By Matt Palmer
|Should the Orioles keep J.J. Hardy as the leadoff hitter even after Brian Roberts returns from the DL?
Many team observers consider a 14th-straight losing season to be inevitable.
The Orioles can choose one of two things: give up or fight. Manager Buck Showalter won't allow his team to surrender willingly. But is he fighting a futile battle? Possibly, but here are some concrete ways the Orioles can make a move toward resurrection.
Perhaps no Orioles player has been taken for granted more than Jeremy Guthrie. The 32-year-old starting pitcher had an ERA just above 3.00 during April and May. He put the team in position to win nearly every time he took the mound and was rewarded with little offensive support from his teammates. By the All-Star break, his ERA had swelled to 4.23 and his record was a staggering 3-11, with the most losses in baseball. He started to struggle, allowing six runs twice during his final four outings. Although the Orioles gave him a second lease on life professionally in 2007, he now has given them more in the relationship. It's time to send him to a winning team and get something significant in return.
Move The Mark
Make third baseman Mark Reynolds the everyday cleanup hitter. Reynolds started the season dreadfully, but had a batting average renaissance in June, thanks to extra work with the coaching staff. He's on pace to drive in nearly 100 RBIs and hit between 35 and 40 home runs. Reynolds is a deceptively shrewd hitter at times. He leads the team in on-base percentage and is on schedule for nearly 100 walks. But, more than anything, he drives in runs on a team that has struggled to score. Vladimir Guerrero was a disappointment in the four-spot and can't remain there.
Reynolds is not without his faults. He has probably cost his team a few wins with his absolutely porous defense. He had 20 errors before the All-Star break and is on pace to surpass his previous high of 34. That sort of mindless play is inexcusable. If he cuts down on those errors, the Orioles would be among the best fielding teams. First baseman Derrek Lee has just four miscues, while shortstop J.J. Hardy has two -- one of which was arguably Reynolds' fault.
|Should the Orioles make third baseman Mark Reynolds the everyday cleanup hitter.
Hardy's Your Hitter
When Roberts returns to Baltimore, Hardy should remain the Birds' leadoff hitter. The shortstop is just as effective in the order's top spot as Roberts, except he hasn't attempted a stolen base in 2011. It's a remarkable stat. Hardy had a tremendous June, with nine home runs. He's on pace for about 25, close to his career high. Most importantly, he's also near the top of the team in on-base percentage. The Orioles want to re-sign him quickly. If the two sides appear far away, the O's could make the unfortunate move of trading their best acquisition in years.
Where are all the assertive moves Showalter promised? The Orioles were supposed to be a team that took it to opposing teams with reckless abandon. The Orioles were supposed to be unpredictable, hard charging and stubborn. They were none of those things. Games became perfunctory. The Orioles have shown little of the spunk they had at the end of 2010. One of the most dangerous things about losing is that it is hard to stop. The Orioles need to play offensively as if they have nothing to lose. Everything should be a gamble.
Cut Your Losses
Sometimes a player and a team don't fit. The Orioles have been reluctant to part ways with reliever Mike Gonzalez, one of the team's most genial members, despite the fact he hasn't performed well in an Orioles' uniform. Some players walk to the mound with everyone expecting the floor to collapse underneath. That's the case with Gonzalez. He's owed significant money, but if the team wants to win, they can't count on him. Move on and use the roster spot on a more reliable arm.
Blow Up The Bullpen
Gonzalez isn't the only problem in the pen. Very few relievers are sure things for the Orioles, save for Koji Uehara, who allowed nine runs in 36 appearances. Kevin Gregg finally settled into the closer role, but has blown four of 19 save opportunities. Jim Johnson has been dominant at times and blown leads as well. Everyone else has been massively expendable. The team got rid of Clay Rapada and Jeremy Accardo. No one should be safe. The Orioles have done this bullpen struggle routine far too long. The sooner the team puts its focus on the problem, the more stability it will have.
Deal Derrek Lee
Lee didn't produce during the first few months of the season, but found his swing during interleague play. He just never looked comfortable against American League players, but against the National League he was right at home. Lee is nowhere near his more prolific younger, healthier self, but he can play defense well and could drive in runs under the right circumstances. An NL contender could be desperate enough to give the Orioles a player who could contribute either this year or next. It would be best for the O's and Lee.
Recharge The Rotation
One of Showalter's most questionable decisions was trading off former pitching coach Rick Kranitz for Mark Connor, because Kranitz had just begun to bond with the rotation. Connor lasted about two months and resigned from the team. The rotation, the team's biggest success during April, spiraled downward under Rick Adair. Zach Britton was sent to Double-A Bowie just before the All-Star break, a move that should get the young star some rest and a refresher course in the basics. The O's can't afford that with too many others, although Jake Arrieta showed he could possibly use a break as well. Everyone else, except for Guthrie, has been demoted to the minors. Adair needs to connect with Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen. The season and the organization depend on it.
Issue 163: July 2011