It might be twisted logic, but Orioles third baseman Miguel Tejada has a theory. He thinks the league's best will bring out the best in his struggling team.
The Orioles resume play tonight at Camden Yards, where they have yet to win in six tries this year. They are coming off a disastrous 2-8 road trip to the West Coast and Boston, and their 3-16 start is the team's worst since the 1988 season began with a historic 0-21 record.
The brutal schedule doesn't let up this week, when they host the New York Yankees and the Red Sox, the American League East behemoths who were a combined 29-7 against the Orioles in 2009. After the homestand, the Orioles go to Yankee Stadium for three games and Minnesota for four to face the perennially contending Twins.
Yet Tejada says bring on the big boys — he believes facing the Yankees and Red Sox at Camden Yards is exactly what the Orioles need to escape this early-season malaise.
"I know we are not winning, but we want to play the good teams right now. Play the good teams, and our pitchers are going to be more ready and our bats aren't going to go away," Tejada said. "When we beat the good teams, when we beat the Red Sox and Yankees, our attitude is going to be much better."
The Orioles, who ended their five-game losing streak Sunday with a 7-6 win at Boston, have attempted to remain positive through this disastrous stretch, which several players called the worst of their careers.
"I'd say, yeah, teamwise. It's tough because you look back and see how many games we've been in, and our record doesn't show how well we played in all those games," right fielder Nick Markakis said. "We're not getting blown out by 10 runs every day."
The Orioles have lost 12 games this season by three runs or fewer and six by one run. Their 62 runs this season are second-worst in the AL. They are also second to last in team ERA at 4.73.
But they are home now, experiencing a day off in Baltimore for the first time in 2010.
"I am excited to get back. It feels like I haven't even settled into Baltimore yet and I am already four starts into the year," left-hander Brian Matusz said. "It'll be nice to get home and get settled in a little bit, and hopefully we'll draw more fans than the Red Sox or Yankees when we play them."
When the Orioles returned to Memorial Stadium on May 2, 1988, after a 1-11 road trip that included their first win of that season, an announced 50,402 attended their first game back against the Texas Rangers in what was billed "Fantastic Fans Night." There were more people at that single contest than for the previous three-game series two weeks earlier against the Cleveland Indians.
Times have changed, however. That 1988 squad was five years removed from winning a World Series. These Orioles haven't been to the playoffs or had a winning season since 1997. Fans continue to grow impatient for the step forward that president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail expected and promised.
"We haven't given them much to be happy about. Nobody wants to get off to this kind of start," said MacPhail, preaching patience. "I was the president and CEO of the Cubs in '97, when we started 0-14. And the next year, we were in the postseason. In '91, I was the GM of the Twins, and we won the World Series after we started 2-9."
If Camden Yards is packed this week, it likely will be with Yankees and Red Sox fans, who have seized the ballpark for the past few years. But the Orioles are optimistic that if they play well, fan fervor will return.
"I could definitely see them being upset and discouraged and frustrated like all of us are, but we're not going anywhere," Matusz said. "Hopefully, we have good fan support. I think that would be something great to get this thing turned around. Because we are going to do it — turn it around."
The Orioles have shown signs of life recently. In the past two games, they have scored 13 total runs and collected 31 hits. The rotation keeps churning out quality starts. And rookie first baseman Rhyne Hughes, who was promoted Saturday, became the first Oriole since Jeffrey Hammonds in 1993 to have two hits and an RBI in each of his first two big league games.
But the positives come hand-in-glove with the negatives.
The bullpen is both maddeningly inconsistent and injury-hampered, with closer Mike Gonzalez (strained shoulder) and potential setup man Koji Uehara (strained left hamstring) on the disabled list. With four relievers boasting ERAs over 5.00, the club likely will make a change before tonight's game, promoting Alfredo Simon and demoting a reliever, perhaps Kam Mickolio.
The Orioles also have incurred key offensive injuries with second baseman Brian Roberts (herniated disk in back) and left fielder Felix Pie (torn back muscle) sidelined. Pie is lost through the All-Star break. Roberts and Gonzalez have not resumed baseball activities and are likely out for another couple of weeks. Uehara, who hasn't thrown a big league pitch in 2010, will begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment this week and could rejoin the team soon.
"We sorely miss Roberts in the leadoff spot. We were confident that Gonzalez was going to be here and be the closer in save situations. It didn't happen, and now he's hurt," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "It's easy to say that everyone goes through this at some particular point in time during the season, but it's magnified even more when you start out that way. Because the anticipation from everybody — players, fans — is very, very high."
It has all added up to a month of disappointment, and subsequent speculation that Trembley, who has managed the team since June 2007, will lose his job.
MacPhail has given no indication that a managerial change is pending, but each loss increases the pressure. Several players have come out in support of Trembley, while others have said they aren't paying attention to Internet and talk-show speculation.
Tejada, however, said he is acutely aware of the firestorm surrounding Trembley. He said the players can put a stop to it — and that could start tonight against the Yankees.
"I think about it. Because I think the man is doing the best he can for this team to put us in a better situation," Tejada said. "I think we need to win for him because he has been great for us. And I think the man deserves to see this team play better this year."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.