Note: I cover baseball and the Norfolk Tides with a Blog on the Virginia Pilot Online entitled Padre Steve’s View from 102. The link to that site and those blogs is here: http://hamptonroads.com/blogs/padre-steve039s-view-102 Those articles are not re-posted here.
Gathright Out at Home
Baseball is replete with end of season collapses of teams that had started hot and were in first place. The collapses often take place due to injuries to key players, trades gone bad or slumps that never end. These collapses are even more troubling when there are not injuries or other circumstances that readily explain them. The 1964 Phillies and the 2007 Mets had meltdowns of epic proportions in the last month of a major league season. At the Minor League level there are other factors to consider especially with the added dimension of call ups by the Major League team and trades made by the Major League affiliate which impact the Minor League club’s roster.
The Melt Down Continues Strike Out
This year the Baltimore Orioles AAA International League Norfolk Tides who were playing nearly .700 ball through June experienced a collapse like I have not seen up close and personal. Early in the season they were nearly unbeatable. Consistent and clutch hitting combines with excellent pitching allowed them to dominate the league taking series after series and recording a number of series sweeps against good teams. The for a variety of reasons the wheels came off. At first is was merely inconsistent play and basically playing .500 ball. Then came the collapse and the Tides are only mathematically in the post season chase.
Bright Spot: Jeff Fiorentino Should be Tides 2009 MVP
As the season draws to a close with the Tides obviously out of the playoff race even with the mathematical possibility of coming back it will be time for some ruthless evaluation of how the club has been managed since the All-Star break. It is hard to believe that with as much talent as the Tides still have that they are losing this consistently and this badly. The Orioles can be blamed for pulling players up and depriving the Tides of talent, however they needed to draw upon the Tides because of the weaknesses at Baltimore. Certainly the call up of players like Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar has had an effect on the Tides. Likewise the number of significant injuries to productive position players such as Justin Christian, Jolbert Cabrera, Scott Moore and Donnie Murphy had a large impact. The loss of these 7 players deprieved the Tides of most of thier offensive power as did the recent call up of Michael Aubrey.
Another Bright Spot: Joey Gathright Bunting for a Hit
But even with all of these losses the Tides are tied for the best team batting average in the International League at .274. So we cannot simply blame the crash on the loss of these position players and loss of power hitters. We then come to pitching, Despite the collapse the pitching staff ERA is still only 3.94 and not at the bottom of the league, however the relief pithcers including guys who had been almost automatic in being able to close out innings and games has become very incosistent and in the past 10 games have blown 3 9th inning leads. Convert those to wins and the Tides are still in the hunt. Rececnt pitching additions from other clubs with the exception of Jeff George have not panned out. So we can say that pitching is a factor. Fielding and defense is another matter. Unfortunately Tides infielders have committed 71 errors. Three players, Melvin Dorta, Justin Turner and Blake Davis have committed 51 of these and former Tides infielder Carlos Rojas another 9. Though the statistic is not found on the MiLB or Tides Websites, Tides pitchers have committed their share of errors at critical points in games. On the other hand Tides outfielders Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino have only two errors eachand lead the Tides in batting average, on base percentage and are near the top in slugging percentage among the current roster.
Is it the Manager?
The Orioles organization will certainly address these on the field concerns. This is something that thye have been working on and I expect that next years team will be more solid in these areas and hopefully the Orioles with the addition of so many Tides who now have Major League expereince will not need to dip down so often and give the Tides, Baysox and Keys time to develop tallent. However the Orioles management may need to take a look at the dynamics of what is happening in the dugout with the field staff including Manager Gary Allenson. We really have to see if the problem is bigger than just a Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events or an organizational problem. There are many regulars who question Allenson’s choices as a 3rd base coach as well as his inability to pull a pitcher before they get the team in deep trouble. Yes giving pitchers the experience of trying to pitch out of jams is important, but it should not be done all the time. Frequently it seems that Allenson has left pitchers in for one out or one inning too long, often with no-one warming up in the bullpen. The final thing to ask is how Allenson rotates his infielders to different positions on an almost daily basis. I have to wonder if the constant changes in where the infielders are being played is effecting the number of errors being committed by the club especially in light of the fact that the three biggest error producers are the middle infielders. While the Organization may be at fault for some player personnel issues ultimately it is the Manager who makes the day to day calls on the field that determine whether a team wins or loses.
Injuries: Jolbert Cabrera Being Carried Off teh Field after Breaking Bones in his Foot
The Tides are 10 and 25 since July 20th oin what has been a collapse nearing epic proportions and since the 18th of August have been outscored 65-40. When one looks at talent, save the inability of the infield to play error free ball; one has to begin asking questions and getting answers.
The Tides face the Charlotte Knights tonight, with Jake Arrieta facing Jake Peavy. I will be there in Section 102, Row B Seat 2.
Though the players are here to develop and learn, there is little substitute for winning when building a young team. As Charlie Brown said “Winning isn’t everything, but losing isn’t anything.”