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Unorthodox as they might be, Orioles won’t apologize for success

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to warn against overlooking an orchid when in search of a rose.

A mantra repeated often over the last several years in Baltimore, perhaps it’s never been more appropriate than now as the Orioles take a 45-30 record and a multi-game division lead out west for a nine-game road trip.

We know the starting pitching is a substantial weakness. Everyone beyond the Oriole Bird and his mom will remind you of that. It’s become the required caveat to attach when trying to compliment a club that began the 2016 season with seven straight wins and has rarely stumbled, remaining in first or second place in the AL East all season.

Perhaps our not-so-lofty preseason expectations — from media and many fans alike — have conditioned us to dwell on the negative while anticipating the fall that simply hasn’t happened despite a 4.96 starter ERA that ranked 12th in the AL entering Monday. But that mindset shouldn’t diminish the many ways in which the imperfect Orioles have been special this season.

Unorthodox as it might be, it’s working.

The Orioles have followed a blueprint echoed in every team sport by thriving at home and trying to hold their own on the road. Their 31-13 record at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is sensational, but they now begin a stretch of 16 of their next 19 on the road where they have been an underwhelming — but hardly disastrous — 14-17.

Having already stacked 45 wins in their first 75 games, merely playing .500 ball on the road is an acceptable outcome in terms of playoff aspirations. Going just three games above .500 overall the rest of the way is the simple formula for 90 wins, which puts into perspective how good the Orioles have been to this point despite their starting pitching.

Baltimore begins the week ranked second in the AL in runs, first in home runs, second in doubles, fourth in hits, third in batting average, and first in slugging percentage.

Impressive for sure, but what about that on-base percentage for all these free-swinging sluggers who lack plate discipline?

The Orioles rank second in the AL with a .332 OBP and are a respectable seventh in walks, significant improvement from each of the last three years when they ranked 13th or 14th in the AL in free passes. The additions of a few more patient hitters such as Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, and Pedro Alvarez have certainly helped, but the movement goes beyond that.

Unconventional leadoff hitter Adam Jones has already drawn 20 walks, four shy of his total from last year and more than he drew in all of 2014 when the Orioles ran away with the division. Jonathan Schoop, more of a free swinger than Jones, has two more walks than he had last year in 29 fewer plate appearances. Incremental improvement is still improvement.

That’s fine, but they still don’t play “small ball” and are too homer-happy, aren’t they?

“I don’t want them to apologize for being strong,” Showalter said. “It’s the product of a good approach and a good swing and a good process that that’s the endgame — that [the ball] goes a little further than maybe some of them do. I love how some guy scratches out a walk and maybe they bunt him over and he gets over to third and some guy hits a sac fly and it’s 1-0. Then, the [opponent’s] first two guys strike out, a guy walks, and a big hairy guy hits it in the bleachers and it’s 2-1. Boy, you worked real hard for that one run. That’s good.

“But there’s a time and place. We try to play to our team’s strength.”

The home run is unquestionably a strength as the Orioles have four hitters — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Jones — on pace for 30 or more home runs. Schoop is currently on track for 28 and two others — Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez — aren’t far off the pace to hit 20.

With three games remaining in June, the Orioles are seven shy of the major league record for homers in a single month — the 1987 Orioles and the 1999 Seattle Mariners each hit 58 in May — and are on pace to hit 259 this season, only five shy of the major league record held by the 1997 Mariners.

But the explanation for the prosperity goes beyond the powerful offense as the Orioles displayed over the weekend by turning double plays and making sparkling defensive plays throughout the four-game sweep over Tampa Bay. A superb infield defense can go a long way in helping your questionable-at-best starting pitching to survive just long enough to turn the ball over to the bullpen.

The Orioles rank second in the majors with a 2.91 bullpen ERA, and they’ve done that without Darren O’Day for almost a month. Closer Zach Britton is 23-for-23 in save opportunities and sports a 0.83 ERA while setup man Brad Brach owns a 1.05 ERA that should also draw All-Star consideration.

