I’m averaging about one national radio show interview request a day for the past week or so. What’s going on here? Don’t these people know the NFL starts Wednesday? And it’s September in Baltimore? Didn’t these people get the memo that it’s football season here?
This has been the 12th year I have covered this team. The high-water mark was in 2004, when the Orioles had 78 wins. So, yeah, things are a little different. And I’m not one to try and reinvent history. In March, I thought this could be the worst team I’ve ever covered, and that title has had plenty of competition over the years. Hey, give me a break, they lost to a community college squad (I did defend them on that one, by the way).
During spring training, there were really only two spots on the roster that had no question marks: center field and catcher. Remember, Jim Johnson was dealing with back trouble and had never closed for a full season; Pedro Strop had one month of Orioles experience; J.J. Hardy wasn’t the pillar of health and received a cortisone shot in his shoulder and Nick Markakis was recovering from abdomen surgery.
There was uncertainty involving the rotation – Would Brian Matusz return to form? Was Zach Britton healthy? Could Wei-Yin Chen make the transition? Who was Jason Hammel? – and all over the diamond (Mark Reynolds at third, Chris Davis at first, Nolan Reimold at leadoff and the ongoing saga of Brian Roberts).
Probably the most impressive thing about this season is that not all of those questions were answered in the affirmative. It’s not as if nothing has gone wrong this year.
Reimold lasted a month; Roberts 17 games; Britton and Matusz are just now finding their way. Markakis and Hammel, key contributors, were lost for roughly six weeks. Reynolds was a disaster at third; Hardy’s shoulder still isn’t quite right.
And yet this team keeps winning – it really has been a crazy, and entertaining, season.
Since we’re admitting our mistakes, I, for one, thought Dan Duquette needed to lay off the caffeine with his roster moves this year. Poor Ron Johnson, the manager at Triple-A Norfolk, needed a sharp pencil with a huge eraser all year.
And a lot of Duquette’s moves were unnecessary – Dontrelle Willis, Jamie Moyer, Miguel Tejada, JC Romero (twice). And yet so many of them, perhaps inexplicably, have helped win a game or more for the big club. Steve Pearce and Bill Hall are forgotten men, but they won games for the Orioles. Taylor Teagarden has done it twice. This week alone, Randy Wolf and Joe Saunders picked up victories.
Duquette was collecting players like trading cards (I’ll give you a Jai Miller and a Pat Neshek for a Matt Antonelli). It seemed laughable. And, um, no one is laughing anymore.
More than a keen eye for discarded players – undervalued assets, he likes to say – is Duquette’s willingness to cut the cord quickly on an experiment that doesn’t work. So many baseball men have allegiances to players. And they hold onto those allegiances even when it no longer makes sense.
Duquette, to his credit, doesn’t do that. A perfect example was Antonelli, who was Duquette’s first free-agent acquisition and was trumpeted as such by the new exec. There were snickers that Antonelli got a 40-man roster spot from the Orioles when he likely would have gone somewhere for a minor league invite. But when Antonelli didn’t make the roster out of spring training and wasn’t excelling at Triple-A, he was cut loose when that roster spot was needed. No harm, no foul.
It’s all about improving the current ballclub, Duquette says. And, at 75 wins and counting, that’s some improvement. Even though I’m still not exactly sure how.