The Orioles sit at 15-37 on the season – easily the worst record in baseball. A season that was supposed to be a stepping-stone to contention – and possibly even a chance to crack .500 already – sees the team on pace to finish with just 47 victories. After many years of losing with mediocre retreads and washed-up veterans, the team brought Andy MacPhail on board to finally rebuild in earnest. Top older players were traded*, top younger players were singed to extensions, and the draft was invested in. And yet, MacPhail wasn’t able to stop the team’s downward trajectory. The O’s win total has fallen from 74 to 70 to 69 to 68 to 64, and they’ll need to raise their current winning percentage by over .150 points from here on out to even get back to that 64 win mark in 2010. Things are dark in Baltimore (at least until football season), but there is hope.
* Erik Bedard to the Mariners for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill**, Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler.
Miguel Tejada to the Astros for Luke Scott, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, Troy Patton and Mike Costanzo.
** Turned into Josh Bell and Steven Johnson.
Nick Markakis had a down 2009, but he’s gone back to using his great batting eye to draw a lot of free passes and has a cannon in right-field. Adam Jones started out the year ice cold with plate discipline issues, but is only 24, has a Gold Glove under his belt*, and has the skills to hit for both average and power. Matt Wieters is taking more time than some expected to adjust to major league pitching, but has already made great strides behind the plate. In fact, he once framed a pitch so perfectly that it counted for two strikes. They have the potential to form a championship caliber core, with back-up from veteran second-baseman Brian Roberts, outfielders Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie, and (soon) slugging third-baseman Josh Bell.
* Though not exactly the most deserved of ones.
Pitching has been a perennial problem for the O’s, with a team ERA below 4.50 exactly once since 1997. That’s were the majority of the team’s minor league talent lies though. Lefty Brian Matusz is already having some success in the majors and has a tendency to pitch beyond his years with an arsenal of quality pitches including one of the better change-ups around. Chris Tillman has drastically improved his control, and has a big overhand curveball that I think’s a plus-plus pitch already. Brad Bergesen doesn’t have the most impressive stuff, but when he’s locating his sinker down in the strike-zone he’ll give the team a chance to win more often than not. Then in the minor’s there’s still power-righty Jake Arrieta and his sub-2 ERA, and Zach Britton throwing tons of groundballs from the left-side, along with an assortment of mid-tier pitching prospects.
At this year’s trade deadline, there’s a pretty good chance that the team will add even more young talent as Kevin Millwood, Miguel Tejada, and perhaps other veterans get shipped off to contenders. This is all to say that the Yankees don’t need to worry about the Orioles this year. Or likely next year. But they also didn’t need to worry about the Rays right up until they won the division coming off a string of sub 70 win seasons. And while they’re not there yet, the O’s are building towards that same type of success with many of the potential pieces already in place.