The bullpen’s 253 1/3 innings rank 10th in the majors, but Showalter is better at handling a bullpen than any manager in baseball and will do whatever he can to preserve his best arms, even if that means living to fight another day during the occasional close games in which his best relievers need rest.

Kansas City won the World Series last year despite sporting a starting rotation that pitched fewer innings than any other AL club in the regular season. It’s not that great starting pitching is any less valuable these days, but teams are finding success using a collection of high-impact bullpen arms in lieu of pushing the envelope with non-elite starters going through a lineup a third or fourth time in a game. Of course, there’s a critical balance between game strategy on any given night and maintenance of your pitching health over a 162-game schedule that Showalter seems to understand better than anyone.

To be clear, the Royals’ reliance on their bullpen is not a blueprint to proudly follow as much as it’s proof that you can survive — even thrive — without having strong starting pitching.

You just have to be exceptional in other areas of the game.

And the Orioles are doing that.

Yes, they’d really like to improve their rotation and should try to over the next several weeks leading up to the trade deadline, but the Orioles have been so good in other ways that it’s becoming more difficult to doubt their ability to remain in contention, especially with their divisional rivals having their own flaws.

It may go against conventional wisdom, but the Orioles won’t apologize as they keep winning.

The starting pitching may not be a rose, but the rest is blooming like an orchid as we approach the halfway point of the season.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 12-5 win over Rays

Posted on 26 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 12-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 75th game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Davis was nearly given the day off against Tampa Bay’s Drew Smyly, but he instead served as the designated hitter and clubbed a grand slam to left field in the bottom of the first inning. The big blow came on a 1-2 fastball after the Rays lefty had made Davis look foolish on three consecutive sliders to begin the at-bat. It was the seventh grand slam of Davis’ career and his first since Aug. 15 of last season. The slugger added a walk and a single and scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth as the Orioles busted the game wide open.

2ndAdam Jones continues to thrive in the leadoff spot, collecting a walk and four hits to elevate his season average to .265 after a difficult beginning to 2016. The center fielder bunted for a hit to score Nolan Reimold on a safety squeeze in the top of the second. Jones’ walk was his 20th of the season, which is just four shy of his total from 2015 and exceeds the 19 he drew in 2014. He has hit safely in 14 of his last 15 games and has posted a .369 average with three doubles, six homers, 16 RBIs, and a 1.098 on-base plus slugging percentage over that stretch.

3rdMark Trumbo provided the pick-me-up the Orioles needed after Tyler Wilson was unable to protect a five-run lead as he hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to increase the lead to 8-5. On the same day fans at Camden Yards received a Trumbo t-shirt giveaway, the 30-year-old hit his 22nd long ball of the year to match his total from 2015 in 224 fewer plate appearances. He added an RBI single in the eighth.

HomeDylan Bundy tossed three scoreless innings in relief of Wilson, striking out four and allowing two hits to ease the load on the rest of the bullpen. The young right-hander threw a season-high 57 pitches. … Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado each had three-hit performances with the former hitting his 13th home run of the season and the latter scoring three times. … The Orioles completed their first ever four-game sweep of the Rays to improve to a season-best 15 games above .500. Baltimore also increased its lead in the American League East to a 2016-high four games over second-place Boston. … The Orioles will spend their off-day in San Diego before beginning a brief two-game set Tuesday night as Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill against Padres right-hander Erik Johnson.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 8-6 win over Rays

Posted on 26 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 8-6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 74th game of the 2016 season.

1st Adam Jones provided more than his share offensively with a solo homer in the fifth, the game-tying RBI single in the seventh, and a walk, but the center fielder made arguably the biggest play of the night with a diving catch in right-center to leave the bases loaded in the third. With Chris Tillman and the Orioles already trailing 4-0, Jones’ defensive gem prevented the game from getting out of hand and allowed manager Buck Showalter to squeeze two more innings out of Tillman and keep his bullpen in better shape. Jones has now hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games to raise his average to .254. He is now one homer shy of tying Brady Anderson (209) for sixth place on Baltimore’s all-time homer list.

