Only six games have been played, but the Orioles have established a clearoffensive pattern.
It will not endear Johnny Oates to the purists, but former Orioles managerEarl 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, theOrioles will be a station-to-station team, though not necessarily restrictedto one base at a time.
Oates has his lineup set so his fastest runners (Brady Anderson, MikeDevereaux, Rafael Palmeiro, Chris Sabo, Mark McLemore and Jeffrey Hammonds)hit in succession, the first three at the top, the others at the bottom of thebatting order. Anderson stole 53 bases two years ago, and, of the rest, rookieHammonds is the only one who hasn't stolen at least 20 bases in a major-leagueseason -- 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 quotientis in what once was a lead-footed lineup, the Orioles won't be taking a lot ofliberties 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 seasonprogresses.
A year ago, the Orioles were in the middle of the American League pack insuccessful sacrifice bunts. They ranked seventh with 49, almost equallydistant 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 Weaversomewhere along the line.
The Yankees likewise didn't take many risks on the base paths, stealing 39bases in 74 attempts. They were the only team with lower totals than theOrioles (73-127) and Red Sox (73-111).
As long as the Yankees have the same personnel and Showalter remains themanager, the Orioles probably won't be last in sacrifice bunts and stolenbases -- but they'll be close.
The reasoning is simple. With a diverse lineup, Oates' primary concernwill be to give each of his hitters every possible advantage. He won't want totake the bat out of anybody'shands, 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 theaccomplishment itself, because it keeps the right side of the infield open forthe left-handed hitters -- Palmeiro, Harold Baines, the switch-hittingMcLemore and Anderson. Except for late-inning "game" situations, a runner onfirst can be more conducive to big innings and game-breaking situations.
After a half-dozen games, the Orioles have yet to execute a sacrificebunt. 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 beendealt and take his chances. "Inside baseball" is not being played here.