The second half of the 2009 season for the Baltimore Orioles isn’t necessarily about wins and losses, but it is about changing a negative aura that has been more than a decade in the making.
Baltimore has posted a winning mark in the second half of the season only three times since 1998 and not since 2004.
But the struggles have gone beyond just registering losing seasons. Almost every year, the Orioles have sleep walked through the last two months of the season.
Over the last four years, the Orioles have posted a .355 winning percentage after August 1 and since 1998 the team has won only 40.8 percent of their games over the last two months.
In comparison, in the first half of those same four seasons, the Orioles had a winning record twice and a .488 winning percentage.
Even this season, though Baltimore has a losing record at the All-Star break (40-48), the team has played with great intensity and had some dramatic come-from-behind wins.
If the Orioles really want to be competitive in 2010 and beyond, they need to show that they can play with that same level of intensity for the entire season. The Birds cannot have another second half of the year where they look like a team just playing out the string.
So, for the Orioles to start building for 2010 today, these five players need to lead the way and have a big second half of the season.
Brian Roberts – Second Base
As the leadoff hitter and in his seventh season as the starting second baseman, Roberts needs to push the younger Orioles along through the second half of this season.
Even though his batting average is down slightly this year (.273 compared to a .296 average the last four years), his other numbers are right on track. Roberts seems headed for his third straight 100 runs scored season (63 so far in 2009) and has almost as many home runs and RBI through the first half of 2009 as he did in all of 2008.
Roberts is a fireplug and hard-core player. It is time for him to step up and be the team leader.
Jeremy Guthrie – Starting Pitcher
During his first two seasons with the Orioles, Guthrie was unquestionably the most consistent pitcher on an otherwise poor pitching rotation.
Though his record was only 17-17, Guthrie had an ERA of 3.66. In 2008, he allowed two or fewer runs in 17 of his 30 starts.
However, this season he has struggled from the very beginning. In 18 starts, Guthrie has allowed three or more runs 15 times and pitched seven or more innings only five times.
As the Orioles look to give their young pitchers a chance to prepare for full-time duty in 2010, Guthrie needs to re-establish himself as the leader of the staff by going out there every start and piling up the quality starts like he did over the last two seasons.
Matt Wieters – Catcher
Through his first 31 games as a major league catcher, Matt Wieters has shown that he does indeed have the ability to be a long-time standout behind the plate for the Orioles.
Wieters has proven to be an excellent defensive catcher and has done a solid job handling the Baltimore pitchers.
His .259 batting average, three home runs and 10 RBI are really just gravy as he adjusts to major league pitching.
Over the second half of the season, Wieters should improve his offensive production. He also should continue working with the young pitchers to groom them for future success.
Melvin Mora – Third Base
This could be the final months of a productive decade with the Orioles for Melvin Mora.
The 37-year old Mora has struggled with injuries this season and seen his production plummet. After hitting .285 and driving in 104 runs a year ago, Mora has only three home runs and 24 RBI this season. He finally ended a long home run drought with a home run last weekend against the Blue Jays.
As the Orioles look to build toward the future, Mora will in all likelihood need to have a good second half of the season simply to ensure that he has a spot on some major league roster next season.
As a veteran, Mora needs to join Roberts and Aubrey Huff as one of the players that sets the tone for the young team and keeps them focused on playing hard every single night.
Brad Bergesen – Starting Pitcher
While Mora represents the Orioles’ past, Bergesen represents the future.
The rookie pitcher has been outstanding in his first months as a major league pitcher. In 16 starts, Bergesen has pitched at least six innings 12 times, including each of his last nine.
In those nine starts, Bergesen has allowed two or fewer runs seven times. Had it not been for some blown outings by the bullpen, his record would be significantly better than 6-3.
It is still too early to tell whether Bergesen can maintain his recent production and develop into a staff ace.
In reality, the key for Bergesen the remainder of 2009 is to continue to improve and develop as a major league hurler.
Next season the Orioles will have even more young pitchers taking the mound and at that point it would be helpful if Bergesen could help them navigate through a rookie campaign in a manner similar to what he has done this season.
There is still nearly half a season remaining for the Orioles and the campaign can be considered a success if the Orioles simply keep moving forward and growing as a team. It isn’t about putting up wins, but it is about building a body of work that teaches the young players how to win and sets the stage for the Orioles to start 2010 ready to make their mark in the American League East.