What went wrong? Here, take your pick Halfway to nowhere, O's shortcomings abound


The reasons behind the Orioles' first-half collapse:

Go ahead: Pick a lineup, any lineup: Attempting to tailor each day's lineup to the style of pitcher faced, manager Ray Miller created a revolving batting order that frustrated veteran hitters. He didn't use the same order in consecutive games until games 44-45 after employing 36 different lineups in the first 41 games. He used the same lineup on consecutive days only three times. Five different hitters operated out of the No. 2 hole.

Contraction by expansion: No team was hit harder than the Orioles during November's expansion draft. Esteban Yan, David Dellucci and Aaron Ledesma became mainstays for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Yan almost certainly would have been dealt to Florida for pitcher Al Leiter, but was left exposed. Dellucci, a productive platoon outfielder in Arizona, was the Eastern League MVP and his loss enraged player development types. Ledesma was lost in the third round due to Pat Gillick's miscalculation.

A broken-down rotation: The Orioles received 130 starts from Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki last season. They received 49 starts from them before the break. The rotation has been intact for only 16 days since April 17. The Orioles have already used 11 starters -- second-most in the vTC majors. Except for Mussina and Erickson, there have been only three starts of at least six innings since May 29.

A bullpen with no beginning or end: Losing Randy Myers to free agency was bad enough. Failing to find a durable reliever to pitch middle relief was just as significant. When the rotation crumbled, there was no safety net. Roles became interchangeable. Results were predictable. Jesse Orosco, Armando Benitez, Arthur Rhodes and rookie Sidney Ponson all closed. The Orioles have blown 10 save chances, equaling last year's total. Benitez, suspended for as many games as he has saved, has one save since June 1.

Minor minor-league contribution: Bobby Ayala, Richie Lewis and Nerio Rodriguez arrived in Baltimore ineffective or, worse, injured. Ponson's 1-6 start earned praise. Journeyman Doug Johns provided the only significant contribution (2-2, 4.58) among promoted talent. Orioles pitchers not with the club on Opening Day are 4-13 with one save.

Brady Anderson's lost spring: Injuries contributed to a 4-for-63 (.067) start and a disagreement over whether he should be on the disabled list put him at odds with Miller. In the first season of a five-year, $31 million contract, Anderson lost his leadoff role last week. He remains in danger of having more strikeouts than hits and is facing a fourth consecutive year of declining stolen bases despite swiping four yesterday.

An erosion of confidence: Mussina stated this team sometimes doesn't look for ways to win. B. J. Surhoff noted a crisis of confidence. Kamieniecki said it seemed more important to some of his teammates to have a quick game than a victorious one. Just think, 74 games to go.

Career fatigue: Miller inherited a graybeard team and promised to shape it into a National League-style offense. The approach flopped, partially because of injuries but mostly because of team composition. Eric Davis went from April 27 to June 9 without a steal. Former leadoff hitter Anderson did the same from May 21 to June 22. Jeffrey Hammonds -- on the disabled list since June 7 -- last had a steal May 23. Barring a home run, the Orioles offense has become three singles and a cloud of rust.

Catching problems: Miller reduced Chris Hoiles to a platoon catcher when his average dragged into June. Though Hoiles ($3.3 million) has improved defensively, he and Lenny Webster have caught only 23 of 113 base stealers. A capable backup, Webster has again shown signs of wear under a heavy workload. Hoiles has dragged offensively since being rolled by F. P. Santangelo on June 16, 1997.

Pub Date: 7/06/98

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