Orioles Face Offseason Of Change After Lamentable '07 Season

Monday, October 1st 2007, 2:30 pm
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) _ The Baltimore Orioles found new ways to embarrass themselves in 2007.

While staggering through their 10th consecutive losing season, the Orioles endured several of the most humiliating defeats in the history of the franchise. Most notable, of course, was the 30-3 fiasco against the Texas Rangers in which Baltimore became the first team in 110 years to yield 30 runs in a game.

There was also the Mother's Day Massacre, when the Orioles surrendered six ninth-inning runs to the Boston Red Sox in a 6-5 loss.

And the no-hitter thrown by Boston rookie Clay Buchholz in his second major league start.

And the game in which Baltimore surrendered 11 runs in the eighth inning of a 15-8 drubbing by last-place Tampa Bay.

For the Orioles, no lead was secure. They were ahead in 20 straight games from May 23-June 13 and went 9-11 in that span.

It all added up to a 69-93 record and a fourth-place finish in the AL East, 27 games behind first-place Boston.

``I've been on some teams that haven't done real well a couple times, last year even,'' center fielder Corey Patterson said. ``But it didn't seem like it was this bad.''

Certainly, losing four players from the starting rotation and playing without closer Chris Ray and setup man Danys Baez attributed to the Orioles' 11-28 record down the stretch. This wretched season, however, had taken shape long before that.

Things began to unravel when Baltimore suffered through the indignity of a 1-8 homestand that preceded the entrance of the team's third manager in three seasons. Dave Trembley initially made a difference after taking over for Sam Perlozzo on June 18, but on the day the Orioles announced Trembley would return in 2008, Baltimore proceeded to set an AL record by giving up 39 runs in a doubleheader loss to Texas.

That sparked a run of nine straight defeats during the worst homestand in Orioles history.

Baltimore allowed at least 10 runs in 19 games in 2007, losing by scores of 17-2, 18-6, 12-0 and, yes, 30-3. It was enough to force first baseman Kevin Millar to talk in football terms when labeling this the most difficult season he has ever endured.

``The grind, the beatings and the time of possession on defense and offense, definitely the toughest,'' Millar said.

The Orioles spent $42 million during the offseason to rebuild the bullpen. Guess what the top priority is this winter?

``My main concern is getting people in the bullpen that can get people out,'' Trembley said.

When president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail begins the rebuilding process, he will seek to find replacements for Baez and Ray, both of whom are expected to miss the 2008 season after undergoing elbow surgery. MacPhail will also be looking for at least two other relievers and a starter or two.

``I think we should become the kind of organization that is focused on pitching because, with the kind of offenses that this division has, it really is going to require solid pitching to offset or counteract those,'' MacPhail said. ``We've seen what happens when you've got injuries to your starting rotation and you're forced to go with less experienced pitching. It's not a pretty sight.''

With Radhames Liz, Jim Hoey, Rocky Cherry and Fernando Cabrera thrust into key roles, the Orioles compiled the worst September ERA in the majors (6.89) over the last 51 years.

``We basically had a tale of two seasons as far as the pitching is concerned,'' pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. ``We had pretty darn good pitching up through mid-August and then it blew up.''

Mazzone, who is signed through next season, has yet to work the magic he did with the Atlanta Braves. Baltimore has finished 29th in the majors in ERA in each of the past two years, and this season the Orioles issued more walks than any team.

If pitching was the only need, MacPhail would at least be able to focus his attention on getting a few solid arms. But Baltimore also needs some power _ Nick Markakis was the only player on the team with as many as 20 homers and 100 RBIs.

Trembley said he wants to build the team around pitching and defense, so the Orioles must decide if they want Miguel Tejada back as their shortstop. Tejada struggled at times in the field, and he also experienced a drop-off in power (he hit 18 home runs, ending his run of eight straight 20-homer seasons).

A trade might be the only way to bring in some of the pieces the Orioles desperately need to be competitive in 2008.

``I think it's logical to assume that a byproduct of a thin free agent class might be more activity in the trade market, where you'll have more players available,'' MacPhail said.

Trying to rebuild a losing team that has minimal power and only two reliable relievers _ Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford _ will not be easy.

``Tough job. Besides George Bush, I think Andy MacPhail's got the next-hardest job in America,'' Walker said. ``We have to reroute this ship. There's a lot of changes that are probably going to be made.''