Heath Bintliff: Orioles need to win now

We all know the story. The Baltimore ball club has been a losing club for 13 straight seasons and they have a very good chance to have a 14th straight sub-.500 season in 2011. But for a rebuilding team, how much does that matter?

The Orioles took steps in the offseason to improve the offense and turn that trend around. But the Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee signings have not really panned out. Free agency has not really worked out for the bullpen, either, as Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo have been disappointing to say the least and last season’s big bullpen signing, Mike Gonzalez, has been abysmal.

Oriole veterans have had their issues, too. Brian Roberts has been hurt and Nick Markakis is mired in a season-long slump. The rotation (and pitching staff overall) has been inconsistent at best.

But through all of this hardship, the team is just three games under .500 and vastly improved over the 2010 club so far.

The logical side of my baseball mind is not too concerned about whether the Orioles finish above .500 this season. I did not expect the team to contend and, regardless of record, it’s more important that the young players get plate appearances or innings under their belt so they can develop or be evaluated by management to see how they fit into Baltimore’s future.

However, as I discuss with my young son, who is closer to junior high than nursery school at this point, why the Red Sox and Yankees have merchandise for sale everywhere you look but you can’t find any black-and-orange gear south of the Potomac River or north of Elkton, I wonder if a non-losing season is more important than I think it is. After all, the O’s have not had a winning season for more years than my son has been on the earth with a few to spare. Maybe it is psychically valuable for the fan base and the club itself.

At three games under .500, if they would like to get to break-even, they should strike now rather than later. Their schedule since mid-May or so has been pretty favorable but that stretch is coming to an end. The next four series for the Orioles come against Toronto, Washington, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, three losing teams and a team right around .500. After that, it’s St. Louis, Atlanta, Texas, Boston, Cleveland and Boston again, a bunch of division leaders and Wild Card contenders that give the Orioles a brutal 20-game stretch that takes them deep into July.

There are bright spots to dream on. Adam Jones is having a breakout season. Matt Wieters is much improved. Trading for Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy is finally paying some dividends. And even though the rotation is iffy at times, it is almost completely homegrown talent with the ability to improve. They have a shot.

To finish with a winning season, the Orioles can’t get buried during that stretch. So they need to get back to even or better before it starts. If they’re still close at the end of July, a little luck could make the Orioles winners at long last.

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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