Tillman's future & other Os thoughts

After a weekend off you forget just how many ways the Orioles can lose games and make you throw your hands up in the air out of anger/frustration/sheer disbelief. Monday night, the offense didn’t hit, a few calls didn’t go their way, and perhaps most troubling, Chris Tillman continued to struggle.

It could be his last start up here for a while and it wouldn’t shock me. You can’t throw 90 mph belt-high fastballs and get away with it in the Major Leagues. Tillman admitted he had no control of his fastball and Juan Samuel said he just looked to up there throwing strikes. Is he healthy? He says he is, and I really don’t think he’s hiding an injury. But his lack of progression is another disturbing trend in a season full of them.

Tillman’s ERA is over 8. Brad Bergesen was just sent to Triple-A Norfolk with the plan being to get him back on track to start. Would the O’s turn around and call back Bergy? I don’t think so. They need Bergesen to work on his issues and get right, not continue to pull him back and forth. It’s a disservice to him and as we’ve seen, won’t be a long-term solution. Plus, Thursday’s off day affords the Orioles the option of going with a four-man rotation this time around which buys them some more time.

I look at the American League standings and see they’re now 30 games below .500, on a pace equal to the the ’62 Mets that lost 120 games, and the ’88 Orioles squad that was winless in their first 21 games en route to posting a franchise record 107 losses.

They have a run differential over 100 and a pitching staff that entered Monday with the highest ERA in the AL. In other words, this is one bad baseball team.

Yet, I understand why it might be difficult for president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail to blow everything up right now and bring in a new manager. This is a terrible season and not exactly the way you’d want to welcome a new face. How can you win ball games with a lineup full of underperforming young kids and overvalued veterans? The O’s were so full of hope this spring, and everything has gone so terribly wrong, starting with that 2-16 opening mark.

Statistically things have to get better, don’t they? Aren’t the laws of numbers on the Orioles side? Can a team play like this all year or are they afforded at least a few small stretches when you might convince yourself the Orioles really do have a chance to be respectable?

Guys like Matt Wieters and Adam Jones are showing signs of recovering at the plate. Brian Matusz is still an ace in the making and Jason Berken and David Hernandez have shown promise out of the bullpen. Alfredo Simon has gone from Triple-A starter to a respectable late-inning option. If Felix Pie, Jim Johnson, Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara are close to returning –even if just two of those four step up– it could help make a decent stretch.

MacPhail told me today the team won’t have a fire sale simply to dump salary, it has to be a move that makes the team better.

At times, I  wonder if there is a singular move — or perhaps two or three — that could improve this year’s underperforming, injury-ravaged squad. Maybe 2010 is the worst of it all for Orioles fans, the bottom of the barrel much like the ’07 Rays. But in ’07 the Rays already had new ownership, a new GM and manager Joe Maddon was starting to implement his style on the young club. The Orioles are playing for an interim manager with no real team leader and not enough depth to really rock the boat and put certain guys (ie Garrett Atkins) on the hot seat or off the team altogether.  

Look, my opinion counts for nothing. But, everything depends on the Orioles Minor League system and their ability (or perhaps lack thereof) to develop their young talent. If guys like Wieters, Jones, Nolan Reimold can’t progress and pitchers like Tillman, Bergesen, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen don’t morph into what they have been touted as, the Orioles can’t even dream of coming back to respectability.

Could they get a prospect or two at the deadline for Ty Wigginton? Perhaps. I’d imagine MacPhail is entertaining offers right now. Ditto for Jeremy Guthrie and maybe for Kevin Millwood (although his stock is rapidly dropping).  But I don’t see the O’s getting a Erik Bedard or George Sherill type of haul. Teams just aren’t that willing to trade away top-tier prospects anymore and the Os don’t have any one guy that would be an impact player in a pennant race.

Draft well, load the farm system with arms and buy the bats. This is the plan MacPhail set forth three years ago when he took over baseball ops. This is the plan he will live and die by. And the Orioles will too. In the meantime, O’s fans are running of patience. (Or at least the ones who email me or follow me on Twitter are.) And rightfully so. Look, being respectable isn’t contending. But it’s the next best thing, and right now it’s the only thing that could come out of the season’s remaining 3 1/2 months. 

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