Shades of 2002, but not quite as dark for Orioles

When an Orioles team has a bad start, there inevitably will be comparisons to the 1988 team that lost 21 straight to begin the year. The sense is it will never be as bad as that.

And when an Orioles club has a terrible finish, there is inevitably a comparison to the 2002 team that lost 32 of its final 36. The sense is it will never be as bad as that.


I remember that 1988 team, of course, but I covered that 2002 squad. It was by far the toughest spate of baseball I've ever had to be around.

In some ways, this current skid reminds me of those unbelievably dark days. These 2015 Orioles lost six straight, won one and have lost six more. Their offense seems dead -- they've scored three runs or fewer in all 12 losses in this span.


The 2002 squad also hit rough times starting in the third week of August, losing 10 in a row, winning one, losing eight straight, winning three of five and then dropping the final 12 games of the season, a near historic crash.

Those 2002 Orioles scored three runs or fewer in 27 of their last 32 losses.

And so when I watch this group melt continually in the late summer pennant heat, I can't help but think back to that 2002 experience.

But know this: These Orioles are so much better than the ones who donned the 2002 uniforms. These guys were legitimately in the hunt in August. And these guys believe they still have a chance of winning; they just aren't right now.

Even after another loss to the Tampa Bay Rays last night at Camden Yards, players such as Adam Jones and Chris Tillman spoke with conviction -- tinged with frustration, sure -- but conviction. This team will turn it around, they said.

Just words, of course. But there wasn't a defeatist tone, like there was in 2002, when words were said with the same lifelessness as the play on the field.

The big difference, though, is that this team does have talented, All-Star caliber players: Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Zach Britton, Darren O'Day, Tillman, etc.

The 2002 team wasn't even close talent-wise. Melvin Mora hadn't yet hit his stride, Jeff Conine was aging and Tony Batista was flawed.


Oh, and the rest of that team.

The most memorable moment of that year for me was when manager Mike Hargrove and I were talking in his office during the last series of the season against the New York Yankees. Hargrove flipped the lineup card to me and said, "Just look at those two lineups, just compare them."

On one side was Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Robin Ventura, Raul Mondesi. On the other was Luis Lopez (leading off), Luis Matos, Marty Cordova, Jose Leon, Geronimo Gil.

Hargrove didn't have to say another word. He had brought a knife to a gunfight.

This Orioles team will never be mismatched like that one was. And that makes you think that Jones is right. That these guys will figure it out, at least a little. Not likely in time to make the playoffs, but at least to salvage the season -- and stop it from ending in an historically awful manner.

And maybe that's the hardest thing to take for fans right now. The best that can be hoped for, after being one step away from the World Series last year, is a September that isn't embarrassing.


So, in a sense, wasted potential is worse than being thoroughly terrible.

These Orioles brought a gun to the gunfight, but have shot themselves in the foot.