Suffice it to say that the Orlando Calrissians were surprised and displeased with their residence in the basement of the East. When the best news that your squad has all year is the selection of a new team song, that’s typically a bad sign. Although Orlando’s last-place finish was predicted by many league observers, the Calrissians front office seemed genuinely stunned to be out of the running. “Our team never showed up this year,” said Calrissians owner/GM Brian Aufmuth. “Our fans and the city deserve better than they got.”
For Aufmuth, the biggest blow was the fact that his team was out of the race from almost the beginning of the season. “We expected to compete this year,” said the owner. “Winning the whole thing we knew would be tough, but we at least expected to compete and that didn’t happen.”
It was a weak season for Orlando on both sides of the ball. As a team, the Calrissians batted a paltry .249 with a .717 OPS and scored only 648 runs; only Salt Lake was worse in those categories. The batting order had multiple major holes, most notably in center field and at catcher. And as feeble as their offense was, the pitching was even worse.
Less than a month into the season, Orlando had already banished three-fifths of its opening day starting rotation. The bullpen was no better, with less churn but more disastrous performance. With the team’s ERA mired north of 6.00 in mid-May, the Calrissians fired pitching coach Tyler Thornton and hired Hall of Famer John Smoltz to replace him. Smoltz’s interventions had little apparent effect, as the Calrissians finished the year with a 5.64 team ERA, allowing 914 runs and an .824 OPS. All of those marks put Orlando dead last in the PBL.
“Obviously, this is a work in progress,” said Smoltz after the year. “This is a long-term project.”
When asked for the reasons his team had fallen short, the owner didn’t mince words. “The lack of effort,” Aufmuth said. “Our team has talent, but day in and day out they just didn’t give the effort needed to win in this league.”
Despite a painful and disappointing season, Aufmuth confirmed that both Smoltz and manager Logan “Lobot” Bothan will be back next season, along with the rest of the coaching staff. “We aren’t the Cleveland Browns,” said the owner. “We don’t fire everyone after one bad year.” This remark may have been a veiled shot at the cross-state Dragons, who dumped their manager at the end of the season. Aufmuth acknowledged that Bothan and the coaches are “on a short leash” but said that he wanted to give them “a chance to turn it around.”
Orlando’s hopes for a turnaround next season may rest on the development of their young roster. The Calrissians are perhaps the youngest team in the league, with eight pitchers and seven batters age 25 or younger. Several of those players, such as 2B Jose Buendia and RF Bart Law, are coming off of promising seasons and are likely to thrive with another year under their belts.
The biggest question marks, though, surround the pitching staff. Apart from ace Nathan Nunb and right-hander Nate McGowan, whose 8-16 record belied a solid 4.42 ERA, it’s likely that the rotation will feature a new set of faces next year. And the pen is likely to see significant turnover as well. Closer Caddington Smith rebounded from a dismal first half to post solid year-end numbers (28 saves and a 3.22 ERA), and rookie southpaw Aron Filippi had a strong debut season, but no other reliever had an ERA below the 5.40 mark.
One bright spot for the fans: Aufmuth announced that ticket prices will not increase for next season. “How can I raise season ticket prices with a product that sucks this bad?” said the owner.
Aufmuth’s goal for the Calrissians next season was expressed with his typical blunt honesty: “Score some damn runs.” Orlando will need to score – and prevent – a lot more runs if they’re going to make an upward move in the standings next year.