By Craig Heist
When a team finishes its ninth straight losing season with a record of 70-92, it's hard to find a silver lining, but, the 2006 Orioles were not without positives.
There was consistency from the middle of the infield with shortstop Miguel Tejada and second baseman Brian Roberts playing steadily throughout the year.
After struggling for the first two months, Nick Markakis hit .338 in June, .403 in July and .354 in August. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
Tejada finished with a .330 average, 24 home runs and 100 RBIs and was named the team's MVP, while Roberts hit .286 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs. Roberts wasn't at full strength from the right side of the plate due to the elbow injury he suffered last year, but said he expects to be 100 percent from both sides come spring training.
"I keep working with [batting coach Terry Crowley] in the cage and he keeps telling me, 'Next year, it will be there, next year,'" Roberts said.
Catcher Ramon Hernandez gave the Orioles more than they expected. He turned in a strong offensive year, hitting .275 with 23 home runs and 91 RBIs. When the Orioles signed Hernandez in the offseason, they were sure they were getting a good defensive catcher, but were pleasantly surprised at his offensive production.
The Birds also found their right fielder to start the 2007 season. Nick Markakis benefited from injuries to David Newhan and Jay Gibbons and the release of Luis Matos to get a chance to play every day. After struggling for the first two months, Markakis hit .338 in June, .403 in July and .354 in August. He hit two home runs before the All-Star break but 14 after, finishing the year with a .291 average, 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.
Asked whether Markakis had earned a starting job heading into spring training, manager Sam Perlozzo said, "I have him penciled in."
Erik emerged as the Orioles' most consistent starter, going 15-11 with an ERA of 3.76 in 196.1 innings.
The light bulb for Erik Bedard seemed to turn on and he emerged as the Orioles' most consistent starter, going 15-11 with an ERA of 3.76 in 196.1 innings. Bedard attributed some of his success to veteran Kris Benson who taught Bedard a new grip for his changeup. Bedard struck out 171 batters while walking just 69, and for most of the year he got away from his usual problem of throwing too many pitches by the middle innings.
Benson finished the year 11-12 with a 4.82 ERA but was more solid than his record indicates.
Adam Loewen and Daniel Cabrera are in the Orioles' plans for the future, and much depends on how long it takes them to become consistent major league pitchers. Loewen went 6-6 in 112.1 innings and showed great poise on the mound. Cabrera was erratic early on, but after a stint in the minor leagues, he came back with a sense of purpose. He finished 9-10 and came close to a no-hitter in his last start against the Yankees in New York.
Closer Chris Ray finished the season with 33 saves in 38 opportunities. He went 4-4 on the year with a 2.73 ERA and proved that the club's failure to re-sign former closer B.J. Ryan wasn't such a bad thing after all.
Unfortunately, though, for all the things that went right, many went wrong. Starting pitchers Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez, who won a combined 27 games in 2005, went 9-25. Chen was winless, going 0-7 with an ERA of nearly 7.00.
Daniel Cabrera finished the year 9-10 and came close to a no-hitter in his last start against the Yankees. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
"I think you've just got to look at the total picture," Perlozzo said. "We've been auditioning our pitching staff the entire year, trying to get some kids in our starting rotation and pitching well. It's not unusual that the results would be what they are."
The results were not a surprise.
Orioles pitchers finished 13th in the league in ERA at 5.35. The only team with a higher ERA was Kansas City. The Birds also finished 13th in runs allowed with 899 and gave up an AL-worst 216 home runs.
Offensively, the Orioles finished in the middle of the American League pack. Scoring runs was not a problem, as they finished the year with 768.
Going into the offseason, pitching is one of the Orioles' top concerns. The team needs at least one more starter alongside Bedard, Benson, Cabrera and Loewen. And the bullpen must be overhauled.
Offensively, the O's need another big bat to protect Tejada. The top four spots in the lineup look set going into next year with Roberts, Melvin Mora and Markakis ahead of Tejada.
"This is a big offseason for us," vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette said. "Every offseason is important, but for this club it is important we put our best foot forward in trying to get what we need."
Said Roberts: "I know one thing, it's no fun to stand out there and lose all the time. You can keep saying there are positives for just so long."
Issue 1.25: October 12, 2006