The Orioles entered June in second place in the AL East with a .500 record. They then proceeded to go 2-14 to drop into last place, with the added indignity of being swept at home by the Nationals along the way. A week ago, eight games into the nine-game losing streak that concluded that 16-game slide, the O's fired manager Sam Perlozzo. Perlozzo's three seasons as Orioles manager perfectly illustrate how poorly run the team has been in its recent history.
The Orioles limped to a .438 winning percentage in the fourth and final year of Mike Hargrove's skippership in 2003. Lee Mazzilli took over the team in 2004 and led it to a .481 winning percentage, it's best mark since Hargrove's first season in 2000 and good enough for a third-place finish, the first time the O's had finished outside of fourth since they'd last won the division in 1997. Of course, that third place finish had more to do with the collapse of the Blue Jays than anything else, but still, the improvement was obvious.
In 2005, Mazzilli took largely the same O's team to the top of the standings in the early going. Mazzilli's O's were in first place as late as June 23, when, suddenly, the bottom fell out. The Orioles went 9-28 from the final week of June through the beginning of August, falling all the way down to their customary fourth, and dropping from 14 games over .500 to five games under. On August 3, following an eight-game losing streak that capped a 1-14 skid, the O's fired Mazzilli and replaced him with Sam Perlozzo.
When the O's canned Mazzilli, the team had a .477 record. Having finished at .481 the year before, it seemed clear that the O's were merely a .500 team that had played over its head in the first half of 2005 and had just experienced a rather cruel course correction. With Perlozzo at the helm, the O's immediately halted their skid with a pair of wins, and proceeded to go 9-4 to climb back to .500, but that was as much as the new manager could get out of his charges. Baltimore went 14-28 the rest of the way and the players appeared to visibly quit on their new skipper, who posted a .418 winning percentage in his portion of the season. Mix in the Rafael Palmeiro drug scandal and the team was an ebarassment on field and off.
It's an overused quote, but they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I'd counter that that's actually the definition of incompetence, which describes the O's to a tee. Baltimore retained Perlozzo in 2006, perhaps because they knew the manager would be able to lure his old buddy Leo Mazzone away from Atlanta to become the new Oriole pitching coach. Perlozzo got Mazzone, but it didn't matter. The 2006 O's settled in fourth place for good on April 29, the players once again sulked through the season, and the team finished with a .432 winning percentage.
So the O's brought back Perlozzo again for 2007 only to finally fire him in late June with his sulking ballclub sporting a .420 winning percentage. In Perlozzo's defense, the O's didn't do much to improve the team on the field during his time as manager. The team's best players (Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Eric Bedard, Chris Ray) were already in place in 2005. The best addition the team has made since then has been catcher Ramon Hernandez, who has missed time with a pair of leg injuries this year. Rookies Nick Markakis and Adam Loewen arrived in 2006, but Loewen is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his pitching elbow. Meanwhile, the team's imports have included include Kevin Millar, Aubrey Huff, Jay Payton, Corey Patterson, the $50 million-dollar bullpen of Danys Baez (currently on the DL), Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker, and Scott Williamson, and Steve Trachsel, who is only on the team because the trade of John Maine for Kris Benson blew up in the Orioles' faces. Those players do not a winning baseball team make. Meanwhile, Mazzone has been unable to fix failed prospect Daniel Cabrera, and, with Perlozzo gone, Mazzone may decide to split himself. It's no wonder Joe Girardi declined the Orioles job offer.
