Tag Archive | "AL east"

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Orioles once again looking part of first-place club

Posted on 29 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles pitched two shutouts, their top six relievers threw a combined 18 pitches, and Adam Jones finally made his return to the lineup on Sunday.

The Buck Showalter garden gnome giveaway was a huge hit.

And, oh yeah, the Orioles found themselves back in first place in the American League East for the first time since April 19.

Cleveland manager Terry Francona might have been asking himself why he waited until the ninth inning of Game 2 to get ejected after his team’s abysmal day, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for a better doubleheader. In tossing shutouts in both games of the twin bill — a 4-0 win in the opener and an 8-0 final for the nightcap — the Orioles did something they hadn’t accomplished since Sept. 6, 1974 when they twice blanked the Indians in a doubleheader at old Cleveland Stadium.

“It was big. It was a good day,” said Game 2 winner Chris Tillman, who pitched a much-needed seven shutout innings to help his own psyche after Ubaldo Jimenez tossed eight scoreless frames in the opener. “Ubaldo went out and did an outstanding job. There was a lot of offense today in both games. It was really fun to watch.”

On the same day they won the 5,000th game in club history, the Orioles came out of the weekend only reinforcing what many have begun thinking more and more over the last four weeks. They’re looking like a first-place club and woke up Monday morning in that very position, percentage points ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in a division where four clubs are currently separated by one game.

It’s a different season and a different club, but you couldn’t help but notice that the Orioles seized first place for good on July 3 last season. The similarities are there with an excellent defense, a stellar bullpen, and a revitalized offense hitting home runs, but even the starting pitching got into the act after struggling in recent weeks by allowing just two earned runs in 21 innings of work against the Indians.

Right now, the AL East is far from the poor division it looked to be six weeks ago as three clubs — Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and New York — would have qualified for the playoffs if the season had ended on Sunday. Whether the Orioles will follow the same script of 2014 remains to be seen, but 18 wins in 23 games to move to the top of the division would have any club feeling good about itself.

“It’s a return for that, but it can be very fleeting,” Showalter said. “The only thing I look at is the loss column now and then. I don’t pay much attention to the other part of it.

“See if you can stay engaged and have a chance to roll the dice in September. That’s what it’s about. Position yourself to be in it in September and play meaningful games when the leaves start turning. It’s not that complicated.”

Continuing to win at a .783 clip as they have for more than three weeks isn’t sustainable, but the Orioles learned last year that it doesn’t take prolonged winning streaks to pull away from the pack if you consistently win series. If you combine the four games — two home and two away — against Philadelphia, Baltimore has now secured seven consecutive series wins.

Unlike the Orioles clubs from a few years ago, this group of players has the experience of bouncing back — like when they were six games below .500 earlier this month — that brings confidence the rest of the way. They know it won’t be this easy over the final three months of the season, and Showalter makes sure his players are prepared for that reality, never wanting them to be too high or too low after any result.

“We have the ups and downs,” said third baseman Manny Machado, who hit his career-high 15th homer on Sunday and continues sprinting toward superstar status a week shy of his 23rd birthday. “We started off a little slow. We had players injured, and we’re just getting back into it. Everybody’s starting to get healthy. This is just the midway point.

“There’s a lot more baseball ahead, a lot more slumps, a lot more games lost coming ahead, but we’ve got to stay focused and stay with the mindset that we have.”

The Orioles know they aren’t perfect.

Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are still sifting through a crowded corner outfield situation that will likely require parting ways with one or two options. As a whole, the group has been more productive in June, but the Orioles have to hope they’ll make the right decisions and the remaining pieces will continue getting the job done.

Tillman’s strong performance on Sunday was a step in the right direction as he and Bud Norris still have a long way to go to quell concerns over their immense struggles in the first half of 2015.

But these issues don’t feel insurmountable and certainly aren’t any worse than the weaknesses the other AL East contenders are facing. Even in winning 96 games and the club’s first division title in 17 years last year, the Orioles had their flaws.

