The Orioles are on the brink of oblivion. I have been saying this for two months, to anyone who will listen. "They're a mirage! There's three better teams in that division! This can't possibly last!" My conviction in this has only grown as the Orioles have tenaciously clung to first place. I'm beginning to take their success personally, actually. It's like they're just doing it to spite me.
There's a lot of reasons not to like the O's. There's their owner's selfish attitude towards the Nationals, for one thing, which may end up damaging the long-term health of a franchise all MLB needs to thrive. There's surly, out-of-shape "ace" Sir Sidney Ponson. There's Miguel Tejada, who's a great player and a wonderful guy but as a longtime A's supporter about whom I can't help but feel deeply bitter. Then there's Sammy Sosa, recently public enemy #1 in Chicago, now just another grotesquely overpaid faded star. If it wasn't for little-engine-that-could Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora's quints, this team would have no sympathetic angles at all.
The Orioles' offense must be considered for real. They lead the majors in OPS, slugging, batting average, and total bases. Roberts' home run pace (12 for his career before '05, 11 so far this year) has slowed but he's still leading the AL in average. Roberts is .361/.439/.613 this season compared to career numbers of .264/.328/.360. He's 27, which is a good age for peaks, but this is ridiculous. Far less surprising are MVP-like numbers of Tejada, who's .326/.373/.640 with 18 homers. He's not just the best shortstop in the American League, he might be the best player. Baltimore's third big threat is Mora, who'd be a lot of teams' best at .307/.364/.529. Find me a better second-third-short combo anywhere else in the majors and I'll buy you a shiny new donkey.
The Orioles have some mortal guys, too. Javy Lopez wasn't having a great year (7 homers, .316 OBP) and he's hurt besides. Sammy Sosa is a shell of his former self (.262/.335/.454, 8 homers). Rafael Palmeiro is fading a bit too (.257 BA, 8 homers). The complementary hitters in their lineup, guys like Jay Gibbons, B.J. Surhoff, Larry Bigbie, and David Newhan, all share OBPs around .310 or worse. The return of centerfielder Luis Matos, out since mid-May with a broken finger, should help in that area. Except for Roberts and Palmeiro, the Orioles don't walk very much. They're 20th in the majors in that category. Rockies pitchers would do well to avoid cluttering the bases with guys for Tejada, Roberts, and Mora to pound in.
The Orioles rank 7th overall in the AL in ERA, sixth in starting and eighth in relieving. They've been getting by with average pitching thanks to the dominance of their offense, clearly. It's not likely they'll be able to keep throwing as well as they have been. Their best starter, Erik Bedard, is out with a strained ligament in his left knee. Bruce Chen (3.31 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) is having as fluky a year as Roberts. Rodrigo Lopez and rookie sub Hayden Penn have been mediocre, Ponson and Daniel Cabrera have been somewhat less than that. Closer B.J. Ryan has been lights-out (1.93, 1.04, 17 saves), but the bullpen takes something of a dip in quality after that. John Parrish has quite a line: 17 1/3 innings pitched, 19 hits, 17 walks, 25 strikeouts, 7 of 15 inherited runners scored, a 2.08 WHIP, and a 3.12 ERA. Jorge Julio, named a possibility for the Rockies in trade, has been less wild and the O's second-best pen guy at 3.24, 1.05, 0-for-7 with inherited runners. Also, his middle name is "Dandys," no fooling. The rest of the pen names you need to know are recent acquisition and former starter James Baldwin, who's been wondrous, Todd Williams, who's been OK, and Steves Reed and Kline, who've been crummy.
It'll be Jason Jennings and Daniel Cabrera, a real clash of the titans, tonight, followed by BK and Sir Sidney on Saturday and youngsters Hayden Penn and Jeff Francis for the Sunday day game. The Orioles are really due for a right thrashing, why not us?