2ndMatt Wieters recorded his first multi-homer game since Sept. 16, 2012 as his two-run shot in the fourth shrank the deficit to one and his solo blast in the eighth provided some breathing room in the final inning. His first long ball was the third of the 2016 season to land on Eutaw Street and the second of his career to land there. Wieters is now sporting an .803 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2016.

3rd Chris Davis homered into the Orioles bullpen in the sixth and provided the go-ahead RBI single to right in the seventh inning as Baltimore completed its 24th comeback victory of the season. The first baseman is now one homer shy of tying Frank Robinson (179) for ninth place on the Orioles’ all-time home run list.

HomeT.J. McFarland allowed three of the first four hitters to reach in the sixth inning, but the left-hander tossed two scoreless frames to record his second win of the season after being recalled to serve as the 26th player for the doubleheader on Saturday. He induced two of the three double plays turned by the Orioles defense, matching a season high. … Joey Rickard drove in the first Orioles run of the night and hit a leadoff double and scored the tying run in the seventh inning. … Zach Britton recorded his 23rd save in as many tries to begin the season. … Tillman matched a season high by allowing six earned runs and gave up a season-high 10 hits while registering a game score of 23, his lowest of the season. … The Orioles improved to a season-best 14 games above .500 and opened up a three-game lead in the American League East, their biggest since April 23. … Tyler Wilson takes the hill on Sunday with the Orioles aiming for their first ever four-game sweep against Tampa Bay, who will start left-hander Drew Smyly.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-0 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 25 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 73rd game of the 2016 season.

1stKevin Gausman downplayed whether it was wearing on him that he had yet to secure a win in 2016 and that pitcher statistic has certainly been marginalized in recent years, but the 25-year-old needed a strong outing to not only boost his confidence in a rough month of June but to also keep the Orioles bullpen intact for the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader. Gausman tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed only two hits until eclipsing the 100-pitch mark and allowing two singles in the eighth. His fastball command was much better than it’s been in recent starts as he effectively used his sinker to induce grounders and his four-seamer to miss bats and finish off hitters. Gausman was the beneficiary of some fine defensive plays, but retiring 19 of 20 at one point and striking out seven without walking a batter will typically put you in line for a win and that’s exactly what the young pitcher received on Saturday.

2ndJonathan Schoop started two scoring rallies with a leadoff double in the bottom of the second and a one-out single in the sixth to elevate his average to .287. The 24-year-old has hit .337 with a .953 on-base plus slugging percentage in the month of June. In addition to scoring two runs in the victory, the second baseman played terrific defense highlighted by a backhand play and terrific throw from shallow center to throw out Tim Beckham to end the top of the seventh.

3rdPedro Alvarez entered the day just 2-for-19 against left-handed pitching in 2016, but the designated hitter delivered a two-run single off Tampa Bay lefty Enny Romero in the bottom of the seventh to give the Orioles a five-run cushion that they wouldn’t relinquish. Alvarez walked and scored in Baltimore’s two-run second inning and is now hitting .236 after a rough start to the year.

HomeJ.J. Hardy delivered the first run of the afternoon with an RBI single up the middle in the second. The veteran shortstop added another single in the sixth and is 8-for-27 with two doubles and three RBIs since returning from the disabled list last week. … Adam Jones singled twice and drove in a run to raise his season average to .250, the first time he’s concluded a game at that mark since May 18. … Matching their 2016 high-water mark of 13 games above .500 in the Saturday afternoon win, the Orioles improved to 6-1 at Camden Yards this season in games in which they’ve failed to homer. … Saturday marked Gausman’s first win since Sept. 30, 2015 when he beat Toronto in the second game of a twin bill. … The Rays suffered their ninth consecutive loss on Saturday afternoon.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-3 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 25 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 72nd game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Davis not only provided the go-ahead two-run single to right-center in the bottom of the sixth inning, but the first baseman also broke up Matt Moore’s perfect game with one out in the fifth and eventually scored the Orioles’ first run of the night on J.J. Hardy’s soft single to right. Davis moved into sole possession of 17th place on Baltimore’s all-time RBI list with 469, surpassing Miguel Tejada.

