Bad times best test for O's Trembley

The Baltimore Sun

The latest revelations have been sheer horror. Pain, Futility, Failure, Disgrace - the Four Horsemen of the O's Collapse - galloping their way through September, showing no signs of relenting, no hints of mercy.

Fourteen days have passed since the Orioles named Dave Trembley permanent manager. That means 13 days have passed since I've heard the Earl Weaver Defense, which was excitedly bandied about for several hours before being forced into early retirement.

I actually like the Weaver Defense and certainly appreciate the similarities shared by Weaver and Trembley. Both were handed managerial jobs without major league experience, both inherited their positions midseason, and both seem to embody a blue-collar, no-nonsense work ethic. Of course, Weaver's team won 11 of 15 games after he took over midway through the 1968 season.

And Trembley? Well, let's politely note that the Dave Trembley Era has quickly, painfully and unfairly turned into the worst kind of movie: You can't bear to watch another second, and yet you can't bring yourself to turn away. His team is turning the September schedule into a massive freeway accident, each night's game serving as another crunched car added to the pileup.

Despite the mounting losses, it's important to note that this ugly slump has not been Trembley's fault. But that said, it most certainly is his responsibility to pull the Orioles out of this.

The convergence of events appears to be happenstance. Trembley's job security and contract extension coincides with the Orioles' tailspin, but the relationship is not an intimate one. The players didn't quit playing hard because Trembley came on board; the bullpen didn't conspire against its former coach; and certainly management didn't sabotage its own bold decision with a batch of not-ready-for-primetime players. It appears to be a case of unrelated merging forces.

But now, they are one and the same, and in trying to untangle this web of dysfunction, Trembley finds himself simultaneously having to justify his existence, to remind us why management was so quick to pull the trigger two weeks ago and couldn't wait until season's end to do a more thorough review of Trembley's performance.

Facts are facts, and on Trembley's watch the Orioles suddenly have slipped behind the Nationals, the Royals and the Pirates. Plus, they were swept at home by the Devil Rays.

And though they had lost 12 of 13 games before last night's victory, including one by 27 runs, here's what Orioles fans should find most depressing: By season's end, Trembley will surely have a lower winning percentage than his predecessor.

Trembley could still be a great hire for 2008, but the front office appears to have jumped the gun by locking themselves into the one-year extension so soon. They should have given Trembley more time to showcase himself. Haven't we learned something about Trembley - something about Trembley's team - these past two weeks that we didn't see in the previous two months?

I think so, and I think whatever we learn next could be even more telling about the new manager's abilities than anything else he's already shown us.

How do you get the veterans to respond? How do you maintain harmony in a losing clubhouse? How do you persuade your players to give their all when so little is on the line? How do you juggle a bullpen and manage a bench when you're continually falling behind on the scoreboard?

It's not an enviable position, and the job will not get easier as the season goes on - which means it will only become tougher for a disgruntled fan base to view Trembley in that same glowing light.

For starters, the Orioles have no starters. Only one man in the current rotation (14-game loser Daniel Cabrera) was projected to be there when the season began. Plus, the schedule gets tougher, and Trembley will have to deal with more demands over the final stretch of the season than he did during his abbreviated honeymoon phase. The front office will want to see what some younger players can do, which means the manager won't always be fielding the best lineup possible.

And these younger Orioles aren't exactly scouting out display-case space in Cooperstown. While the Red Sox call up Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester - legitimate diamonds in the rough - the Orioles' prospects are rough on the diamond. Their September help includes Rocky Cherry, Gustavo Molina and Jon Leicester.

As revolting as the final few weeks of the season might seem, they should also be very illuminating.

The Orioles declared Trembley a winner before he had finished a race. While it's not fair to judge him solely on the past couple of weeks, a manager's merits are forged in the bad times as much as the good. Because this is the Orioles and the bad times outnumber the good lately, what Trembley does next should be more telling than anything he did to earn the job in the first place.

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