"The fact that we didn't hit probably cost a dear friend of mine his job," said Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley. The longest-tenured hitting coach in baseball, Crowley has survived five managerial changes in the Orioles' organization, but has come under fire lately given his hitters' season-long slump.
"I feel as bad as anybody," Crowley said. "This is probably one of the few teams I've ever had that hasn't hit what they can hit; usually it's the other way around. Teams always hit a little better than what's expected of them. This is the opposite and it doesn't sit well with me. It probably cost a dear friend of mine his job, and we are going to have to do something about that."
The answer isn't easy. The Orioles entered Saturday's game against the Red Sox ranked last in the American League in runs scored (180), with the two teams closest to them -- Seattle and Cleveland -- each playing in fewer games. The O's have an AL-low 172 RBIs and 151 walks, and are ranked second to last in batting average (.244) and among the bottom in nearly every other offensive category.
To be fair, the Orioles have sorely missed the presence of leadoff man Brian Roberts and outfielder Felix Pie, both on the 60-day disabled list and missing in action since early April.
"I don't want to say any names, but guys feel like they have to put a little more weight on their shoulders than you are supposed to put in your second year in the big leagues," Nick Markakis said. "And it's taking a toll."
And therein lies the crux of the Orioles' problems: the core of their rebuilding phase, the young group that was supposed to help return Baltimore to a proud baseball city, has regressed.
MacPhail used words like disappointing and distressing to describe the underperforming group that includes Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold. Coming off Achilles heel surgery in September, Reimold was hitting .205 before the organization sent him to Triple-A Norfolk in mid-May.
Jones was a Gold Glove winner and All-Star selection last year and was hitting .326 with a .526 slugging percentage through the first 55 games of '09. Conversely, he entered Saturday hitting .245 with a .382 slugging mark. Wieters got off to a slow start following his highly anticipated callup last year, but was expected to build on a final month that included a .333 batting average with four homers and 17 RBIs. Instead, the switch-hitting catcher has posted a .236 average through the team's first 55 games and entered Saturday mired in an 0-for-17 stretch.
"That's an excuse, we're young we are inexperienced," Jones said. "No. We have all gotten here, to the Major Leagues, we are all talented. We have to feed off each other, pick each other up. It's going to get better before it gets worse. It can't get worse."
When asked the expectations for the season's final two-thirds, MacPhail remained optimistic that this year's team will finish better than last year's 64-98 club.
A large portion of that will hinge on returning players such as Roberts and Pie, in addition to closer Mike Gonzalez, setup man Jim Johnson and relievers Koji Uehara and Alfredo Simon.
"I'm not really giving up on the wins and losses just yet," MacPhail said. "Obviously, we've handicapped ourselves greatly in that regard. But I'm not giving up on that."
Nor is MacPhail willing to deviate from the plan he installed three years ago. The biggest barometer of that plan -- and the Orioles' future long-term success -- will come down to how their young talent handles the adjustments necessary to succeed in the Major Leagues.
"They're all still in some degree in the learning stage and you always feel like you can turn it around," Crowley said. "Whether the end result is good enough or not, we will improve [this season]. And we will continue to work hard at it."