2ndAdam Jones started the Orioles’ deciding four-run rally in the sixth with his 14th home run of the season to narrow the deficit to one against Moore and the Rays. After homering just once in his first 26 games of the season, the veteran center fielder has hit 13 over his last 42 contests and five in his last 11 games.

3rdManny Machado put an exclamation point on the Orioles’ offensive awakening with a home run to right in the bottom of the eighth. It was his 18th long ball of the season and his second hit of the night as he also singled and scored in the pivotal sixth inning.

HomeYovani Gallardo got off to a miserable start by allowing three earned runs, three extra-base hits, and two walks in the opening inning, but the right-hander didn’t allow any runs after that and managed to complete 5 1/3 innings to keep the Orioles in the game and save the bullpen from working an incredible amount. … Rookie Ashur Tolliver earned his first major league win after tossing 2/3 inning with one hit and one walk allowed. … Asked to protect a 5-3 lead in the seventh, Odrisamer Despaigne pitched a perfect inning with a strikeout. … Baltimore improved to 28-5 in games in which Brad Brach has pitched this season after the right-hander tossed a scoreless eighth to lower his season ERA to 1.08. … Zach Britton converted his 22nd save in as many tries to continue his terrific season. … Friday marked the Orioles’ 23rd comeback victory of the 2016 season. … Kevin Gausman takes the hill for Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader while Tampa Bay gives the ball to right-hander Matt Andriese. Chris Tillman is scheduled to start the nightcap against fellow righty Jake Odorizzi.

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Orioles stats to ponder in late June

Posted on 23 June 2016 by Luke Jones

As we rapidly approach the halfway point in the 2016 season, below are some statistics to ponder as the first-place Orioles prepare for a four-game weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

1. Baltimore is thriving at Camden Yards and against sub-.500 opponents.

“Protect your home field and beat the teams you’re supposed to beat” is the oft-quoted formula for winning teams in any sport, and the Orioles have fit that description beautifully with a 27-13 home record and a 17-7 mark against clubs under .500 entering Thursday. Their .675 winning percentage at home ranks third in the AL behind only Kansas City and Texas and fourth in the majors. Twenty of the Orioles’ next 23 games come against teams who were .500 or worse entering Thursday, but only seven games during that stretch will be played at Camden Yards, making it critical for Baltimore to improve upon its underwhelming 14-17 road record.

2. Despite their reputation, the Orioles lineup is walking at a respectable rate.

We’ve heard plenty about their free-swinging ways and lack of plate discipline over the last several years, but the Orioles quietly entered Thursday sporting the third-best on-base percentage (.328) in the AL and ranked a respectable seventh in walks. This represents dramatic improvement from 2015 when they finished 12th in OBP (.307) and 13th in walks in the AL. Baltimore’s 8.1 percent walk rate is slightly above the league average (8.0) and is substantially higher than last year (7.0 percent) or even 2014 (6.5 percent). Patient approaches from the likes of Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Pedro Alvarez aren’t surprising, but even free-swinging hitters such as Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop have shown some modest improvement in the walk department.

3. The bullpen workload is as concerning as it looks.

We know the starting pitching has been ugly with a 4.93 ERA ranking 13th in the AL, but the bullpen has held up remarkably well with a 3.07 ERA that ranks behind only Kansas City in the AL and fourth in the majors. The problem is the heavier workload as relievers have pitched 38.2 percent of the Orioles’ innings compared to 36.1 percent last year and 34.7 percent in 2014. June has been particularly taxing with the bullpen handling 41 percent of the innings after handling 40 percent in April and a more-reasonable 34.4 percent in May. With limited trade chips in their organization, the Orioles might want to consider adding another impact bullpen arm to go with Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. That would likely be easier to acquire and might provide similar value to the kind of starting pitcher the Orioles can realistically afford with few attractive assets to offer in a trade.