It’s tough to ignore the similarities with 2014, even down to the contributions from unexpected sources such as Jimmy Paredes, Chaz Roe, and Chris Parmelee a year after Steve Pearce, Brad Brach, and Caleb Joseph emerged from the shadows.

“This team tries as much as we can not to think about last year,” said Chris Davis, who hit his club-leading 16th homer on Sunday night. “It was obviously a great year, but it’s over with. You have to turn the page and focus on what’s at hand. I think we’re proud of the way we’re playing right now and battling these last few days and playing with somewhat of a short roster.

“Guys have stepped up and have done a great job.”

And the Orioles have stepped to the top of the AL East as a result.

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buck

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Orioles failed to get well despite May home cooking

Posted on 31 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Having limped home after a 1-5 trip in New York in early May, the Orioles envisioned getting well entering their most inviting portion of the 2015 regular-season schedule.

Despite owning a 13-16 record through the first five weeks of 2015, the Orioles were playing 17 of their next 20 games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, an opportunity to not only climb back above the .500 mark but to seize first place in the underwhelming American League East. Instead of taking advantage of the home cooking, however, manager Buck Showalter’s club continued to take one step forward and the next one back with a 10-10 record.

It was far from a disaster as the Orioles incredibly moved 3 1/2 games closer to first place over those 20 games, but that’s more an indictment of a mediocre division than progress as we now turn the calendar to June. And it doesn’t reflect anyone feeling much better about the Orioles’ fortunes than we did three weeks ago as inconsistency has been the theme of the 2015 season through 49 games, just over 30 percent of the way through the 162-game marathon.

After averaging a robust 5.6 runs per game in April, the Baltimore lineup managed just 3.3 per contest in the second month of the season, not the only but certainly the biggest reason why the Orioles finished 13-16 in May. Showalter and players have cited opponents continuing to pitch backwards against Baltimore hitters by offering a steady diet of off-speed pitches, but the adjustments haven’t been made as the Orioles ranked last in the AL in batting average (.231), on-base percentage (.287), and slugging percentage (.358) in May. They can only hope two home runs each from Manny Machado and Delmon Young in Sunday’s 9-5 loss to Tampa Bay are a sign of better things to come in June.

It couldn’t get much worse at the plate than it was in May.

“We are just out there playing baseball,” said Machado when asked to pinpoint the offensive struggles. “We don’t care about how many runs we score. We [just] want to get the win at the end of the day. We’ll just going to go out there and score as many as we can and win a ballgame.

“We’ve got to keep swinging the bats. There are days you swing the bat well and pitchers are going to be dealing. You have to tip your cap off to them, [because] they have a job to keep as well. We’ve just got to keep swinging the bats and at the end of the day, it’s all about the [win].”

A number of hitters have underperformed, particularly at the corner outfield spots where the Orioles have already designated veteran Alejandro De Aza for assignment. You’d figure more changes could be coming if the organization was willing to part ways with De Aza despite currently being on the hook for what remains of his $5 million salary in 2015.

The Orioles hope the imminent return of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters will provide a lift, but it’s impossible to know what they’ll get from the veteran who hasn’t played in a major league game in nearly 13 months. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop continues to rehab a right knee injury, but the club is being deliberate with his recovery in fear of a setback that could require season-ending surgery.

In fairness, there’s still too much talent in the Baltimore lineup to be as poor as it was in May, but that doesn’t mean they’ll score enough runs moving forward, either.

Overlooked because of the struggling offense, spottier-than-normal defense, and a losing record, the Orioles have pitched exceptionally well in recent weeks, finishing second in the AL in staff ERA (3.38) in May. It’s easily the most encouraging development of the month and the biggest reason why the club shouldn’t panic. The Orioles did this despite Opening Day starter Chris Tillman sporting a 5.94 ERA, the talented right-hander Kevin Gausman on the disabled list, and 2014 15-game winner Bud Norris an absolute mess.

This pitching prosperity followed a 4.78 ERA in April that ranked 13th in the AL.

