Baltimore blues

Like most, I was reasonably optimistic about the Baltimore Orioles this year. Of course, I didn’t think they were going to win the AL East, not even close, unless catastrophic injuries and/or severe underperformance happened with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, but I figured they’d greatly improve.

After all, this was a team that lost nearly 100 games last year, but they were replacing several of their God awful pitchers with Kevin Millwood, who’s not a savior or anything but who’s a pretty decent pitcher, and several of the guys in their farm system, including stud prospect Brian Matusz. Young position players like Adam Jones were probably only going to get better. Mega stud prospect Matt Wieters had put up a slightly below-average year (97 OPS+), so he was due to improve as well. Nick Markakis had a slightly down year.

In 2009, they didn’t have a God-awful offense, just below average, with a collective 95 OPS+; it was really their awful 88 ERA+ pitching that had doomed them. Again, I didn’t really expect them to contend, but I thought all these things would improve. Even PECOTA pegged them to be in fourth place in the division, with Toronto trailing them.

Well. On this date last year, the Orioles were 25-35. That’s not great, but the 2010 Orioles would LOVE to have that record. They go into tonight’s game at a sweet 18-42. The historically hapless 1962 Mets, who finished the season at 40-120, were 16-44 after sixty games, by the way.

There’s no way around it: so far, the 2010 Orioles are a really bad team. Like, historically bad. They started off their season by having their new free agent closer, Mike Gonzalez, blow a save to Tampa (I’m kind of shocked they ever had a lead over Tampa to begin with). He’d do that during the Orioles’ home opener, as well, and go on the DL shortly after. By the time the 2010 season was just eleven games in, they were 1-10 and in the middle of what was a nine-game losing streak. And that’s not even their longest losing streak of the season! They beat Oakland on May 25, then didn’t win again until they beat Boston June 6.

While their pitching has stayed pretty crappy from last year, with a 90 OPS+, their offense has actually taken a major tumble, which I didn’t expect. The Orioles’ offense went from just below average last year – again, 95 OPS+ – to a current rather rancid 83 OPS+. Even the pitchers who are doing well can’t get run support. Kevin Millwood’s ERA is now a meh 4.64 and he’s got an 0-7 record, but back before he got beat up in two straight starts to the Yankees, the ERA was a much more acceptable 3.89… and he was 0-5. Brian Matusz has definitely struggled at times, but he’s also struggled to get run support when he’s done well. He couldn’t get a win when he went seven scoreless innings against Cleveland, and in fact the Orioles lost the game 8-2. He has a 2.41 ERA against the Yankees in three starts against them this season… and is 0-3 in those three starts.

It’s easy to point to the reasons for the offensive struggles. The Os have lost Brian Roberts, their leadoff hitter and second baseman, for more or less the entire year with a back problem. Ty Wigginton, his replacement at second base, has been the one awesome offensive performer for the Orioles, but they’re really lacking a leadoff hitter. I believe they’ve been trying some combination of Adam Jones, Julio Lugo, and Corey Patterson there. Here are the OBPs of those three players, by the way: .280, .252, .303. That’s… not good period, nevertheless for your leadoff guy.

The rest of the offense, the pretty-darn-awesome-this-year Wigginton and Luke Scott aside, is pretty embarrassing. They’ve scored 199 runs, the second fewest in baseball and the fewest in the American League. Last night, when they scored two runs in the bottom of the first, that’s the first time they scored more than one run in an inning since May 22 (thanks to the LoHud Yankees blog for that tidbit).

The offensive woes are many. Markakis is actually having a better year by OPS+ than last year, but his ISOP has dropped from his career .168 and last year’s .160, to .119. I thought Miguel Tejada was a pretty decent signing as a veteran to hold down the fort until the prospects arrive, but he’s currently got an OPS+ of 81. So does Adam Jones, who we all expected to improve. Garrett Atkins, who was supposed to be their first baseman, has an OPS+ in the 50s. Their regular shortstop, Cesar Izturis, has an OPS+ BELOW that. Oh, and Wieters? He’s gotten worse too. His OPS+ sits at 76.

I am continually stunned by how bad the Orioles have been this year. I think pretty much no one expected them to seriously contend, but I don’t think anyone saw them being this God-awful. It’s not like they’re getting terribly unlucky either; their Pythag has them at 18-42. When an offense struggles in a way no baseball fans really saw coming, not even the projection systems, and the pitching isn’t any good either, well, that’s when you get historically bad teams. Like what the 2010 Orioles appear to be.

Oh, and somehow in all of this, maybe the most unpredictable thing of all – they managed to sweep the Red Sox the weekend of April 30. Now I know it took the Red Sox a while to get it all together this year but HOW IN THE WORLD DID THAT HAPPEN?!??! They’ve been shut out fewer times than the Phillies, as well. Baseball, you are weird and I love you.

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