Orioles president Andy MacPhail declared the team had taken “a giant step backwards” when he fired Dave Trembley as manager just over a year ago. At the time, MacPhail was speaking specifically to a lack of progress by position players Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters. A year later- Jones, Reimold and Wieters have all gotten back on track in their progress but a new group of Orioles have stepped backward: the starting pitchers. Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen have all been sent down to Triple-A Norfolk at some point this season and Jake Arrieta remains a health concern because of bone spurs in his right elbow. That’s 4/5ths of a young starting rotation dealing with ineptness or injury and that’s brought the Orioles to a full-fledged pitching crisis mid-way through a season that showed signs of rebound after the disaster of last year. Mid-way through the 2011 season and the Orioles are asking Chris Jakabauskus and Mitch Atkins to start games. That wasn’t in the game plan.
Remember when Buck Showalter took over as manager last August and the Orioles seemed to overachieve with a splendid finishing kick to the 2010 season? What was the one thing that changed dramatically over the final two months of the season? It was the starting pitching and the starters’ earned run average over the final months ranked among the best in all of baseball. Even if Derrek Lee, Vlad Guerrero and crew blossom into second half sluggers and manage to produce 6 runs per game, the starting pitching staff as currently constituted is still likely to pitch to an ERA above 7 and the O’s will continue to lose more than they win.
Grow the arms and buy the bats, that’s been MacPhail’s motto. I, too, believe that’s the way to go in Baltimore. But, the growing pains are significant and potentially devastating- and the bats that were bought are hardly making much of a difference. Heading to the All-Star break, a weary O’s fan base is feeling like their team is taking a step backward.
Posted by: Mark Viviano