BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles began the season unusually optimistic, and a 6-1 start only fueled those expectations.
They ended up with their 14th consecutive losing record, a last-place finish in the AL East and with another pending front-office change that puts the future of the franchise in flux.
The arrival of Buck Showalter in August 2010 fueled the notion that this season would be different than the 13 that preceded it.
Baltimore went 34-23 over the final two months last year under their esteemed manager, and the offseason acquisition of sluggers Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee, along with the addition of shortstop J.J. Hardy, provided Orioles fans with an unfamiliar feeling of hope.
Nothing changed after Baltimore opened with a three-game sweep of the defending AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays, and the Orioles stood in first place after winning six of their first seven.
But the young starting pitchers soon showed their inexperience, the hitting became erratic, and it wasn’t long before Baltimore settled into a slide that led to its 69-93 finish.
“We got off to a decent start and then kind of struggled the second month of the season,” pitcher Jeremy Guthrie said. “Then we didn’t pitch well and weren’t able to score a bunch of runs. It kind of put us on a bad little stretch there, and we didn’t have very good stretches since then.”
The Orioles played well against the contenders over the final two weeks, but that only served to make their final record that much more disappointing.
“I think we showed signs of being good and showing people what we’re capable of, and there were times when we couldn’t put it together, whether it be pitching or hitting or even defense,” Hardy said.
Hardy had an outstanding year, as did Adam Jones and All-Star catcher Matt Wieters. All three were acquired by president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who took over the job in June 2007 with the intention of bringing his favorite childhood team back into prominence.
Now, however, MacPhail appears ready to walk away from the job. His contract expires on Oct. 31 and he has given no indication that he wants to return.
There is talk that Showalter could take the job. Whether he stays in the dugout or not, Showalter knows changes must be made for the Orioles to end this franchise-record run of losing seasons.
“I feel pretty confident that we’ll be pretty relentless in trying to improve our club and our chances to be more
competitive,” he said.
The most notable sore spot is starting pitching. Guthrie went 9-17, but at least he logged a team-high 208 innings. Brian Matusz was 1-8, Jake Arrieta had season-ending elbow surgery in August, Brad Bergesen went 2-7 with a 5.05 ERA and Chris Tillman wasn’t deemed worthy of an extended look in the majors.
“We definitely have the talent there, and we have guys that have done it for spans throughout their career,” Wieters said.
“Now it’s just being able to connect consistent efforts throughout the year. You’re going to have some bad outings, but to be able to bounce back and at least give your team a chance to win is what we’re asking from them.”
Matusz was the biggest disappointment. After going 6-0 with a 1.57 ERA over his final eight starts in 2010, he began the 2011 season on the disabled list with an injury near his rib cage and finished with 10.69 ERA, the worst in baseball history by a pitcher with at least 10 starts in a season.
“You want to go out there and compete with the best of the best, and be able to win,” he said. “This year, we weren’t able
to do that, and not being able to be a piece to help out is frustrating and it hurts. I’ll remember what this feeling feels
like and make sure I work hard enough to never have to feel it again.”
Injuries also hurt the Orioles. Brian Roberts received a concussion in May and never returned. Luke Scott missed the final 2 1/2 months after undergoing shoulder surgery and Hardy missed 30 games with a rib injury.
There was a time in August when it appeared that Baltimore would lose 100 games for only the third time in franchise history, but a late run enabled Baltimore to improve upon last year’s 66-96 finish.
“Last year our record was better than the year before, and this year it’s better than last year. I want to keep that up,”
Showalter said. “It may not seem like much to a lot of people who just look at it purely by the numbers, but it’s inch by inch, claw by claw.
“We didn’t get where we were overnight, and we’ve got to keep that type of relentlessness and not be denied. I don’t pay a lot of lip service about what we’re going to do and not do. Let’s see it. That’s what I’d be saying if I were the fans.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)