Processing the first two months of the season, it’s no wonder Orioles fans are ready to pull out their hair.

It would be cavalier to assume the offense won’t continue to be a concern given the chasms — offensively and defensively — flanking center fielder Adam Jones that have yet to be filled, but there’s evidence to support the pitching can continue to succeed given the talent that hasn’t been much of a factor so far. There’s no sugarcoating how much Tillman has scuffled, but many were similarly concerned about the tall right-hander at this time last year before he finished as one of the best pitchers in the league over the final four months of 2014.

“I’ve had my ups and downs, but I feel like we’re heading in the right direction,” said Tillman, who allowed all six runs in Sunday’s outing with two outs. “I saw a lot of positives today. The negatives kind of overwhelm, but I think we are getting somewhere. I just have to make that last big step, and I think we’ll be all right.”

After playing .500 over the home-heavy last 20 games, the Orioles will now play 15 of their next 23 on the road after beginning the season 8-14 in away games. Showalter’s club will need to reverse that trend if they even want to continue hovering close to the .500 mark.

In the end, the Orioles may still be all right in what could be the worst division in baseball, but there are no guarantees. The AL East is begging for someone — anyone — to get hot at this point with New York and Tampa Bay occupying first place with just 26-25 records.

But you can’t help but feel the Orioles squandered a great chance to get well over these last few weeks that they might look back on with regret once September rolls around.

 

 

 

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davis

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Rest of AL East best thing going for Orioles

Posted on 21 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It doesn’t take long to explain why the Orioles fell 4-2 to Seattle on Wednesday night, snapping an all-too-brief two-game winning streak.

A lineup that sleepwalked through seven innings, a few poor pitches in an otherwise solid seven-inning outing from Wei-Yin Chen, and an eighth-inning baserunning blunder from Jimmy Paredes all played major parts in the Orioles once again falling three games below .500 at 17-20. No matter how you slice it, the Orioles haven’t been able to put it all together as Memorial Day is nearly upon us.

“We haven’t played consistent baseball all year,” said Steve Pearce, who’s just one of several key players who have significantly underperformed so far in 2015. “It’s still early. We haven’t been playing good baseball all year and we’re still right [there in the standings]. We have a chance to turn this around; we’re not pressing yet. We’re only a quarter of the way through the season.”

Even with an array of injuries and significant concerns at the corner outfield spots, the Orioles find themselves just one game behind New York and Tampa Bay in the loss column for first place in the American League East. The best thing going for the Orioles is the performance of the rest of the division through the first 6 1/2 weeks of the 2015 season as all five teams lost on Wednesday.

After jumping out to a 21-12 start, the Yankees have now lost seven of eight with leadoff hitter and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury joining starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on the 15-day disabled list. The Yankees are old, injury-prone, and too dependent on the back end of their bullpen, making it difficult to love their chances over a 162-game marathon.

So far, Boston has been the biggest disappointment in the AL East despite its spending spree over the winter. The pitching has improved of late — it still doesn’t inspire much confidence and already cost pitching coach Juan Nieves his job earlier this month — but a Red Sox lineup touted as baseball’s best entering the season has scored fewer runs than any club in the AL East.

The Toronto Blue Jays have hit as well as everyone predicted, but their pitching has been as poor as anyone could have feared, allowing the most runs in the league. Their poor play and reports of unrest in the clubhouse have led to speculation of manager John Gibbons’ job being in danger.

Under new manager Kevin Cash, the Rays have been the biggest surprise, overcoming a slew of injuries to begin the season with a 22-19 mark to pull into a first-place tie with New York. Tampa Bay has pitched well and scored more runs than most would have expected, but the season-ending loss of Alex Cobb and the prospects of Drew Smyly trying to rehab a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder will create doubt about the Rays’ long-term chances for prosperity.

Those realities do not mean that all will be fine for the Orioles as you can spell out their issues in a similar manner, but they do remind you that expressions of concern exist throughout the AL East. No team has separated itself from the pack to this point as it’s looking more likely that we’ll see an AL East champion fall shy of the 95-win mark for the first time since 2000 when the Yankees won only 87 contests.

