tuesday night's series opener against the Angels without averaging two runs per game, which could be construed as another sign that this is some kind of magical season in which the normal relationship between performance and result does not apply.

That would be a mistake, of course, even though center fielder Adam Jones was quick to point out that the end does — particularly in professional sports — justify the means.

"We won four of our last five series," he said. "Whatever we're doing has been getting us by. Sometimes the offense struggles and sometimes you're hot. Early in the year, we were hitting a lot of home runs. Right now, we're struggling with runners in scoring position, but we're still fighting and scratching and clawing. It's just the game."

Fair enough, but as their strikeout total attempts to pierce the clouds, it's also fair to wonder how long this can go on and what can be done to encourage a more consistent, cohesive offensive attack.

It's not really a two-week thing. The Orioles have six regulars who are on pace to strike out more than 100 times, which pretty much explains why they have trouble sustaining a rally. We're little more than a week away from the mathematical halfway point in the season and the Orioles have had only nine innings in which they've scored four runs or more.

Does that mean the O's are a fatally flawed team that will eventually find its level somewhere deep in the American League East standings?

Not necessarily, but it does mean that it would be foolhardy for the organization to stand pat and hope that the pending return of right fielder Nick Markakis will provide enough additional on-base potential to glue the offense back together — especially now that it's apparent that Nolan Reimold will not be back anytime soon.

The front office is aware of that and is believed to be trying hard to acquire a solid veteran outfielder who makes consistent contact and hits well with runners on base. Easier said than done, of course, but it's something that has to happen fairly soon if the Orioles are to keep the first-place Yankees in sight and stay in play for a late wild card run.

In the meantime, it's up to the free-swinging members of the lineup to find a way to squeeze more out of each at-bat and embrace Buck Showalter's pass-the-baton philosophy of productive plate discipline.

"I think we've got to find a way to make more productive outs," he said. "You'd like to think it runs in cycles, but this has been a pretty good sampling. I think the pitching in the American League is as good as I've seen in a while, but(the contact problem) is not something we're unaware of."

First baseman Mark Reynolds, who has been the major league strikeout king more than once, thinks there's more to the Orioles' recent inability to string together good at-bats than just the presence of a lot of high-strikeout guys in the lineup.

"Maybe it's guys trying too hard," he said. "We play a lot of close games and you want to be that guy who hits the big home run. You look at games where we score six or seven runs and we don't punch out a lot because we have a lead most of the time and guys just put good ABs together. Like the other day we're losing 1-0 until the eighth inning and everybody wants to be that guy who comes up big."

Jones thinks it might be even more basic than that. Sometimes, he said, you have to remember that there's somebody 60 feet away trying to make a living.

"We've faced some good pitching the last 12 to 15 games," Jones said. "New York? That's a series I'd like to forget about. They dealt. Coming home to the Nationals. I don't like giving pitchers all that much credit, but the Nationals can pitch. We've been facing good pitchers in the National League the last week and a half, so you do have to give some credit to the pitchers, but as an offense we've got to clean it up. We've got to be better. We know we can and we're all still pulling for each other. We've just got to get it done."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read Peter Schmuck's blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090AM) and at wbal.com.

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