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The Schmuck Stops Here

Sports The Schmuck Stops Here

Orioles: This is not your garden-variety slump

Give some credit to Orioles manager Buck Showalter and center fielder Adam Jones for not cursing the fates and attributing the club's recent skid to the rash of injuries that has decimated the 25-man roster.

They know that it wouldn't do any good anyway. The other teams in the AL East have been banged up, too, which is one of the reasons that the Orioles were on top of the standings for all but a few days over the past couple of months.

But the facts are the facts, and the nature of the injuries and issues that have suddenly submarined the club's upbeat start tell a different story. It's not the number of key players who have gotten hurt -- since that's not really a big number -- but the impact of those injuries on the team's offensive chemistry and, by extension, the starting rotation.

If you recall, the Orioles entered the season with two major holes in the offensive lineup. They did not have a true leadoff hitter and they did not have a true cleanup guy. Those are a couple of pretty big gaps, but Showalter filled them quite nicely with Nolan Reimold and Adam Jones.

When Reimold went down with a bulging disk in his neck, the club auditioned rookie Xavier Avery in the leadoff role and got good enough results for awhile to keep the team moving in the right direction. Everyone knew Avery would eventually be scouted out of the lineup because of his vulnerability to the breaking pitch, but he bought the Orioles some time and helped keep them at the top of the standings.

Now, the loss of Nick Markakis has not only exposed the team's lack of organizational outfield depth, but has left the Orioles with an even higher concentration of hitters who are strikeout prone, which makes it pretty difficult to maintain any kind of consistent offensive attack.

If you doubt this, think about how many times the Orioles have had seemingly huge opportunities to break a game open and settled for little or nothing because of a key whiff in a big run-production situation. Everyone knows that Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis are going to strike out a lot, but throw in Wilson Betemit's difficulty recognizing the curveball out of the strike zone and the inexperience of utility guys Ryan Flaherty and Steve Tolleson, and you've got a prescription for a lot of games like last night's 5-0 loss at Tropicana Field.

The Orioles can get out of this slump if the starting rotation can right itself, but the lack of run support is putting additional pressure on the young starters at a time when the cumulative effect of the high-tech video era and old-school advance scouting is making them work harder to get people out.

Right now, they have to hope that last night's multi-hit game is a sign that Matt Wieters is pulling out of his lengthy funk. He's a key player on both sides of the ball, so he may be the guy to lead them out of the darkness -- or, at least, help them buy some more time for help to arrive.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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