For now, I’ll stand by my preseason prediction of the Orioles winning the AL East with 89 victories even though I share in the same concerns of many fans. But even if Baltimore isn’t the one left standing at the end of the season, I’m feeling confident about that win total getting it done for the winning club.

In short, you can be as concerned about the Orioles as you’d like after 37 games.

Just know that they’re not alone in what’s been an underwhelming AL East so far.

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Buck Showalter, Adam Jones

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Showalter makes Orioles best bet in question-filled AL East

Posted on 06 April 2015 by Luke Jones

I’ll admit I don’t love this Orioles roster going into the 2015 season.

While fighting the thought that they may have missed their last best chance to go to the World Series last October, the Orioles lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller this offseason while making no sure-fire additions to replace their production. Yes, the payroll rose to just under $120 million to account for a laundry list of players receiving raises in arbitration, but that still doesn’t erase the feeling of it being an underwhelming winter.

Those factors alone make it easy to pick against the Orioles this year before you take a step back to examine the remaining roster.

Will the Orioles miss Cruz and Markakis? Absolutely, but will they miss them more than they might have yearned to have the injured Matt Wieters and Manny Machado last season while still managing to win 96 games? Will they ache for Cruz quite as badly if Chris Davis rebounds from a horrific campaign to look more like the slugger he was in 2012 or, better yet, 2013?

And while Miller found a lucrative contract in Yankee pinstripes, the rest of a pitching staff that finished third in the American League in ERA last season remains intact. So does a defense that’s been the best in baseball over the last three years and might be the biggest reason for the Orioles’ success.

If you’re not yet convinced, a look around the rest of the AL East might do it.

Boston? That’s one hell of a scary lineup, but four of their five starting pitchers posted an ERA above 4.00 last year and the bullpen headlined by ailing closer Koji Uehara is shaky at best.

Toronto will again hit the baseball with the additions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, but the bullpen is a major weakness and the loss of Marcus Stroman puts too much stress on veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle and three starters below the age of 25.

The Yankees? That roster would have scared you five years ago, but age and injuries will be their undoing as it was a year ago.

Tampa Bay will have a strong starting rotation if early-season injuries are overcome, but the Rays will struggle to score runs all year and the magic maneuvering of former manager Joe Maddon is now gone.

No, the Orioles won’t run away with the division, but there’s vulnerability anywhere you look. And that’s where the potential tiebreaker comes into play that will push Baltimore over the top.

Taking nothing away from Boston’s John Farrell and New York’s Joe Girardi for having won World Series rings with their respective clubs, but I’ll count on Buck Showalter to get the absolute most from his roster while hiding deficiencies better than any manager in the AL East.

For the last three years, the Orioles have thrived on overcoming adversity while relishing opportunities to prove their doubters wrong. Showalter and his players were already talking about many naysayers picking them to finish in last place weeks ago, even if those slights are more fabrication than reality.

The knee-jerk reaction in assessing the Orioles after an underwhelming offseason is to drop them substantially in the standings, but then you remember they clinched the division in mid-September and won the AL East by a whopping 12 games. That’s a lot of ground that the others in the division needed to make up.

The Red Sox appear to have emerged as the media favorite to win the AL East, but that didn’t stop 30 of ESPN’s experts from picking Baltimore to take the division compared to 36 forecasting Boston. A number of other national outlets are giving the Orioles plenty of respect as well, and even their bigger critics are generally picking them no worse than second or third.

After watching the Orioles average 91 wins per year while outperforming projections over the last three seasons, we should know better at this point. The questions that exist elsewhere in the AL East should only confirm the truth.

You don’t bet against Buck.

And even if I may not like the Orioles as much as last year, they will still be the best that the AL East has to offer in 2015.

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sandoval

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2015 American League East preview

Posted on 04 April 2015 by Luke Jones

No team has won the American League East with fewer than 95 wins since the 2000 New York Yankees won just 87 games in the regular season before eventually winning the World Series.

