Cumberland Times-News

May 21, 2011

The song remains the same

Mike Burke
Cumberland Times-News

— It is somewhat comforting to know the world did not come to an end on Saturday because God does not love me. For despite what my friend Jim Zamagias tried to tell me all day on Friday, that “if it does occur, and it won’t, it won’t be because you won the lottery,” I was convinced that it would.

 Yes, we are still here; no, the world did not come to an end and, no, I did not hit the MegaMillions jackpot on Friday night.

Coincidence? I think not. And not even Dr. Z, with all of his sound reasoning and logic, can convince me otherwise.

Actually, I do believe there are several other occurrences that could take place that would trigger the Apocalypse and one of them would be Luke Scott making a routine defensive play in left field to prevent either the Yankees or the Red Sox from mounting floodgate-crashing rallies to overcome five and six-run late-inning Orioles leads.

Face it, the Orioles want Derrek Lee back from the disabled list pronto, but if Luke Scott must play a defensive position, first base would appear to be the safest place for him to be. As an outfielder, he makes Lonnie “Skates” Smith look like Willie Mays.

And his hitting? Well, if Luke Scott refuses to believe President Obama’s birth certificate is real, the President, if he has ever tuned into MASN, would likely refuse to believe Luke Scott could get a runner in from second base with two outs in a tight game if his life depended on it. The guy’s the king of the solo home run in a five-run game.

Now as much fun as it would be to place the entire blame for the Orioles’ recent woes squarely on the gun-toting shoulders of Luke Scott, that wouldn’t be fair to Brian Roberts, or Nick Markakis, or Mark Reynolds, not to mention the entire Orioles bullpen. Or even manager Buck Showalter.

No, Buck’s not blameless in this mess either, although there’s no specific move or strategy that he has or has not employed that could be targeted for the downward turn of his team. But this is his team and while we were quick to build him a statue last September for orchestrating the Orioles’ strong turnaround, he, too, is the man driving the car as it heads down the dead-end road.

Placing the blame, though, on anyone specifically would be as pointless as predicting the end of the world based on a winning lottery ticket. The truth is, one infected area of a baseball team infects the entire area of a baseball team and when the Orioles are pitching well, they aren’t hitting. When the Orioles are pitching poorly, well ... they still aren’t hitting.

This is a team that just doesn’t appear to be able to hit. Or at least a team that doesn’t appear to know how to hit.

Opposing pitchers don’t have time to get into trouble when they’re pitching against the Orioles. Opposing pitchers don’t have time to break a sweat when they’re pitching against the Orioles because they’re usually back in the dugout in about 10 pitches.

Hasn’t anybody on this team heard of working a count or making a pitcher throw more pitches than he needs to? With their see-ball, hack approach, the Orioles just aren’t giving themselves a chance.

And please, let’s not hear any “Bring back the Crow!” garbage. It’s as though former hitting coach Terry Crowley never left, because the Orioles’ hitting approach still seems to be to go after the first hittable pitch.

What really seems to be at the core of this team’s shortcomings, though, is it is a team filled with players who have never really won. The losing culture runs deep in Baltimore and can be traced to the day Peter Angelos got rid of Davey Johnson.

Remarkably, .500, the realistic goal for this club, is still within sight for the Orioles, but it doesn’t feel that way because they have already had two extended losing streaks that have either snowballed or begun with blown leads of five and six runs. Not coincidentally, those losses came to the Yankees and the Red Sox, teams that make a living on smelling fear in their opponents and quickly killing them off.

The Orioles don’t have that, and they haven’t had that for quite some time. Remember the Mother’s Day Massacre of 2007 and the losing streak that transpired from that? You can feel when a game begins to get away from this club, even when it has a seemingly insurmountable lead, because it doesn’t have the wherewithal to put an opponent away, particularly a good opponent.

So how does a team develop the ability to win? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The Orioles farm system remains a rumor and they can’t land a boffo free agent even when they are bidding against themselves. On top of that, Frank Robinson walks through your door just once in a lifetime.

In the meantime, no lead is insurmountable and no losing streak is more than a blown lead or a blown save away. At least not until somebody already in uniform not named Showalter takes ownership of this team. And frankly, it doesn’t appear anybody in this uniform knows how to do that.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com.