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Orioles Pitching, Hitting Leads to Stumble Out of Gate

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It’s easy to look at the first month of the Orioles’ season and declare that all is lost.

Just look at the statistics. You can learn something of a team from the number of runs they score and the number of runs they allow. By those metrics, the Orioles are lousy.

To wit, there are 15 teams in the American League. Only two clubs have a higher earned run average than the Birds. And no team has scored fewer runs than Baltimore.

That adds up to lousy.

You’re not surprised, are you? 

While teams around them were getting appreciably better in the offseason, the Orioles made no substantive upgrades to a team that finished last year 12 games under .500 and in last place in the East.

The team didn’t bring in a recognized talented hitter. Indeed, the lone position player who is having a good season, shortstop Manny Machado, is widely thought to be playing his last season in black and orange.

And two of the starting pitchers the Orioles signed as free agents, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb have ERAs over the league average of 4.32. And Cobb and Chris Tillman, who was subpar last year, both have ERAs above nine.

It is fair to note that second baseman Jonathan Schoop, third baseman Tim Beckham and closer Zach Britton have all missed sizable chunks of the season with injuries. In Britton’s case, he’s been shelved the entire  2018 campaign, robbing the bullpen of its most valuable weapon.

And yet, this didn’t have to happen. With some imagination and a commitment to spend money on quality talent, the Orioles could have been interesting this year. Perhaps not a winning team, but at least worth talking about.

Say, like the Birds of 1988. That team opened the season with 21 straight losses, a Major League record that stands to this day.

They weren’t without talent. Two guys you may have heard of, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, were in the middle of careers in which each would get 3,000 hits and club 400 home runs and end up in the Hall of Fame.

The center fielder that year, Fred Lynn, had been the first player in Major League history to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player trophies in the same year. And pitcher Curt Schilling would go on to win two World Series rings, albeit none here.

But, for that April and May, the Birds were so god-awful that, as then catcher Mickey Tettleton put it, quote, We couldn’t hit water if we fell out of a boat unquote.

This year’s Orioles aren’t that bad. Nor, unfortunately, are they all that interesting, either.

If the Birds continue down this desultory path, it won’t take long for calls for general manager Dan Duquette to start selling off parts to make next year better.

Heck, if the wheels really come off, you may hear folks cry for the heads of Duquette or even manager Buck Showalter, to which I would say, patience.

After all, by 1989, a year after they couldn’t get wet from a boat the Birds soaked in a season with 87 wins and a near playoff appearance. Take heart, folks. It could happen. 

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.