That 14-year run will end this season with the division showing more parity — and vulnerability — than it has in a long time.

Below is a capsule of the five AL East clubs in their predicted order of finish:

1. BALTIMORE (2014 record: 96-66, first place)
Notable additions: INF Everth Cabrera, OF Travis Snider, LHP Wesley Wright
Notable losses: OF Nelson Cruz, OF Nick Markakis, LHP Andrew Miller
Why to like them: The defense remains excellent, which will again transform a solid but unspectacular rotation and an already-strong bullpen into a pitching staff good enough to seriously contend.
Why to dislike them: Dan Duquette rested on his laurels by not bringing in a safer bet to replace either Cruz or Markakis, which puts much dependence on players returning from injuries.
Player to watch: Snider is a former first-round pick and is coming off an excellent second half with Pittsburgh, making him a solid candidate to be the Orioles’ annual surprising performer.
2015 outlook (89-73): I don’t love this Orioles club, but the Buck Showalter effect as well as bounce-back years from Manny Machado and Chris Davis will be enough to offset the void left behind by Cruz and Markakis. It’s tough to shake the feeling that 2014 was their last best chance to win a pennant with this core, but the Orioles don’t have as many glaring weaknesses or questions as their AL East foes.

2. BOSTON (2014 record: 71-91, fifth place)
Notable additions: 3B Pablo Sandoval, OF Hanley Ramirez, RHP Rick Porcello, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Justin Masterson
Notable losses: OF Yoenis Cespedes, 3B Will Middlebrooks
Why to like them: After struggling to score runs last season, the revamped Red Sox are primed to have one of the best lineups in baseball with dependable veterans and high-upside youth.
Why to dislike them: Four of their five projected starting pitchers weren’t on the roster a year ago and all but Porcello posted an ERA above 4.00 in 2014.
Player to watch: Center fielder Mookie Betts has raked all spring as teammates and observers have gushed over his potential at the top of the Boston order.
2015 outlook (87-75): If a similar roster were constructed 10 years ago, the Red Sox would be the overwhelming favorite to win the AL East with such an imposing lineup and they still might do it anyway. However, the current pitching-rich era in baseball makes you doubt an underwhelming rotation and a suspect bullpen. The pitching is what will ultimately prevent Boston from seizing the AL East title.

3. TORONTO (2014 record: 83-79, third place)
Notable additions: 3B Josh Donaldson, C Russell Martin, OF Michael Saunders
Notable losses: OF Melky Cabrera, INF Brett Lawrie, LHP J.A. Happ
Why to like them: After already scoring plenty of runs last year, the Blue Jays have a more potent lineup with the addition of an MVP-caliber player like Donaldson and the veteran Martin.
Why to dislike them: The bullpen is suspect and the rotation will lean on graybeards R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle while hoping youngsters Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris develop quickly.
Player to watch: The 21-year-old lefty Norris has plenty of talent and will begin the season in the Toronto rotation despite logging just 58 1/3 innings above the Single-A level in the minors.
2015 outlook (83-79): Nothing gets people going more about a club’s potential than talented young pitching, but it rarely comes together as quickly as you’d like. That reality along with a bullpen lacking the arms to consistently back them up will be the Blue Jays’ undoing late in the season as they fade behind Baltimore and Boston.

4. TAMPA BAY (2014 record: 77-85, fourth place)
Notable additions: OF Steven Souza, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, OF/C John Jaso
Notable losses: UTI Ben Zobrist, OF Wil Myers, RHP Jeremy Hellickson
Why to like them: If they’re able to overcome some early injury concerns, the Rays probably have the best starting rotation in the division, which will keep them competitive.
Why to dislike them: Offense was always a weakness even in their best years, but no one scares you at all in the current lineup except for third baseman Evan Longoria.
Player to watch: The 25-year-old Souza shows promise, but the Rays desperately need the offensive success he enjoyed at Triple-A Syracuse last season to carry over with his new club.
2015 outlook (80-82): The overall makeup of this division would have screamed for you to bet on the underdog Rays in past years, but that was before the departures of manager Joe Maddon and general manager Andrew Friedman. With starting pitchers Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore currently on the mend, the Rays will lag behind in the division early before improving as the year continues.

