May 23, 2019

Something Rotten in the State of Maryland

August 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Mike Rizzo traded Matt Capps and Cristian Guzman for prospects and kept Adam Dunn.  His team and his fans are both happy and the team is playing hungry again.  Andy MacPhail failed to move Luke Scott or Ty Wiggington but hired Buck Showalter to make sense of it all.  Still, something in Baltimore just doesn’t smell right.  It wasn’t long ago that the Orioles seemed light years ahead of the Nationals in the attempt by both to escape the swamp of baseball’s lost teams.  But the bevy of new talent brought in by MacPhail–Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz and other young Orioles–are looking nothing so much as overrated.  

Washington GM Mike Rizzo seemed to be a step ahead of MacPhail early in the season when the Nationals broke out of the gate with a winning record, but until the trading deadline loomed the Orioles and Nationals were locked in a race to the bottom of their respective leagues.  Something is rotten in the state of Maryland.  The odor of losing is sticking more firmly each day to Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and the rest of the fine Orioles’ prospects that were all rated as too big to fail.

Baltimore fans have not given up.  Attendance at Camden Yards is 20th among major league teams–not bad when you consider just how horrible the team has been without pause this season.  Well, truth be told there was one very notable pause and that came when the Orioles swept a home series with the Nationals.  It was all on the line.  Who really was the worst team in the region?  The rag tag aggregation of old and new for the Nationals versus the young and still lackluster phenoms from Baltimore.

The stands were awash in orange hued shirts that roared with approval as the home team beat back every threat from the Nationals and made proud he whose name is only quietly spoken in Camden Yards.  Is that what it will take for these young players to realize their potential?  Does Cal Ripken have to walk the field again, hat raised in his hand waving to the crowds as he once did when this franchise last pushed to the top?  Is that what it will take before the final chapter on one of the best gatherings of young talent can be written?

The Nationals have no champion waiting in the wings.  That may well be the problem.  There is talent in Washington with whom Stephen Strasburg may yet share the spotlight.  It was on display when the team beat the Colorado Rockies 14-6 on May 13th to go five games over .500 and rest a single game behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East.  The hype for Strasburg could equal all of the promise for the first rounders in Baltimore.  But other than Strasburg, the Nationals are suffering from the failure of their own young players.

In 2007 the Nationals had a fine draft and picked up four very strong pitching talents in Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, Jack McGeary and Josh Smoker.  Detwiler is back in the majors with mixed results so far.  Zimmermann is ready to join him at the major league level in a few weeks and he has looked good in his rehab outings.  But neither of them has really arrived as major leaguers though there is considerable hope.

Neither Smoker nor McGeary has moved past low-A ball and the rather huge potential they had as young high school pitchers seems almost gone.  Some have started to ask questions about the minor league instruction that the Nationals are providing.  The Nationals fiddled with Detwiler’s mechanics and it was only after he reverted back to something closer to his college pitching style that he began to make progress in the Nationals’ minor league system.  But the failure to develop either Smoker or McGeary above their current level in three plus seasons reflects badly on Washington’s instructional system.

The Nationals just signed 28-year old Yuniesky Maya, the number two pitching talent from the Cuban national team behind Aroldis Chapman.  Maya is unlikely to need the instruction the Nationals farm system is uncertain to provide.  But the question seems equally valid when considering the Orioles system.  What is missing in the Baltimore system that so poorly prepares their young players for big league success?  Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta have all three struggled since making their major league debuts over the past few months.  They had success at every stop in the minors, but so far none in the majors.

The last place to look is the management at the major league level.  The Orioles have decided that maybe something new and fresh in their major league dugout could wring success from the same cast of characters that failed under Dave Trembley.  Can Buck Showalter change the chemistry?  Can he fine tune the mental approach of players who have not yet been able to convert at the major league level? And should the Nationals be asking the same question?  Is Jim Riggleman part of the problem in Washington?  GM Rizzo doesn’t think so and there is a longer leash in Washington as expectations will not rise until next year when many of the young pitchers will finally be healthy and Washington’s owners will grow antsy if the team continues to bottom feed in the NL East.

There is definitely something rotten in the Sate of Maryland.  It’s like a refrigerator that smells bad and we are half way through the tupperware without any idea what is wrong.   Whatever the problem, fans may quit traveling to the two Mid-Atlantic baseball stadiums if the  same old air of losing continues to tickle the back of their collective throats.  Dave Trembley is just the first thing that has gotten tossed.  More may have to go before these two teams get a clean bill of health.

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