Baltimore Orioles

Shades of Weaver - a brute-force offense

Only six games have been played, but the Orioles have established a clear offensive pattern.

It will not endear Johnny Oates to the purists, but former Orioles manager Earl Weaver would give hearty approval.

"Inside baseball" is definitely out. Runs will be manufactured by bats, not fancy footwork or intricate strategy. When it comes to offense, the Orioles will be a station-to-station team, though not necessarily restricted to one base at a time.

Oates has his lineup set so his fastest runners (Brady Anderson, Mike Devereaux, Rafael Palmeiro, Chris Sabo, Mark McLemore and Jeffrey Hammonds) hit in succession, the first three at the top, the others at the bottom of the batting order. Anderson stole 53 bases two years ago, and, of the rest, rookie Hammonds is the only one who hasn't stolen at least 20 bases in a major-league season -- and it won't take long for him to reach that figure.

But that may or may not be this year. As impressive as the speed quotient is in what once was a lead-footed lineup, the Orioles won't be taking a lot of liberties on the bases. Neither will they make much use of the sacrifice bunt, a ploy that no doubt will cause Oates a few second guesses as the season progresses.

A year ago, the Orioles were in the middle of the American League pack in successful sacrifice bunts. They ranked seventh with 49, almost equally distant from the league-leading Boston Red Sox (80) and the New York Yankees, who had only 22 under Buck Showalter, who must have crossed paths with Weaver somewhere along the line.

The Yankees likewise didn't take many risks on the base paths, stealing 39 bases in 74 attempts. They were the only team with lower totals than the Orioles (73-127) and Red Sox (73-111).

As long as the Yankees have the same personnel and Showalter remains the manager, the Orioles probably won't be last in sacrifice bunts and stolen bases -- but they'll be close.

The reasoning is simple. With a diverse lineup, Oates' primary concern will be to give each of his hitters every possible advantage. He won't want to take the bat out of anybody's hands, and he certainly shouldn't be looking to give away any outs.

The threat of a stolen base figures to benefit the Orioles more than the accomplishment itself, because it keeps the right side of the infield open for the left-handed hitters -- Palmeiro, Harold Baines, the switch-hitting McLemore and Anderson. Except for late-inning "game" situations, a runner on first can be more conducive to big innings and game-breaking situations.

After a half-dozen games, the Orioles have yet to execute a sacrifice bunt. And they've attempted only two steals (both successful). At that rate, the numbers from last year will look astronomical.

But don't expect anything to change. Oates will play the bats he has been dealt and take his chances. "Inside baseball" is not being played here.