4. Hyun Soo Kim and Jones are at opposite ends of the spectrum for batting average on balls put in play.

Both have had their best months of the season in June, but Kim is sporting a .389 BABIP — fifth highest in the majors among those with 120 or more plate appearances — compared to Jones’ .261 mark this season. The 2016 league average mark has been .298 and BABIP typically normalizes for players over time. The South Korean left fielder has been an important contributor, but his 59.4 percent ground-ball rate leads the team and will unsurprisingly make it difficult for him to sustain his .339 average over time, especially if more teams begin successfully shifting on him. The good news is that Kim has the fourth-lowest soft-contact rate on the club, which should help more of those grounders find the outfield for hits. Meanwhile, Jones owns a career .309 BABIP and is sporting his best hard-contact rate since 2013, indications that he should expect a much better second half after dealing with an early-season rib issue and some tough luck at the plate.

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Nothing good comes from Tuesday’s brawl for Orioles

Posted on 08 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Yordano Ventura was the culprit in Tuesday’s brawl between the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, but don’t be fooled by the crowd’s chants for Manny Machado after he charged the mound.

There was nothing to be proud of from the confrontation. Nothing good comes from this for Machado or the Orioles, even if they weren’t the ones at fault. And let’s not sing the 23-year-old’s praises when it was just two years ago that he embarrassed himself and the organization by being on the wrong side of another conflict by flinging a bat at the opposition. He has his own reputation for being a bit of a hothead, which may or may not have made him a prime target for Ventura’s behavior.

If you want to see a fight, check out a UFC pay-per-view or even WWE Monday Night Raw, which offers more believable grappling than what you’ll find in 90 percent of baseball brawls. I’d much prefer using this space to focus on a 9-1 victory in which the Orioles clubbed four home runs to improve to 11 games over .500 and remain in first place in the AL East instead of the rubbish we witnessed on Tuesday — no matter who’s to blame.

In a perfect world, Machado bites his tongue in anger and walks to first base as the Royals starter is ejected for the deplorable act of using a 99 mph fastball — his fastest pitch of the night — as a weapon, but you can understand an emotional reaction when your livelihood is being threatened. The 23-year-old shortstop wasn’t entirely blameless and did play a part in escalating the hostility in the previous at-bat when Ventura twice came inside without hitting him, but no amount of jawing warranted being hit in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The real problem is Major League Baseball’s willingness to allow these types of incidents to continue with little consequence. Instead of pimping highlights of the skirmish via social media, the league should crack down on pitchers who decide to punish someone because they were terrible at their job in the way Ventura was on Tuesday night.

With his own past likely being considered, Machado will be suspended for a handful of games and should be for charging the mound and throwing a punch, but what will the consequence be for Ventura, who committed a more dangerous act and already has a concerning history in his brief career? A suspension that will likely amount to one or two missed starts?

Give me a break with that slap on the wrist.

Adam Jones may have made the most cogent point of the night when citing how Ventura faces no threat of stepping to the plate to face the same music that he dished out. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but at least it’s a deterrent that exists in the National League to help offset baseball’s lack of a backbone over matters such as these.

Manager Buck Showalter said after Tuesday’s win that there were no apparent injuries stemming from the brawl, but we’ve seen them occur before, including one that nearly cost Cal Ripken his consecutive games streak in 1993. Machado’s anger was understandable, but he also put himself in further danger and his teammates in harm’s way when he charged the mound and the playoff-hopeful Orioles will now be without their best player for some number of games in the near future.

