Latest collapse could aid rebuilding effort

The Baltimore Sun

It has come to my attention that a lot of people around here have just reached the startling conclusion that the Orioles are not a very good team.

Who knew?

I mean, at what point in the Steve Trachsel Era did the whole thing come apart?

Sorry for that little burst of sarcasm, but the sad reality of the organization's predicament should have been apparent a lot closer to the day Trachsel signed with the Orioles in February than on the day - yesterday - they traded him into a pennant race with the Chicago Cubs. This team was on the way to its 10th straight losing season a long time ago. No sense getting all angst-ridden about it now.

In fact, you might even make the case that the latest collapse is a good thing, since we were all in danger of letting manager Dave Trembley fool us into thinking that an attitude adjustment in the clubhouse could make up for a lack of talent on the field. No disrespect to Trembley - who has done a great job with what he's had to work with and deserved the contract extension that somehow erased his team's muscle memory - but the Orioles are a long way from being a winning team and everyone needs to know that going into another offseason rebuilding period.

Trembley was extended through the 2008 season based on the club's plus-.500 record under his tutelage, which clearly was a good thing, but until this slump, you could make the case that new club president Andy MacPhail had never seen the real Orioles up close.

He arrived in the front office right as the managerial transition was taking place. Though he probably wasn't overwhelmed by the team's performance over the next two months, he was seeing a much different team than the rest of us had been watching since the Orioles spent a couple of months in first place early in the 2005 season.

It was a decent little run, under the circumstances, and it was no accident. It was just too easy to blow the real significance of the team's improved performance out of proportion after years of severely diminished expectations.

The Orioles' record under Trembley at the time of his extension was 29-25, which was quite in contrast to the club's 29-40 mark when Sam Perlozzo was fired. The difference also was apparent in the team's demeanor between June 18 (when Trembley took over) and Aug. 22 (when the extension was announced). That's all well and good, but the only fundamental change was the new manager's increased emphasis on fundamentals.

That 54-game span of modestly winning baseball is not some dynamic statistical anomaly. Over the course of a 162-game season, almost every team - no matter how hapless - has an extended run of respectability.

Want proof? The Kansas City Royals, the yardstick by which baseball measures pain, went 29-24 from June 1 through Aug. 1. The Washington Nationals, the other MASN partner that entered the weekend mired in a long losing streak, went 29-26 from June 6 through Aug. 7.

In other words, it happens. Don't get carried away.

If you want another dose of perspective, consider that the Houston Astros (58-73) were only one game worse than the Orioles (58-71) on the day they fired general manager Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner, who guided that team to the World Series two years ago.

The only difference between the Astros and the Orioles is that the Astros have a right to expect a lot more from the talent on their roster. The Orioles played better through the middle of the season largely because Erik Bedard went on a nine-decision winning streak and injected himself into the Cy Young debate. Take his 9-0 run out of play and the Orioles still are wondering who's going to manage the club next year.

Don't misunderstand. Trembley deserves that opportunity, but he also deserves to go into 2008 with enough talent to have a legitimate chance to play winning baseball all season.

That's why I'm sad to see Orioles fans suffer like this, but I'm happy MacPhail is finally seeing the whole picture.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Saturdays and Sundays.

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