Only six games have been played, but the Orioles have established a clear offensive pattern.
It will not endear Johnny Oates to the purists, but former Orioles manager
Earl Weaver would give hearty approval.
"Inside baseball" is definitely out. Runs will be manufactured by bats,
not fancy footwork or intricate strategy. When it comes to offense, the
Orioles will be a station-to-station team, though not necessarily restricted
to one base at a time.
Oates has his lineup set so his fastest runners (Brady Anderson, Mike
Devereaux, Rafael Palmeiro, Chris Sabo, Mark McLemore and Jeffrey Hammonds)
hit in succession, the first three at the top, the others at the bottom of the
batting order. Anderson stole 53 bases two years ago, and, of the rest, rookie
Hammonds is the only one who hasn't stolen at least 20 bases in a major-league
season -- and it won't take long for him to reach that figure.
But that may or may not be this year. As impressive as the speed quotient
is in what once was a lead-footed lineup, the Orioles won't be taking a lot of
liberties on the bases. Neither will they make much use of the sacrifice bunt,
a ploy that no doubt will cause Oates a few second guesses as the season
A year ago, the Orioles were in the middle of the American League pack in
successful sacrifice bunts. They ranked seventh with 49, almost equally
distant from the league-leading Boston Red Sox (80) and the New York Yankees,
who had only 22 under Buck Showalter, who must have crossed paths with Weaver
somewhere along the line.
The Yankees likewise didn't take many risks on the base paths, stealing 39
bases in 74 attempts. They were the only team with lower totals than the
Orioles (73-127) and Red Sox (73-111).
As long as the Yankees have the same personnel and Showalter remains the
manager, the Orioles probably won't be last in sacrifice bunts and stolen
bases -- but they'll be close.
The reasoning is simple. With a diverse lineup, Oates' primary concern
will be to give each of his hitters every possible advantage. He won't want to
take the bat out of anybody's
hands, and he certainly shouldn't be looking to give away any outs.
The threat of a stolen base figures to benefit the Orioles more than the
accomplishment itself, because it keeps the right side of the infield open for
the left-handed hitters -- Palmeiro, Harold Baines, the switch-hitting
McLemore and Anderson. Except for late-inning "game" situations, a runner on
first can be more conducive to big innings and game-breaking situations.
After a half-dozen games, the Orioles have yet to execute a sacrifice
bunt. And they've attempted only two steals (both successful). At that rate,
the numbers from last year will look astronomical.
But don't expect anything to change. Oates will play the bats he has been
dealt and take his chances. "Inside baseball" is not being played here.