Saturday, May 26, 2007

Different Characters, Same Result

The Orioles lost again last night, this time losing to the Oakland A's. The O's tried to rally late in the game after a Kevin Millar solo home-run in the 8th inning cut the lead to 3-2. Nick Markakis started the Orioles attack in the 9th by reaching base on a lead-off walk, but the Orioles failed to tie the game. With runners on 1st and 2nd with one out, Ramon Hernandez flied out, and Jay Gibbons struck out to end the threat and the game.

Although the result was a similar one for the Orioles so far this season, a few issues surrounded some decisions in the game. Evident in this article in the Baltimore Sun, a late game decision by Sam Perlozzo became a questionable topic. With Melvin Mora sitting on the bench after not getting the start, Gibbons stepped to the plate against the left-handed Embree. Perlozzo's thinking was that since Gibbons had been relatively successful against Embree in his career, batting 4-12 off of him, he would leave Gibbons in the game instead of letting Mora, who's right-handed, face Embree with the game on the line.

First of all, my gut reaction was that I wanted Perlozzo to pinch-hit Mora for Gibbons. The match-up seemed better, and I just thought it would make more sense to send Mora out there instead.

After breaking down the numbers, Perlozzo may have been right after all. Gibbons is currently hitting .227, and Mora is hitting .247. But over the last three years, from 2004-2006, Gibbons is batting .254 vs left-handed pitching, while Mora is hitting only six points higher at a .260 clip. Also over his career, Mora has only faced Embree twice, going 0-2, and as I mentioned before, Gibbons had been 4-12 against Embree. Mora is only a slightly better hitter vs. left-handed pitching, and he has not seen Embree nearly as many times as Gibbons has. Either way, I believe I still would have gone with Mora because of Gibbons's recent struggles.

I'm not surprised the Orioles lost, and they seem to lose these games all the time. As the Sun article mentions, so far this season the Orioles are 5-11 in one-run games. Not only is that terrible, but it also reflects both poor situational play and coaching. The Orioles seem to fail to make that one play late in baseball games that often determines winning vs. losing. On the other hand, they always seem to make a costly error or base-running mistake that leaves the door wide open for their opponent to take the lead and win.

In the game yesterday, the best play of that 9th inning, by far, was Freddie Bynum's hard slide into 2nd base to break up the double play as Hernandez was still running towards first. Without the hard slide by Bynum, the game would have been over. After seeing his hustle and determination, I was sure the Orioles would find some way to pick him up for such an important and selfless play. Very rarely have I ever seen plays like that for the Orioles of the last 10 or so years. That was the one bright spot before Gibbons, looking extremely overmatched, struck out to end the game.

But my issue was less with Perlozzo's decision to bring in Mora than with some off the field issues the Orioles have been dealing with lately. I like that Perlozzo sticks by his moves and that he defends his players, but Perlozzo really needs to address the apparent whining by some players that goes on to the media. A few weeks ago, Gibbons complained that he wasn't getting enough playing time, yet he was still batting around the Mendoza line. And just yesterday, Mora complained that he was confused and disappointed that Perlozzo had not let him known 24 hours in advance to the game vs. the A's last night that he would not be in the starting lineup.

Mora said, "I'm not upset that I'm not in there. I'm upset that they don't communicate with me. I could've worked out or come here and worked early. I'm not the kind of guy that wants to work early and play the game, because I don't want to be tired. ... He's the boss and he can do anything he wants with the lineup. I don't mind that. He can give me a day off. But we're veteran players here, and we need to know what's happening the next day."

The whole matter can be summed up in two words -- who cares? This isn't Little League Baseball. The Orioles have had a losing record for almost 10 straight years now. It's understandable for a coach to want his players to be happy and to want to give all of them playing time; however, I don't hear players like Chris Gomez or Paul Bako going public with their demands for more playing time. They have an important role on the team, and they step up whenever they're called upon. Nothing more, nothing less.

I've been skeptical of Perlozzo for a while now, but his job is to win games, not to make his players happy all the time. I could care less if the Orioles locker room is happy if they're a winning ballclub. The goal isn't to win your players over by being nice and friendly and fair all the time. The goal is to win games and get the fans back to caring about the Orioles again. If Mora and Gibbons aren't happy and the Orioles are winning, then so be it. Someone needs to take control over the team and be consistent -- whether that person is Sam Perlozzo or not.

It's a shame that Mora and Gibbons have to complain to the media so much. And it's not like they are setting the world on fire -- neither of them is hitting over .250 right now. Tejada did the same thing last season as well with his "trade demands" or whatever he referred to them as. I'm sure, though, that everyone on the team wants to win. If the Orioles are ever going to compete again, especially in the difficult and demanding AL East, they're going to need to combine smart personnel decisions, signing free agents and drafting players, with a strong manager who can get the most out of the team. I felt that most of the signings were pretty good ones, although the Baez signing doesn't look so great at this moment.

Either way, the Orioles' front office has been feeding the fans the same BS for the last few years now. The team's either in a youth movement, or they're rebuilding, or their next signings will help push the team over the top -- wherever exactly that is. They try to make everyone believe that the team is on the cusp of winning again, and they really aren't.

The current attitude and atmosphere surrounding the team can be reflected in yesterday's game. Perlozzo may have made the right move in keeping Gibbons at the plate, or he could have made the wrong move. No matter which move was correct, the Orioles lost another very winnable game. That has been the result for a decade now -- the Orioles just simply lose. And it doesn't seem to matter why. Winning games should be what matters, not who's unhappy with their salary or role on the team.

Unfortunately, the Orioles have kept up with their on-the-field problems with just as many off-the-field problems. And that's never a good thing. But as far as firing Perlozzo goes -- does it even matter who the coach is right now? That's a question for another day.

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