Anyone remember that character for the old Beavis and Butthead show, Mr. Buzzcut? Well in episode 45 in season three, the tough ex-Marine had this exchange with Butthead.
Buzzcut: You want to see a man, boy? I'll show you a man. Kick me in the Jimmy.
Butt-head: No way!
Buzzcut: I said do it! (after being kicked) Yyyyes! Do it again! Do it hard! (kicked again) Yyyyes!
Butt-head: Whoa, that was cool!
In case you were wondering, this is exactly what it takes to be a die-hard Orioles fan. I feel like yelling it time and time again after each heart wrenching loss by the Orioles.
I know I know, I shouldn’t get all worked up, especially when this team was not built to be a contender, but with the Yankees in the nose dive we kept waiting for and the Blue Jays all banged up, this might’ve been the year the Orioles could sneak into the wildcard.
Things looked good when the Orioles jumped out to a 11-7 record after starting out 1-4, but it didn’t take long for the wheels to come flying off as the Orioles started to show their warts. Let’s take a closer look an how bad the first month of the season has really gone for this team.
At the major league level, the team had to overcome injuries to Jay Payton and Ramon Hernandez through the first few weeks of the season with some fans saying the team would be better once they return. Unfortunately, the Orioles are 2-6 since Payton returned as the Orioles off-season acquisition is yet to collect an extra base hit and has a .544 OPS.
But don’t worry, Payton has a lot of company in the under performing regular lineup. Outside of Miguel Tejada (.337, .842 OPS) and Melvin Mora (12 extra base hits, .816 OPS) every Orioles regular is hitting below his career OPS.
Brian Roberts is starting to look a lot more like the player that many national publications and some forecasters believed he would be this year rather then the player Orioles fans wanted him to be. The switch-hitter’s power seems to be non-existent this year with several balls dying on the warning track that use to find their way over the wall before the arm injury. His .718 OPS is only 9th best among the AL’s 14 starting second baseman. Thankfully Roberts has been hitting better of late after an awful start, and he’s stealing bases at a near Orioles record pace, so all is not lost here. Let’s hope for more improvement especially ion the pop department.
A huge disappointment so far that no one wants to talk about is Nick Markakis. After a solid rookie season and a great spring this year, this was supposed to be a breakout year for the 23-year old. The Orioles inserted him into the number three spot in the order and instead of taking that step forward, he’s gotten off to a poor start. Yes, he’s had some good at bats and yes he did hit that grand slam in one of the best at bats I’ve seen by an Oriole in a long time, but it’s hard to overlook his dismal .696 OPS, .234 average and .304 OBP. Add in the fact that he’s look timid in right field while misplaying a few balls, and we can only hope this is a typical slow start for him and not some sophomore jinx. Markakis has the talent and hopefully will heat up with the weather.
The rest of the regulars haven’t helped out either. Aubrey Huff, signed this off-season to provide a power bat, has a .667 OPS with only three home runs, Corey Patterson has a .673 OPS and Jay Gibbons has been absolutely horrid putting up a .501 OPS in 74 at bats and seems to be absolutely lost at the plate.
As a team, only the Royals, White Sox and A’s (who swept the Orioles in a two-game series this past week) have scored less runs per game then the Orioles (4.36 runs per game).
Oh, in case anyone is keeping score at home, Jon Knott had more home runs and RBIs in two games with the Orioles than Payton has had in his nine games. Yes I know the sample size is small and Knott has not exactly lit up Triple-A since being demoted, but I still keeping seeing spots where I would prefer to see him at the plate instead of guys like Patterson, Huff, and Gibbons. Meanwhile Freddie Bynum has 14 at bats and has appeared in one game with one at bat since April 18th.
So how about that pitching that was suppose to carry us this year? Well, Steve Trachshel has pleasantly surprised me with his 4.13 ERA while holding batters to a .212 average through his first five starts. He’s actually gone seven innings as many times as the Orioles “ace” Erik Bedard has gone this season -- once. Unlike Bedard, he’s heard of a changeup and actually uses it effectively to keep batters off balance by changing speeds.
