A Tale of Two Organizations: How Major League Performance Impacts Minor League Systems

“We’re so bad right now that for us back-to-back home runs means one today and another one tomorrow.”  Earl Weaver

165Russ Ortiz Bearing Down on a Tides Batter

This is a hard blog to write and while things are not as nearly as bad for the Norfolk Tides as they were for Earl Weaver’s Orioles things are not going well at the present time.  The Tides are not nearly the quality of team that they were in the first half of the season.   On the positive side they are still doing better than any time in the past 4 years and still have a shot at making the International League playoffs as either the Southern Division champion or wild card. At the same time they have fallen off their torrid pace of winning in April May and early June where they were almost playing .700 ball and up anywhere from 6-10 games over their competitors.

People are wondering what has happened and the answer is all too obvious.  While the Orioles have remarkably improved every level of their farm system they have no real depth at the Major League level.  They have some potentially great players, but a lot are still relatively young and inexperienced.  The Orioles began the year as a marginal Major League franchise with a great farm system. Unfortunately the big team was so bad early that the Orioles elected to raid their minor league system of their best players, both pitchers and hitters.  The Tides lost pitchers Jim Johnson, David Hernandez, Chris Tillman, Matt Albers, Brad Bergeson and Jason Berken.  Unfortunately I think some were called up before their time, however this is certainly not the case with starters David Hernandez, Brad Bergeson who need just a bit more seasoning and relievers Jim Johnson and Matt Albers. As for hitting the Tides lost the center of their order to the big club, Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar.  Salazar was traded to the Padres while hitting well over .400 of the bench and providing solid hitting and fielding percentages.  The Orioles also brought pitcher Brain Matusz up from AA Bowie without bringing him up to the AAA team.

170Another Strike for Ortiz

Do not get me wrong, all of these players are good, but they are all still very young.  While they will get better and are getting valuable Major League experience it is not contributing to the current success of the Orioles nor helping the minor league system. An example of what happens when a Major League team raids its farm system is the 2005 Atlanta Braves, the year of the “Baby Braves” where Atlanta almost made it to the World Series based on incredible performances by their rookies.  Unfortunately the call up of all of these players decimated the minor league system and it has only been in the last couple of years that the Braves minor league system, which is consistently one of the best in baseball to restock and rebuild.  Now the Orioles are fortunate to have a deep farm system, however the risk in doing what they have done is to potentially sacrifice the future for the present.

As I said the Tides are not the same team they were a month or two ago.  They seem to  have lost the edge, the swagger and self confidence is gone, frustration shows on many players faces. They do not look relaxed or like they are having fun anymore.  Tonight they dropped their second game in a row to the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees, who won the International League last year and who they New York Yankees have built into a formidable AAA franchise.  The Yankees, despite all the criticism they have received for “being the best team money can buy” with huge contracts for free agents and a massive payroll nonetheless invest a considerable amount in their farm system.  They are deep both in prospects as well as talented former Major Leaguers such as Shelly Duncan and recently acquired Russ Ortiz.  The Yankees have also used their minor league system to raise their own middle relievers Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, David Robertson and a reliever converted to a starter Joba Chamberlain.  Say what you will that is home grown quality.

Last night the Tides lost 6-1 and were thoroughly out classed by the Yankees.  Tonight was even worse as Russ Ortiz pitched 7 innings of 1 hit ball in 90 degree weather making the Tides, even their .300 plus hitters Justin Turner, Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino look bad.  The Tides lost the game 9-0 getting their second hit with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th.  If I wasn’t a big fan of Russ Ortiz tonight would have absolutely no redeeming value except to have worshiped in the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  In two starts for the Yankees Ortiz is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA.  Ortiz has a career Major League Record of 113 wins and 88 losses.

188Joey Gathright is Victimized by Ortiz in the 6th in which he struck out the side

I was talking with Elliott the Usher as well as Barry the Scorekeeper about what was happening and we all agreed.  The difference between the teams is that the Major League Yankees have held together with only minor bumps in the road due to injury.  Their pitching staff aided by the home grown middle relievers has done a masterful job in shutting down opponents as their hitters have been on fire.  By doing this they have allowed their minor league clubs to become very good, in particular the Scranton Wilkes-Barre team.  They have talent and depth and players at the minor league level who are proven major leaguers.  The Tides on the other hand have been hampered by the Orioles descent and the resultant decimation of the minor league rosters to fill the gaping holes on the Major League team.  What would have been a very even match up a month and a half ago now was not even close.  The Tides were out-classed and out played by the Yankees. Ortiz in particular made the Tides hitters look bad putting on a major league performance that hopefully will help get him up to the Yankees as they make their pennant run.  I still think that Dusty Baker blew the 2002 World Series by taking Russ out with 1 out in the 7th and a 5-0 lead against the Angels.  If Ortiz gets back up and the Yankees win the World Series I will be happy for him.

On a positive note the Orioles led by former Tides pitcher David Hernandez beat the Oakland A’s 3-2, their first win against the A’s since 2008.  Hernandez improved his record to 4-4 with a 3.96 ERA.

So tomorrow is another day.  The Tides are only 3 ½ behind the Gwinnett Braves and 2 ½ behind the Durham Bulls in the International League South.  They still have a lot of talent and have a shot at getting in the playoffs, but need to come up big tomorrow to reverse this slide and keep in the playoff race.  I will be back in section 102 row B seat 2 tomorrow come what may.  Hopefully the Deity Herself will help us get through this stretch.

Peace, Steve+

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