Speaking of trading for injured pitchers, the Orioles have the Jaret Wright trade to thank for one of the few bright spots in their 2007 season, tonight's starter Jeremy Guthrie. After drafting him out of Stanford with the 21st-overall pick in 2002, the Indians tried to fast-track Guthrie to the majors, but instead stunted his progress. After being thrust into triple-A after just nine pro starts in 2003, Guthrie finally experienced success in his fourth attempt at the level last year, but that didn't translate to the majors, where he posted a 6.98 ERA mostly in relief. The O's plucked the former top prospect of waivers this January and stuck him in the pen as a long reliever after he aced spring training. That didn't go so well (7.84 ERA), but the injuries to Loewen and Wright--the latter of whom has pitched in as many games for the O's as Chris Britton has for the Yanks this season: three--forced Guthrie into the rotation in the beginning of May where he's pitched like an ace, posting a 1.63 ERA, a 0.74 WHIP, going nine-for-nine in quality starts, and averaging 7 1/3 innings per game. Of course, on the Orioles that's been good for three wins and six no-decisions as the team has managed to lose five of his starts including one he left in the ninth inning having surrendered just one unearned run (the final score of that game: 6-5 Red Sox). Another testiment to the wisdom of Joe Girardi.
Opposing Guthrie tonight is Andy Pettitte, who knows a thing or two about pitching in bad luck. Pettitte made news after his last start when he admitted that he "quit pitching" after Matt Holliday drove his changeup 442 feet into the left field stands (really over the left field stands) to turn a 1-0 Yankee lead into a 2-1 Rocky advantage in the sixth inning. What Andy really meant was that he abandoned his game plan after that pitch, and the results showed it. Holliday's homer came with two outs and the Yankees only got out of the sixth because Todd Helton was thrown out trying to score on a single. Six of the eight batters Pettitte faced after Holliday hit safely including a Helton double and a Kaz Matsui triple that finally ended his night with the Yankees trialing 5-1. One imagines that both that performance, his post-game admission, and the Yankees 1-5 record on their current road trip will have him pitching with an increased intensity tonight. For that reason, I'm expecting a pitchers duel between Guthrie, facing a Yankee offense which seems to go whichever direction Bobby Abreu goes, which right now is down, and Pettitte facing the Orioles' offense which is the fourth worst in the AL and features just one batter, Brian Roberts, who is meaninfully more productive than league average.
Incidentally, Pettitte did not start against the Orioles when they came to the Stadium in early April, but did throw a scoreless relief inning against them in the series finale. Guthrie, meanwhile, has faced the Yankees just once, doing so the second major league game of his career, which just happened to be the Indians 22-0 win at the Stadium on August 31, 2004. Guthrie threw the final two innings of that historic blowout.
Manager: Dave Trembley General Manager: Mike Flanagan
Home Ballpark (2007 Park Factors): Oriole Park at Camden Yards (99/99)
Who's Replacing Whom?
Dave Trembley replaces Sam Perlozzo
Jay Payton (DL) replaces Miguel Tejada (DL)
John Knott (minors) replaces Alberto Castillo (minors)
Rob Bell (minors) and Paul Shuey (minors) replace Jeremy Guthrie and Danys Baez (DL) in the bullpen
Guthrie and Brian Burres (minors) replace Jaret Wright (DL) and Adam Loewen (DL) in the rotation
1B - Aubrey Huff (L)
2B - Brian Roberts (S)
SS - Chris Gomez (R)
3B - Melvin Mora (R)
C - Ramon Hernandez (R)
RF - Nick Markakis (L)
CF - Corey Patterson (L)
LF - Jay Payton (R)
DH - Kevin Millar (R)
L - Jay Gibbons (OF)
L - Freddie Bynum (UT)
R - John Knott (OF)
L - Paul Bako (C)
L - Erik Bedard
R - Daniel Cabrera
L - Brian Burres
R - Steve Trachsel
R - Jeremy Guthrie
R - Chris Ray
L - Jamie Walker
R - Chad Bradford
R - Scott Williamson
L - John Parrish
R - Rob Bell
R - Paul Shuey
15-day DL: R - Miguel Tejada (SS), R - Danys Baez, R - Sendy Rleal
60-day DL: R - Kris Benson, R - Jaret Wright, L - Adam Loewen, R - Jon Leicester
S - Brian Roberts (2B)
R - Melvin Mora (3B)
L - Nick Markakis (RF)
R - Ramon Hernandez (C)
L - Aubrey Huff (1B)
R - Kevin Millar (DH)
R - Jay Payton (LF)
L - Corey Patterson (CF)
R - Chris Gomez (SS)