5. NEW YORK (2014 record: 84-78, second place)
Notable additions: SS Didi Gregorius, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Nathan Eovaldi
Notable losses: RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP David Robertson, SS Derek Jeter
Why to like them: The upside of starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda speaks for itself if they can stay healthy.
Why to dislike them: Old, injury-prone, and expensive is no way to go through a 162-game season, which is exactly what the Yankees are trying to do at this point.
Player to watch: Reliever Dellin Betances is coming off a terrific season, but his velocity is down and his command has been poor this spring, which will cause him to share closer duties with Miller early on.
2015 outlook (78-84): The names you’ll find up and down the Yankees’ lineup would have had you salivating in 2011, but age and injuries will put too much pressure on a starting rotation praying that Tanaka’s elbow holds up and the 34-year-old Sabathia bounces back from knee surgery. The Yankees won’t be awful, but they will finish in last place for the first time since 1990.

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The Baltimore Orioles: A Second Half Preview

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The Baltimore Orioles: A Second Half Preview

Posted on 18 July 2014 by Brandon Sacks

While the season is technically more than halfway completed, the All Star Break is generally considered to be the midpoint of the season.  Therefore, it is time to look at how the birds have performed during the first half of the season and preview what to expect for the upcoming second half.

The birds currently sit at 52-42, 10 games above .500.  They currently sit atop the AL East, four games ahead of the second place Toronto Blue Jays.  The Orioles are the only team in the division with winning records both at home and away so far this season.  The Orioles are just one of two teams with winning records against the AL East, the other being Toronto.

The Orioles strength this season has yet again been the offense.  They have the 4th highest batting average and the fifth highest slugging percentage in the league.  They have hit the second most home runs in the league, behind only Toronto.  It would be a let down if the team does not keep this up, especially since the birds had the most all star starters in the AL.

When their perennial all star catcher, Matt Wieters, ended his season by getting Tommy John surgery, no one knew what would happen at that spot.  Caleb Joseph was called up, Steve Clevenger became the starting catcher, and the Orioles traded for Nick Hundley.  Caleb Joseph has shined since being called up, catching over 50% of baserunners trying to steal a base.  He has certainly filled the shoes of one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

Starting pitching has been a serious problem so far.  The club ERA is right in the middle of the league at 15th, but toward the bottom in WHIP and quality starts.  The Orioles picked up some big name starters this offseason in Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-min Yoon.  While Yoon has had health issues at the AAA level, Jimenez has been a total disappointment so far.  He is averaging 5.4 walks allowed per nine innings pitched and has an ERA of 4.52.

Looking forward, the Orioles must address their starting pitching.  The biggest name in the market right now is David Price, but the Rays would probably ask too much for him from someone in their own division.  With him off the radar, there isn’t really a clear cut answer on whether or not the birds make a splash before the trade deadline or if they try and improve from within.  Jimenez going on the DL was one of the best things that could happen for the rotation.  Gausman has been called on to replace him in the rotation, which is huge.  Gausman has had an incredible year with the Orioles, being one of the more dominant pitchers the birds have used.  Being a fireballer, he has the ability to make people miss if his off speed pitches are accurate.  Once Jimenez comes off the DL, he will probably be reassigned to the bullpen if Gausman has been winning.

Since the rotation has more issues than just Jimenez, expect to see Suk-min Yoon in the orange and black before roster expansions come.  Since the Orioles would more than likely not use a six man bullpen were they to make it to the playoffs, expect either Miguel Gonzalez or Wei-Yin Chen would be the person sent down.  Gonzalez has been inconsistent all year and Chen has been consistent through the fourth inning.  Past that, it’s a toss up if we see the Chen that will barely make it five innings or the one that makes it eight.

