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Baltimore Sun

As IronBirds head toward worst season, I'm having trouble staying positive

You only need glance at this issue's IronBirds story to figure out how badly they have been playing of late, but if you're impatient and a bit lazy like me, I'll fill you in briefly. As of Wednesday, Aberdeen had lost seven straight games, with the most recent defeat being their worst defeat of the 2011 campaign, and which tied them with the 2005 team for most losses in a season at 48. By the time you read this, the IronBirds might have lost their 49th game, but if they haven't, they'd still need to win tonight (Friday), Saturday and Sunday to avoid going down as the worst squad in the club's 10-year history.

I've been covering the IronBirds since the 2008 season, and the only time they flirted with a .500 finish was my first year following them, when they wrapped up at 36-39, but still wound up last in the McNamara Division by four games. Since then they've finished 30-44, 34-40, and if they can't win a game between now (Thursday morning) and Sunday, they'll end up at 22-52. Translate that performance to a 162-game schedule, and you have a team that goes 48-114. The only major league side that's done worse than that in the last 50 years are the Detroit Tigers, who went 43-119 in 2003 (then made it to the World Series three seasons later, weirdly enough). I know that the team dynamics at baseball's highest level and those at the lowest professional levels are very different, so my example is a bit flawed, but I was just trying to give some perspective. It's a crummy record, any which way you slice it.

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I feel especially bad that the IronBirds did so poorly this year, especially since I jumped the gun back in June and predicted they'd play well enough in their division to make some noise in the wild-card race. I was proven wrong right out of the gates, as Aberdeen lost 17 of its first 19 games, and from there on the IronBirds were essentially out of contention. So, where did they go wrong this year? What was the worm in the apple that caused such an odious season? Back in July, during an eight-game losing streak, I asked Aberdeen skipper Leo Gomez what was up with his guys, and what he thought they needed to do better to get out of the rut. He answered very simply, "everything."

Looking at the New York-Penn League's team stats, Leo was right, his team was and is lacking in just about every department. As of Wednesday's loss, Aberdeen was last place in runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS (on-base plus slugging), doubles and total bases and was second-to-last in all the other important offensive categories besides walks and steals. This is a team that was supposed to thrive on aggressive baserunning because it lacked power, and it's ninth in the league in stolen bases.

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The pitching hasn't been much better, as Aberdeen's hurlers have the worst team ERA by a long shot (4.92), the highest WHIP (1.486), the most home runs allowed (42) and the most total runs allowed with 389, which is 22 more than the next closest team.

Yes, there have been some bright spots from individual players, but I've gone over those in previous columns, and I'm not going to manufacture any positivity right now, because as an Orioles supporter, it's just too darn depressing watching your favorite team and one of its affiliates get their heads knocked in night after night. Like most baseball enthusiasts though, I'll just hold out hope that next year is different, that the team I cover and the one I follow as a fan will somehow turn things around. Here's to next season (resigned sigh).


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