The Orioles are doing a lot of things right on an organizational level, and there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. Some of those reasons (Reimold, Wieters, Jones, Markakis, Bergesen) are already taking the field in the present. Others (Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta) will be here before you know it. But that doesn't mean that it's easy to watch the current team night in and night out, enduring ugly road trips like the 1-5 swing through Seattle and Oakland last month and infuriating games like July 1st's ninth-inning meltdown against Boston. But when the Birds make me despair, there's always the Nationals.
I can't really explain what draws me to our poor red-clad Beltway cousins, other than to chalk it up to sweet schadenfreude and a healthy appetite for a good trainwreck (I've wasted good hours watching cinematic horrors such as the Nic Cage Wicker Man remake and The Conqueror, starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Really.). But even the shameful joy of watching the pretenders to the region's baseball throne fall flat on their faces night after night just doesn't cover it. It's the manner in which they lose. You undoubtedly know that the Nats are in hot pursuit of the 1962 Mets and their record of 120 losses. They certainly deserve to go down in history, because they've got failure down to an art form. Consider:
-They've lost a game to a reliever who did not throw a single pitch.
-They were beaten in extra innings by the Orioles, thanks to a rally ignited by skilled hitter Danys Baez.
-The bullpen has combined for 8 wins and 30 losses, with just 14 saves. Their collective ERA is a putrid 5.61. Five of the 23 pitchers the team has used have earned run averages better than the league average, and two of those have pitched less than ten innings each.
-Their leading home run hitter, Adam Dunn, has gone deep 24 times. Washington has just 26 wins. No player has had more home runs than his team has had wins in a season.
-The Nats have peaked with a four-game win streak. Unfortunately, they've also had two five-game losing streaks, a six-gamer, and two seven-game skids.
-They've lost in rain-shortened games that lasted five, six, and seven innings. They've lost extra-inning games that went ten, eleven, and twelve frames.
-Twice I've seen Washington lose close games due to dropped foul balls followed immediately by the victimized pitcher surrendering a crucial hit. (They've committed 88 errors in 91 games, leading to 54 unearned runs.)
I could go on and on, but I'll stop there (other than noting that just now, I turned on MASN2 just in time to see the awful Jeff Francoeur hit a massive home run off of anonymous Nats reliever Logan Kensing). I also feel a particular sense of ownership of this rudderless ship of a baseball team, since three ex-O's made their awful mark in D.C. in very short stints with the club:
-Corey Patterson has spent most of the year soaking up the sights and sounds of Syracuse, but during a five-game stint in the nation's capital he managed two hits in fifteen at-bats (.133) with six strikeouts and (shock of shocks) no walks. His OPS+ was -29.
-Clumsy shortstop Alex Cintron inexplicably was allowed to appear in 21 games, in which he went 2-for-26 (.077) with no extra-base hits. He "topped" Corey with a -39 OPS+.
-Daniel Cabrera...whooaaa boy. No wins, five losses, 48 hits in 40 innings (not to mention a 16-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio), a 5.85 ERA and 2.075 WHIP. Oh, and 10 wild pitches. He still leads the league in that category nearly two months after his release! Plus, he went 0-for-11 with two walks (how?) and nine strikeouts, leaving his career batting line at zero-for-25 with 23 K's.
-Utility player Willie Harris, who started his MLB career with nine games for the Birds in 2001, has actually been something of a bright spot, working a .362 on-base percentage in 69 games and going 9-for-10 in stolen bases while filling in at all three outfield spots as well as second and third base. But just the idea that Harris is one of the reliable bats should tell you something.
So, should the O's slip into another late-season malaise this year, just remember that it could be worse...much, much worse.