The Orioles defense has, once again, been stellar.  The team leads the league in double plays turned, even with all the injuries throughout the year.  Since they have been one of the best defensive teams in the majors for the past couple seasons, it doesn’t seem like there is anything to really worry about.  As long as this keeps up, they will remain legitimate contenders to win the division.

Hitting is one thing that the Orioles could improve upon.  The birds rely very heavily on home runs, scoring over half of their runs via the long ball.  The problem here is that not every park is as hitter friendly as Camden Yards.  They need to find a way to score without hitting home runs if they want to win in big ballparks like Comerica, which would be where they would play in the ALDS if the season were over today.  When the bats go cold and no one knocks any dingers, the Orioles fail to score more than one or two runs.  There needs to be some sort of strategy to score that doesn’t rely on swinging for the fences because it will not always work.

The Orioles have 68 games left in the regular season.  Since the birds have played very well against the AL East this year, it would be a shame to see them play sub-.500 baseball for the remainder of the season.  Knowing that the Blue Jays will become a legitimate threat once Edwin Encarnacion returns from injury, the Orioles need to build at least a seven game lead in the division before that happens.  If they can do this, then it would take a massive meltdown from the Orioles to not win the East.

Based on what we have seen for the season so far, barring any major setbacks, the Orioles will probably end somewhere around a 90-72 record and win the East.  They will probably end up drawing the winner in the Central, the Detroit Tigers.  Past that, it remains to be seen.

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Orioles can prove to be beasts of East by surviving West Coast

Posted on 18 July 2014 by Luke Jones

Sitting in first place at the All-Star break for the first time since 1997 didn’t exactly earn the Orioles any favors as they started the second half of the season in Oakland on Friday night.

A 10-game West Coast trip against the two teams with the best records in the majors and the second wild card leader in the American League probably gave manager Buck Showalter a restless night or two over this week’s respite. Knowing the Orioles play their next 23 games against clubs with winning records — not to mention the six following that against teams with .500 marks at the break — likely made him lose even more sleep.

Of course, Showalter and the Orioles have every right to feel good about themselves after winning 25 of their last 40 to move to 10 games above .500 and turn a 4 1/2-game deficit into a four-game lead over that stretch. They’ve built themselves a small cushion in a division in which no one is without sizable warts and imperfections with Toronto and New York seemingly moving in the wrong direction and Boston and Tampa Bay being mostly bad all season.

No, the trip to the West Coast will neither break nor make the Orioles’ chances of winning their first American League East title since 1997, but those 10 games allow them an opportunity to flex their muscles as a man amongst boys in an underwhelming division. Holding their own in Oakland, Anaheim, and Seattle — even going 5-5 — would not only keep the Orioles in first place but allow them to return home in late July in prime position to continue their quest to a second postseason appearance in the last three years.

A strong showing against the imposing AL West over the next couple weeks could be the difference between a relatively comfortable journey to October and needing to scratch and claw over the final two months of the regular season. In the same way that the Orioles took advantage of the recent struggles of the Blue Jays, the rest of the AL East will be rooting for Baltimore to wilt before finally returning to Camden Yards on July 29.

A starting rotation that’s pitched to a 3.18 ERA over its last 33 games will now face the two highest-scoring offenses in baseball over the next six contests. It was a 1-6 run against the Athletics and the Angels earlier this month that saw the Blue Jays’ one-game lead in the division turn into a 2 1/2-game deficit by the time they left the West Coast.

Even with the daunting stretch staring them in the face, the Orioles couldn’t ask for better timing as they’ll feel more rested now than they will at any point over the rest of the season. Aside from the current ankle injury to starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez — which many critics would deem a blessing anyway — the Orioles are as healthy as they’ve been at any point during the first half of the season.

Showalter has set up his rotation to include the 23-year-old Kevin Gausman — who could finally be with the Orioles for good — and will be looking for his starting pitchers to pick up where they left off to close the first half. And he’ll hope the inconsistent offense — currently ranked seventh in the AL in runs scored — will finally hit its stride and struggling first baseman Chris Davis starts looking more like the force he was a year ago and less like the .199 hitter who was lost at the plate for the first 3 1/2 months of the season.

