Friday, July 30, 2010

Why Are There Still Oriole Fans?

Last night, reliever David Hernandez won a game for Baltimore. He entered a tie game against the Royals, pitched two scoreless innings, then watched the O's push across a run on Ty Wigginton's sacrifice fly in the 11th. Closer Alfred Simon took over from there, and Hernandez moved to a 5-7 record to go with his 4.21 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.

Now, you are probably wondering why I'm interrupting your blog of snarky lists and not enough fantasy football team names to tell you game news from an MLB- team, and to put the spotlight on a guy that probably would not be among the first 1,000 names that you'd give me if I asked you to rattle off names of current MLB players. And here's why.

Hernandez now leads the team in wins.

With five.

No, seriously.

The O's are 32-70 (!) in the AL East. They just traded away their second best hitter on batting average, Miguel Tejada. That's actually OK, because Miggy was hitting his usually pedestrian .269. The "ace" of their rotation is Jeremy Guthrie, who has a 4.23 ERA and 4 wins. Their second best starter is Brian Matusz, who has a 5.46 ERA, and leads the teams in strikeouts (91); he is the case study on how young guys with stuff are not terribly useful if your goal is to win games. Their third best starter is the historically fantasy relevant Kevin Millwood, who sports a 5.96 ERA and probably pines for Arlington summers. Keep in mind that this is the Year of the Pitcher, where career fodder like Bruce Chen and Armando Galarrage flirt with perfection, and Dallas Braden actually achieved it. Jake Arrieta (5.40 ERA) and Brad Bergesen (6.95 ERA) round out the Not Ready For MLB Rotation.

Let's turn to the offense, where the O's were thought to have some intriguing young talent at the start of the year, when the world looked at all of those high draft picks and thought, well, it finally happened for the Rays, maybe it will finally happen here, too. Your team leader in OPS is Luke Scott, a 32-year-old who has never managed to break 500 at-bats in a season, and won't this year, either. He's got power (126 HRs in 1852 ABs) and is prone to hot streaks like the one he's currently on, so that's why he's got the team lead. Second is Nick Markakis, who should be emerging in his fifth year. Instead, he's becoming increasingly irrelevant, since he doesn't hit home runs (7 in 386 ABs), steal bases (4 for 5 for the year), or score or drive in runs (43 and 34, respectively). But if you need to feel good about something, his .293 BA and .378 OBA might eventually get him to an organization where he might be useful. I'm not counting on it, though.

Still looking for encouragement? Adam Jones had highly regarded talent coming into the year, with power, speed and a Gold Glove in center field. He's also shown a pulse lately. Unfortunately for him, the first 300 ABs of the year count the same as the second, and getting on base 3 out of 10 times isn't, well, good. My hatred of Matt Wieters is well known to regular readers of this blog. After his most recent trip to the DL, Johnny Bench II had a 2-homer day, leading to a flurry of pickups from everyone who became freshly convinced of the inevitability of the post-hype sleeper. That give him 8 for the year. Woo. I'm sure he calls a great game for all of these bombed-out pitchers. I'd go deeper into the farm system, but you get the point. Baltimore is where highly regarded young talent goes to die. A long, slow death of potential, potential, potential.

The really terrifying thing about the O's this year is that, with the exception of the Brian Roberts injury, they've actually been pretty lucky. Wigginton has been better than anyone had any right to believe. Corey Patterson has come up from the minors to give them the more than occasional spark. Scott has solved a spot when he really wasn't expected to. Simon has solidified the closer spot (15 of 17 saves) despite meh numbers (3.41 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, weak strikeout numbers for a closer). And yet, they have the worst record in the majors, do not draw fans to their park unless they are coming for the other team, and take a back seat in the toxic baseball waste dump that is the greater DC area to the Nationals, at least on any day where Stephen Strasburg might pitch. Of all the circling the drain MLB- franchises (Kansas City, Cleveland, Seattle, DC, Pittsburgh, Houston and Arizona), its either them or Pittsburgh as the most soul-killing, and Pirate Fan at least has recent rings in football and hockey to distract himself with.

A huge part of this, of course, is that they are in a murderous division. If the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays were all in different divisions, they'd probably all be division champions, and with them out of the division, the Jays would be a fine candidate for the AL wild-card. But the context of the division isn't the only thing that's going on here. There's a Clipper-esque stench of losing here that pervades and pollutes. Guys go on the DL for extended stretches due to trainer malpractice, general malfeasance, or cursed luck. Free agent signings are few and far between, and always from the remainder and closeout rack. And as anyone who claims to be a fan of this team (i.e., people who are at least 30 years of age or older, and remember when the O's were competitive, if not actually feisty and the occasional champion; the Orioles have made no new fans in the last dozen years) will tell you, the fish stinks from the head down. That head, of course, is owner Peter Angelos.

(Ready for the really funny part? They still draw fans, or at least, much more than you might expect. Baltimore ranks 23rd out of 30 teams in MLB in average attendance as I write this, with 22,261 for every game. They beat out Tampa, KC, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Oakland, Florida and Cleveland. No idea, of course, what they'd be like without the big weekends against the commuter AL East rivals.)

In the modern world, with our increasing acceptance of player fandom over team fandom, plus the ever-increasing amount of things that compete for our time, along with the ever-fractioning media control... well, I'm not sure why *anyone*, even the lifers, is still an Orioles fan. This isn't a matter of defending bandwagon jumpers, or telling people to abandon the club in a down year; I'm still a Sixers and Athletics fan, albeit increasingly disinterested in both. (Someone, please, tell Billy Beane that if he's really that interested in soccer, that he should stop pretending to be a GM, and trading away outfielders like Andre Ethier and Carlos Gonzalez for Milton Bradley and three months of Matt Holliday. Thanks.) But at least my teams have given me moments of joy in this century, and their ownership is mostly skinflints that I can ignore. Angelos? Not so much.

So, O's Fan? Feel free to shut it down on this club. Find something else to do with your time. Even if no one goes to the games, they are not likely to move; there's no obvious place to go, the park is still a jewel, and Coke and Pepsi (err, I mean the Yankees and Red Sox) would never allow their de facto Washington Generals to go. Just like Florida, the club can still be profitable enough with next to no gate receipts, thanks to revenue sharing from clubs that actually try to win. In a decade or two, after Angelos goes to the hell that he so richly deserves and some upstart finally hits on a few draft picks, they'll be watchable again, and you can claim that you never lost faith.

But for now, turn the page. After all, everyone else involved in this sorry mess has.

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