October 17, 2012

Direct Kick: Orioles lack of playoff experience showed

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Baltimore’s amazing season came to an end Friday night with a 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees in the American League Divisional Series.

That the Orioles even made it this far stunned the so-called experts, and to be truthful, it stunned me too.

As a life-long O’s fan, just getting the chance to cheer them in October was special. That hadn’t happened since 1996 and 1997, the last time they made the playoffs. Before that, you had to go all the way back to 1983, the year they won their third World Series.

The loss to the Yanks was tough to take, but really, it didn’t surprise me too much. After all, New York had tons of playoff experience, while the O’s had virtually zero, except for Jim Thome.

Jeffrey Tomik, sports editor of The Washington Examiner, wrote in his October 9 column that he didn’t think playoff experience was as important as many make it out to be. I would have to disagree.

Case in point: Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Reynolds and Matt Wieters. The heart of the Baltimore line-up. During the regular season, these four combined for 111 home runs and 319 RBI. During this year’s post season (including the wild card game with Texas), they combined for 0 home runs and 4 RBI.

All four struggled at the plate. Jones was 2-for-26 with a .077 batting average. He admitted that he was having trouble slowing himself down during the post season. He was swinging at bad pitches and well, just trying too hard. The same with the other three. Davis was 5-for-24 with a .208 average; Reynolds, 3-for-22, .136; and Wieters, 3-for-25, .125.

Not that New York was having much better luck. This series was a match-up of the two top home run hitting teams in the American League, yet there were only six hit between the two teams, and not one of those was hit by Alex Rodriguez, who once again struggled during the post season, so much that he was benched for the deciding game 5.

He wasn’t the only Yankee to struggle at the dish. Mark Teixeria, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson also failed to produce most of the time, though Granderson did have one of the New York home runs.

The difference was New York knew how to take advantage when the opportunity presented itself. Baltimore is still learning that.

The pitching was good enough by both teams to win each game, though Baltimore’s ace closer, Jim Johnson, wasn’t as sharp as he had been during the season. Once again I think it came down to never having that playoff experience. It’s a lot different pitching in that atmosphere.

I hope that the Orioles can keep this team together for the next few years, along with adding a little more depth to their starting pitching. I don’t think this was a fluke year. I believe they will be a contender for the next few seasons.

If they do make the playoffs next year I believe that you will see a different Baltimore Oriole team take the field. They will be more confident. They will have had a playoff experience under their belts. And they hopefully will still have Buck Showalter as coach.

This could be the start of another glorious era in the rich history of the Orioles.

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