Since we’re on Bedard, it’s safe to say he’s been a disappointment. Pretty much everyone expected Bedard to step up this year and become the staff ace that many believe he’s has the stuff to be, but unfortunately, he seems to be more concerned with racking up strike outs than pitching effectively late into games. In his first six starts, Bedard has managed to get into the 7th inning just one time and not surprisingly it was the only time this season he didn’t strike out over a batter an inning.
Coming into the season pitching coach Leo Mazzone talked about how Bedard has three quality pitches and some of the best stuff in the American League. Well, someone might want to tell Bedard that because I’ve barely seen any changeups this year. He’s mainly been a two-pitch pitcher and until he gets it through his head that he’ll need that changeup to be an effective pitcher deep into games, we’re going to get the five to six inning pitcher with the big strike out totals instead of the ace he could become. Batters are hitting .291 off you Erik, you might want to try to use the changeup because you are hittable due to the fact that anything straight comes in at the same speed.
Back on the positive side, Daniel Cabrera has been pretty darn good this year. He’s pitched into the seventh in four of his five starts this year and has “only” walked 12 in 33 innings this year while striking out 31. Like Trachsel, he deserves to be better than 1-2.
Adam Loewen has struggled mightily with his command walking 24 in 25.1 innings, but his 3.20 ERA is best on the staff. Loewen has been able to make the big pitches when he needs to and has yet to allow a home run. His wildness however has cost him as he’s only gone past the fifth inning in his last two starts and is yet to pitch into the seventh.
The fifth starters spot was supposed to be Jaret Wright, but his shoulder woes and general ineffectiveness has meant the O’s are looking for that fifth starter. Jeremy Guthrie pitched well in a spot start but was hammered over the weekend out of the bullpen in Cleveland. With Wright most likely heading back to the disabled list and with Guthrie’s struggles, the Orioles would be wise to give Brian Burres a chance in the rotation. Burres has been remarkable pitching out of the pen allowing just two earned runs in 13.1 innings. Burres now owns a 1.69 ERA in 21.1 major league innings with 21 strikeouts.
With all the short outings by Orioles starters, it’s by no surprise that the bullpen has been busy. Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker are on pace to pitch in 91 games this year while Chris Ray, John Parrish and Danys Baez are on pace for 84. Those ridiculously high game marks can obviously be partially traced to the starters lack of ability to go longer into games, but manager Sam Perlozzo needs to take some responsibility here as well.
All of the above relievers are averaging less than an inning an outing which proves Perlozzo’s resistance to using one pitcher over multiple innings. Perlozzo instead likes to use his relievers for match ups or at most an inning at a time. Unfortunately, by using this strategy, he taxes the arms by making them warm up and pitch way too frequently, especially for a team that does not have an innings eater or two in the rotation.
The number one reason the Orioles have struggled at times this year from the mound is their inability to throw strikes. The Orioles have walked an American League high 113 batters with Loewen, Bradford, Burres, Parrish and Wright walking more than 4.5 batters every nine innings.
Don’t look at the fielding either because the Orioles have had their struggles here as well. From Tejada and Mora’s bone headed plays, to Markakis misjudging some keys hits in right, the Orioles do not appear above average defensively anywhere besides center field and now catcher with Hernandez back.
When we add it all together, the Orioles have to count themselves lucky to be 12-13. The Orioles have shown a lot of heart by staying in games and battling back, and they’ve hit the relievers quite well this year. Unfortunately, when just about everyone in your lineup is cold and no one seems capable of getting hot and carrying the team, and your starters can’t get you seven innings and the bullpen is tired in April, this year has all the makings of a rough season.
So go ahead, “Kick me in the Jimmy” because I’ll still be watching.
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Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.