Here at the end of a 5-game losing streak, Orioles fans are beginning to wonder if the time has come to hit the panic button. To that I would say, “Make note of where the button is, but don’t smash it just yet.”
The past five games have been painful indeed. However, two of them were pitched well enough to have most often been a win (if there was run support), and two of them had sufficient run production to have most often been a win if there was reasonably solid pitching. My guess is that the poor pitching will be more remembered than the games with poor hitting.
Teams will go through stretches like this during a season – even the best clubs. The Orioles had a similar streak last year where they lost six consecutive games from May 26 through June 1 … two to KC, three to Toronto, and one to Tampa Bay. Great players go through occasional setbacks, and it is inevitable that even a stalwart like Jim Johnson is going to have a rough stretch. Let’s not forget that this is a team that won 109 consecutive games when leading after seven innings – nearly an unprecedented statistic. Baseball is simply a sport where things even out over time, which is why it takes 162 games to determine who is the best for the playoffs.
Without doubt, the starting pitching is the largest concern. Chris Tillman is a solid performer at this juncture. Wei-Yin Chen should not be out that terribly long, and Miguel Gonzalez’ injury is not of the catastrophic sort. Jason Hammel is a larger concern at this time, but he has gone through stints like this in the past and figured out how to make the modifications for success. I’ll confess to low hopes for Freddy Garcia to become a regular, but also believe Jair Jurrjens could well do it. There are a host of others in the wings – their names are familiar to Orioles fans – and one or two of them are going to figure out how to contribute. And likewise with relievers … there is no reason to not see the bullpen as among the best in the sport – even with some recent shellings.
There is no doubt that the 2013 Orioles remain a much improved offensive club over last year. But the best of opposing pitchers, when having a good day, will certainly slow them down; but that is true for even the very best teams. It is gratifying to see the Orioles making some moves to send Ryan Flaherty out to AAA to work on his hitting, while also bringing in a player like Danny Valencia – who has been stroking the ball well in recent weeks.
I am looking for all of these troubles to turn around in short order. Baseball is an oft frustrating sport. The margins are narrow. Pitch placement is critical, and a broken bat flare can sometimes land just out of reach and change the entire game. The best hitters fail 65-70% of the time. But it all tends to even out over the course of 162 games, and three-quarters of the season remains. So, slowly step back from the panic button.