But more importantly, Machado could have been seriously injured by a 99 mph missile from Ventura, a reality that needs to be taken more seriously by the league’s decision-makers. More extreme consequences for pitchers intentionally hitting someone would go a long way in not only making the game safer but also putting players’ minds at ease that they don’t have to take matters into their own hands.

There just has to be a better way than players and teams policing themselves because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

Perhaps everyone would be a little more cordial if they knew they’d be banned for many more games and lose much more money when getting caught up in such nonsense.

Make no mistake, Ventura was the villain and the big loser on Tuesday night.

But that doesn’t make Machado the winner, either.

And we primarily have baseball to thank for that.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Kansas City

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 56th game of the 2016 season.

1st Mike Wright took full advantage of the mulligan from his minor-league demotion last week with seven strong innings in which he allow one unearned run and five hits while striking out four and walking two. The right-hander did have a favorable matchup against an injury-depleted Kansas City lineup missing two impact lefty bats, but he did a superb job keeping his fastball down in the zone and Royals hitters were just 2-for-8 with a walk in Wright’s third trip through the order, which has been very problematic for him this year. His hold on a rotation spot entering Monday was tenuous at best, but Wright turned in his best outing of the year for his fourth quality start of 2016.

2ndMatt Wieters wasn’t quite tired and ready to go home in the seventh, but he was more than eager to help his starting pitcher get a win by homering to dead center off Royals starter Danny Duffy, who had shut down Baltimore over his first six innings of work. The blast would prove to be the winning run as Wieters slugged the 100th home run of his career as a catcher and is now batting .362 with 17 RBIs over his last 19 games. He also did an excellent job behind the plate with a young starter who was pitching for his job on Monday night.

3rdMark Trumbo was the first Orioles batter to solve Duffy on Monday by homering on the third pitch of the bottom of the seventh after the Royals had taken a 1-0 lead on Jonathan Schoop’s error in the top half of the inning. Trumbo now leads the majors with his 19 homers, just three shy of his 2015 total in 307 fewer plate appearances this season. It was the 150th long ball of his career.

HomeBrad Brach continued his brilliant season by striking out the top three hitters in the Royals order in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He extended his scoreless streak to nine games covering 10 2/3 innings to lower his season ERA to a microscopic 0.88 in 30 2/3 innings. … Zach Britton induced three quick grounders on just eight pitches to earn his 18th save in as many tries and extend his scoreless streak to 14 games spanning 15 1/3 innings. … Adam Jones’ RBI double in the seventh tied Brady Anderson for first place in extra-base hits (243) in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. … In the eighth, Manny Machado clubbed his 15th homer, the first of the season allowed by standout reliever Kelvin Herrera. … With Monday’s victory, Showalter surpassed former Orioles manager Davey Johnson for sole possession of 29th place on the all-time managerial wins list with 1,373. … The Orioles lead the majors with 19 comeback victories and have won five of their last six with all five of the come-from-behind variety. … Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill on Tuesday while Yordano Ventura will start for Kansas City.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 12-7 win over Red Sox

Posted on 03 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 12-7 win over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 52nd game of the 2016 season.

1stMark Trumbo produced his fourth multi-homer game of the season with the first blast being a two-run shot to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning. His second long ball came in the bottom of the sixth after Ubaldo Jimenez’s disastrous top half of the inning had resulted in Boston taking a 5-4 lead. The timing of the game-tying blast couldn’t have been better for Baltimore’s karma after rapidly losing a 4-0 advantage. Trumbo continues to be a gem for the Orioles as he now has a club-leading 17 homers and 42 RBIs in 52 games and has collected plenty of big hits through the first two months of the season.

2ndManny Machado provided the decisive three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh after it looked like the Orioles were about to squander a golden opportunity to take the lead in a 5-5 game. With runners at first and second and no outs, Adam Jones and Hyun Soo Kim had both popped out and Red Sox right-hander Junichi Tazawa entered to face the Orioles shortstop. Machado was able to hit the “Earl Weaver special” to give Baltimore an 8-5 lead that would only grow in the next inning.

