Behind the Plate: A look at the Orioles
BY JEFF MOELLER
Special to the Press
It’s not just about the struggles of the defending National League champion Phillies or the Mets. Or the surprising rise of the Dodgers or the recent resurgence of the Yankees.
The baseball world shouldn’t forget the Baltimore Orioles.
These A.L. East-leading Orioles are beginning to rekindle memories of the great Baltimore teams of the late 1960s and early 70s that featured Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and Jim Palmer to name a few.
In this week’s edition of my Behind the Plate column, I’ll take a look at the highflying Orioles and their dominant predecessors, as well as the Phillies and Mets’ pitching woes, and other related topics around the diamond.
Where was that pitch: Both the Phillies and Mets have begun this season with some major pitching woes. The Yankees have had their share of injuries on the mound, but they recently have shown signs of heading in the upward direction.
As for the Phillies, they began Saturday’s play with a team ERA of 4.68, ranked 24th in MLB and a tad ahead of the 25th Mets (4.78). The Yankees were seventh with a 3.73 account.
Phil Plops: With Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler at the top of the rotation, and veteran Tijuan Walker leading the back end, the Phils looked poised to defend their NL crown.
Not so. It has been a disastrous start for the Fightins’ with Nola and Wheeler trying to find their groove, and little support from the rest.
Nola (4.45 ERA) and Wheeler (4.06) have shown signs of breaking out of their slump, while Walker (6.53) has still struggled. Youngster Bailey Falter (0-7, 5.13) had to take a trip to Lehigh Valley, and fellow youngster Matt Strahm (2.81) has been the most consistent starter. Reliever Craig Kimbrel (6.19) hasn’t been consistent.
The Phils claimed ex-Dodger starter/reliever Dylan Covey off waivers as a possible stop gap to help bolster the starting staff. Ranger Suarez is back in the rotation, and it should help. However, there is little to run through the pipeline from Lehigh Valley.
Through 44 games, the Phils staff had 11 saves, a WHIP of 1.39, and the team had more errors (22) than double plays (20).
Mets Miscues: Like the Phillies, the Mets’ staff also has had its shares of problems. Injuries to starters Just Verlander and Dan Scherzer have slowed the anticipated fast start. Through 46 starts, Scherzer had six starts and Verlander had three. There already have been plenty of red flags waved as to whether the 38-year-old Scherzer and 40-year-old Verlander are starting to show their age.
Japanese import Kodai Senga has been their most consistent starter (4-2, 3.71), while David Peterson has imploded (1-8. 8.08). Tyler Megill also has been able to steer a somewhat steady course (5-2, 3.88).
Entering Sunday’s doubleheader, the Mets’ staff had a 1.38 WHIP with 13 saves. Their defense behind them has been better than the Phillies, as they had committed 15 errors and turned 42 double plays.
High In The Nest: Through their first 44 games, the Orioles had a 28-16 record and were 3.5 games behind the Rays. In any other division, Baltimore would have been in first place.
Yet, this isn’t your recognizable lineup compared to the likes of Robinson, Powell, and Palmer from the past. Instead, it is a bunch of relatively no-name youngsters with a no-name manager.
Brandon Hyde has re-energized the club over the last four years as the club’s skipper, and he was baseball’s Manager of the Year last season for his team’s 21-game improvement from 52 to 83 wins. It was the first time Baltimore was over the .500 mark since 2017 when Buck Showalter led them to 89 wins.
The O’s front office hasn’t done it with a big checkbook either. They have relied on their Triple-A Rochester team, which has been a steady funnel of talent. The average age of the team is 27.62, fourth youngest in the majors.
You may have to look twice at the names of Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, who have been among the team’s offensive leaders. Mullins was the O’s All-Star representative in 2021.
On the mound, it has been Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells, and Kyle Gibson in the rotation, and Felix Bautista and Danny Coulombe in the bullpen. The team’s batting average is a modest .253 and their staff ERA is 4.13, both not typically reflective of first-place teams.
If you’re an Orioles fan, these names are now household ones.
These Orioles don’t have the glaring numbers from the teams of the past. From 1968-80, the Orioles didn’t have a losing season, and they won one World Series in their three appearances.
During their heyday, they had one of baseball’s best lineups with Powell at first, Davey Johnson at second, Mark Belanger at short, and Brooks Robinson at third. Paul Blair was in center, Frank Robinson in right, and Don Buford in left. Elrod Hendricks was behind the plate with Andy Etchabarren. (Johnson spent parts of the 1977 and ‘78 seasons with the Phillies and had 10 homers and 50 homers in 122 games.)
Along with Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson formed one of the game’s most successful starting staffs. Do you remember right handed submarine reliever Eddie Watt? (Watt was sold to the Phillies after the 1973 season and appeared in 42 games in 1974. However, he had lost his touch, and was released before the ‘75 season.)
In their 1970 championship season, Palmer, Cuellar, and McNally had a combined record of 58-27 and the team won 108 games. The next year, they won 101 games. I remember seeing the game from Memorial Stadium in Baltimore with the camera angle from behind the plate.
This current Orioles’ harvest may not reach the lofty levels of their predecessors, but they have brought some baseball fever back to a stoic baseball town with one of the game’s most attractive ballparks.
Baltimore Sammy: Many of you may have forgotten that former Phillie Juan Samuel was the Orioles manager to begin the 20101 season. Unfortunately “Sammy” never got on track, and was relieved of his duties after a 17-3 start, and was replaced by Showalter.
Oates, Johnson, and Maz, and Oates: Along with Samuel, ex-Phillies Johnny Oates had a three-year stay (1991-94) as an O’s manager, and Johnson (1996-97) and ex-Met Lee Mazzilli (2004-05) each had a two-year stint.
Trivia Time: Who is the only team not to play in a World Series? It’s the Seattle Mariners, who were swept by Houston last year in the ALDS. They appeared in the ALCS in 2001 – the year they had 110 wins – and also in 1995.
Who are the teams that haven’t won a World Series? Try the Padres, Rockies, Rangers, Brewers, and Rays.
Think the Rays have a shot this season?
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