- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

BALTIMORE Marvin Gaye said to believe half of what you see. What half should we believe about the Baltimore Orioles? The scrappy, exciting, competitive team that took two of three from the New York Yankees this week at Camden Yards and is hovering around the .500 mark? Or the one we saw in the second half of last year that went 24-56 after July 1?
After all, we've seen this act before. Just as it has now, this team played above expectations for the first three months of last season and finished June with a 39-42 record. Unfortunately, the 2001 Orioles were not playing a rookie league short season. They were playing major league baseball and like every manager loves to tell you, "It's a marathon, not a sprint."
Last year's Orioles didn't have the legs for the marathon. Manager Mike Hargrove believes the current team does, or at least enough of them not to fall apart. In fact, Hargrove believes this is the best team he has had since he came to Baltimore three years ago and took over a team that had Cal Ripken, Brady Anderson, Albert Belle, Charles Johnson, B.J. Surhoff and other well-known veterans.
"I think our talent level is higher than it was last year, probably as high as any time since I've been here, and that includes the team before the turnover started after the All-Star break of 2000," he said, referring to the July trading deadline purge that year when Johnson, Surhoff, Harold Baines, Will Clark, Mike Bordick (who is now back) and Mike Timlin were dealt away.
"There were some star players on that team that were still good players, but as a whole the team was really old, and it was time to make a change," Hargrove said. "We're deeper. We have more team speed than we've had in the past, and I think that's helped a lot. And certainly our rotation and bullpen is pitching better than any time in the past. So I think there are a number of things that point to the fact that this ballclub has been able to sustain the effort that we have sustained so far, and hopefully we can continue that."
That is the only way to measure how good this team really is, or to reveal how bad it is, because the roster I'm looking at still consists of, for the most part, players who have had bursts of good play over their careers but have yet to prove they can sustain it over an entire season players like Chris Singleton and Gary Matthews Jr. that somebody else didn't want anymore.
In fact, most of this Orioles team consists of players that somebody else didn't want. Matthews was obtained in a trade with the New York Mets for a forgettable pitcher named John Bale. Singleton was dealt by the Chicago White Sox for Willie Harris, an unproven minor leaguer. Tony Batista was claimed off waivers. Jay Gibbons was plucked off Toronto's unprotected roster list.
Heck, the best two pitchers in the rotation are Travis Driskill, a 30-year-old career minor leaguer (not with the Orioles organization) and Rodrigo Lopez, another minor league free agent who was pitching last winter for the Culiacan Tomato Growers in Mexico.
You have to credit them for banding together to make the most of their opportunities here in Baltimore. They play hard and with enthusiasm, and are fundamentally sound, for the most part. Credit for that goes to Hargrove, who believes that the castoffs, along with some young pitchers in the organization, form a solid foundation for the future and that, more than anything, is the question Orioles fans should be asking.
Is it a foundation or an illusion?
"I think we have a foundation," Hargrove said. "I don't know if it's a sturdy foundation. I think that time will tell. You look at the young arms we have here now, good young arms, and the arms we have down in our minor league system that are good young arms. Will they all come and be what we think they could be? No, not all of them will. But hopefully enough of them will be. You win with pitching, even in the American League. As we go along, hopefully we will add pieces here and there, get some hitters to come along to go along with the ones that we already have, and sure, I think it's a good foundation."
I think it's an illusion.
The Orioles may have some live arms, but I haven't seen many winning arms in Rochester, Bowie or Frederick, their top three minor league affiliates. And the pieces added here and there don't fall under the category of building blocks.
Hargrove has seen a losing team with a solid foundation before: Kenny Lofton, Belle, Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga all future All-Stars that Hargrove managed in Cleveland for parts of three straight losing seasons before the Indians turned into a powerhouse. That was a foundation, built through the organization with solid investments.
The Orioles? They were put together at 7-Eleven with daily lottery tickets.
They've been scratching a lot of winners this year, including two very exciting victories against the Yankees. And maybe they can sustain it and make a worthwhile improvement over last year's 63-98 record. But what happens after that? You might have to ask David Blaine to find out.


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