3rdMychal Givens had nothing to do with the Orioles’ seven-homer output, but the right-handed reliever turned in an outstanding performance for a bullpen that needed to rest a couple arms on Thursday. Called upon by Buck Showalter to replace Jimenez with a runner on first and no outs in the sixth after five runs had already scored in the inning, Givens quickly righted the ship for the Orioles with two scoreless frames that included three strikeouts. His work allowed the offense to do its thing.

HomeAdam Jones continues to find success in the leadoff spot as he hit a two-run shot in the fourth and a solo homer in the eighth, his 200th as a member of the Orioles. It was Jones’ first multi-homer game of the season and his three RBIs gave him 367 in his career at Camden Yards, one shy of tying Cal Ripken for first place on the all-time RBI list at the ballpark. … Francisco Pena hit his first major league homer and also singled in his Orioles debut. …  The Orioles hit seven home runs in a game for just the fifth time in club history and for the first time since setting a club record with eight against Philadelphia on June 16, 2015. … Jimenez allowed only two batters to reach over five shutout innings before failing to record an out in the sixth and giving up five earned runs. … Brad Brach lowered his season ERA to a tiny 0.91 with a scoreless eighth inning. … Left-hander Brian Duensing made his Orioles debut, giving up two runs on four hits in the ninth inning. … On Friday, Chris Tillman will take the mound for the series opener against the New York Yankees, who will start right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.

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No time for panic, but Orioles have opponents’ attention

Posted on 27 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Jim Palmer said at one point Thursday night what we all were thinking watching the Orioles swing and miss their way to a three-game sweep in Houston in which they struck out a major-league record 52 times.

“It’s almost like they’ve never seen a breaking ball.”

The Orioles struck out more in a three-game series than the late Tony Gwynn ever did in an entire season during his Hall of Fame career.

Chris Davis struck out eight times. Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo both went down on strikes seven times. Pedro Alvarez collected six strikeouts and didn’t even start in the series finale. Jonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters struck out five times each.

What a nightmare.

To be clear, the Astros didn’t do anything that wasn’t already known about the Baltimore lineup. Throwing fewer fastballs and more breaking balls has always been the blueprint against these power hitters, but Houston pitchers executed well and the Orioles appeared more eager than usual to cooperate.

But let’s take a deep breath about a club entering the weekend still seven games above .500 and just two games behind Boston in the AL East despite a four-game losing streak and losing seven of 10. Don’t forget that the Orioles entered the Houston series below the league average in strikeouts and still ranked just sixth in the AL in that category entering Friday.

Whether you like it or not, strikeouts are a bigger part of baseball than ever.

It isn’t just the Orioles.

A few horrendous games — and, boy, were they horrendous — cannot trump a quarter of a season in which the Orioles struck out at an acceptable level relative to other teams. As I wrote earlier in the week, you have to take the bad with the good for a team that depends so heavily on the home run. That certainly isn’t an excuse to whiff at a historic rate in a three-game series, but every team is going to go through some rough patches over 162 games.

The key now will be to make the adjustments as Cleveland and other upcoming opponents will take notice of what the Astros were able to do with a steadier-than-normal diet of curves and sliders. It’s up to the Orioles to get back to where they were over the first six weeks of the season when strikeouts were rarely part of the conversation in their wins or losses.

They’ll remain under the strikeout microscope until then and rightly so after setting such a dubious record.

Buck Showalter likes to say you’re never as bad as it looks at your worst or as good as it appears at your best. That’s an appropriate message for both his players and Orioles fans prematurely pressing the panic button. Even after completing the three-game sweep, the 20-28 Astros would still trade places in a heartbeat.

After a miserable series in which he went 1-for-14, Adam Jones probably said it best after Thursday’s finale.

“Let’s get the hell out of Houston.”

But hopefully the Orioles leave the absurd strikeout totals behind.

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