O's Survive Tough Stretch Of Games
By Jim Henneman
Some thoughts after observing the difficult 15-game stretch that was billed in some quarters as a make-or-break stretch for the Orioles:
• It did neither. Most people would have settled for the 9-6 record posted against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays during the last two weeks, and some no doubt felt a reversal of those numbers might've been sufficient, considering recent history. Still, while there is certainly ample room for optimism, the Orioles didn't prove any real points.
• What the stretch did prove was that, as efficient as it has been, the pitching can still be spotty enough to cause some concern, while at the same time giving enough indication there will be a marked improvement from the last half-dozen seasons. That the O's have survived almost one-fourth of the season (they will reach that mark this weekend in Washington) with a roster that can best be described as revolving is an indication the organization's depth is better than it's been in at least a decade.
• Taking into consideration that three of the losses (during a four-game series) came at the hands of the Rangers, the overall record looks even better, because the two-time defending American League champions right now are the best team in the American League, and quite possibly the major leagues. But they will have to win a World Series to claim that distinction.
• The Yankees are known for their lavish spending, and justifiably so, but no team in baseball gets more mileage out of retreads. Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez continue to allow the Yankees the luxury of covering up injuries and using Alex Rodriguez as a designated hitter.
• Had the Toronto Blue Jays played their first six games against the Orioles the way they did a year ago, they'd be leading the AL East by a comfortable margin. How these two teams play the rest of the year may very well be the best indication of what's in store for the Orioles.
• If you take a close look at the AL East standings, you'll better understand why Orioles general manager Dan Duquette's goal of finishing at .500 might be easier to attain than getting out of last place.
• Central Division teams turned up on the Red Sox schedule just in time.
• Rangers first baseman Michael Young is not only one of baseball's most underrated players, he is also the most versatile. During his career, he has been a regular at each of the four infield positions at one time or another. How many remember that it was Young that agreed to move to second base, so A-Rod could try to earn his $252 million contract with the Rangers as a shortstop?
• Derek Jeter keeps climbing up the hit leader board, but it's doubtful that he's ever had two worse games back-to-back than last Sunday-Monday against the Mariners and Orioles, when he grounded into four double plays, two during each game.
• If somebody had told you April 6 that the Orioles would win 23 of their first 37 games with a roster that, at one time or another, included Xavier Avery, Ryan Flaherty, Bill Hall, Luis Exposito, Nick Johnson, Steve Tolleson, Endy Chavez, Wilson Betemit and Ronny Paulino, you'd have been calling for the men in white coats, correct? At one time or another, they've all made a contribution, but the idea the roster would undergo such dramatic changes is still a little scary.
• It's unfortunate that Avery had to be rushed to the big leagues out of necessity, but as it was noted here last spring, he is a bonafide prospect -- maybe second only to Manny Machado among position players in the organization. He will benefit from finishing the year in AAA once Chavez or Nolan Reimold returns, but he won't need all three options before getting established.
• Third base is the toughest infield position to play (the fact that Evan Longoria has six errors and has been on the disabled list two weeks is evidence of that), but it's not supposed to be as tough as it's looked at OPACY this year. In fact, right now, both corners seem to be contaminated, and the lack of offense from what are supposed to be productive positions makes it even worse.
• The Orioles haven't seen the Tigers or any of the five NL teams they'll face this year -- but don't expect any to be any better than the other four teams in the AL East.
• A note of caution to those already suggesting that the O's put Machado on the fast track so Hardy can move to third base: You might want to pay more attention to the way Hardy plays shortstop. Quietly gifted would be a nice way to describe him.
• It says a lot that on the night Josh Hamilton hit four home runs, the hardest ball he hit was a double that missed being a fifth homeric hoist (a nod to the late Lou Hatter for that descriptive beauty) only because it had too much topspin.
• Last, but hardly least, not to say we told you so, but … we did.
So Albert Pujols, the best hitter on the planet for the last decade or so, has been in Orange County less than two months mired in the worst stretch of his career and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher gets kicked to the curb, though he's been the Angels' hitting guru for the last 12 years and has been to manager Mike Scioscia what pitching coach Dave Duncan was to former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.
Who didn't see this coming? Just another wild guess folks, but I think King Albert's image just took another hit -- big time.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.
Posted May 16, 2012