By no means was it a perfect first half for the first-place Orioles as they lost catcher Matt Wieters for the season and saw their $50 million investment in Jimenez lead the majors in walks, but Baltimore was the least flawed of anyone in the division and still appears that way beginning the most difficult road trip of the season.

The Orioles can use these next 10 games to flex their muscles as the clear favorite in the division and solidify their first-place standing or could see themselves fall back with the rest of the imperfect pack in the AL East.

They’ve grown accustomed to being the hunter over the last three seasons; it will be interesting to see how they start the second half as the hunted after four days off to think about it.

By no means is it do or die, but the West Coast trip will be an opportunity for the Orioles to stake their claim as the overwhelming favorite in the division while sampling what they could see again in October.

 

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“It could be worse” shaping into 2014 theme for Orioles

Posted on 15 June 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The theme of the 2014 season has begun taking shape through the first 68 games as the Orioles stand at 35-33 and 4 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East.

It could be worse. 

A 5-5 homestand doesn’t sound too devastating when acknowledging seven of those contests came against the two best teams in the AL, but it feels very underwhelming when the Orioles’ normally-maligned rotation provided nine quality starts against Oakland, Boston, and Toronto. A 5-2 loss on Sunday prevented Baltimore from taking three of four from the first-place Blue Jays despite a fourth straight quality start against an offense entering Sunday ranked second in runs and first in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in the league.

No, they didn’t lose any ground to the first-place club in the division and remain firmly in the race in an underwhelming AL East, but the weekend and the homestand could have been better. The Orioles were electing to focus on the positive after Sunday’s loss.

“Not frustrating,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “They’re a good team. We could have gotten swept; we could have swept them. Look at the bright side — we got two out of four. Now, let’s go on the road and start the series off right [Monday] in Tampa.”

The loss came at the hands of Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ, who entered Sunday with a 4.37 ERA after giving up 12 earned runs in his previous three starts. The Orioles were held to a meager 29 runs over these last 10 games, with the high point of frustration coming in the Red Sox series when they allowed just one run total but still couldn’t complete a three-game sweep.

Any offense will go through its peaks and valleys over the course of a 162-game schedule, but the Orioles just haven’t been able to put it together. When they’re clicking offensively, the pitching has gone down the tubes, and the Orioles’ better stretches of pitching have come when the lineup struggles as it did during the second-longest homestand of the year.

Of course, the pitching issues were expected this season, but the Orioles entered Sunday ranked ninth in the AL in runs scored. The offensive inconsistency is that much more frustrating when they enter a rare stretch in which the starting pitching thrives.

“If you go through a little spell and you’re not swinging the bats well, your pitching allows you to stay competitive to that point,” manager Buck Showalter said. “So, it just depends how you want to look at it, but you’d like to have both of them clicking. But we haven’t been able to do that consistently yet.”

The silver lining in Sunday’s loss was the performance of right-hander Chris Tillman, who turned in his second straight quality start after a disastrous one-inning start in Texas on June 4 that had everyone questioning his status in the rotation. Both Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez have disappointed through the first 2 1/2 months of the season, but the rest of the rotation has pitched well recently, including 23-year-old Kevin Gausman after his latest promotion.

Even with others pitching well, the Orioles need Tillman to regain his 2013 All-Star form and can only hope his 13 innings of work during the homestand are steps in the right direction despite the two losses. Against Toronto on Sunday, he allowed three earned runs over seven innings, his longest outing since his complete-game shutout in Kansas City on May 16.

“We’re getting somewhere. Starting to feel like my old self,” said Tillman, who didn’t record any strikeouts or walks against the Blue Jays. “Making better pitches and feeling confident in the ability to make a pitch. Command the strike zone, that’s big. Made some big pitches at times, but also left some balls up.”

The Orioles’ long list of issues and misfortunes have been repeated over and over this year.

Catcher Matt Wieters will visit Dr. James Andrews for a second time on Monday and may officially learn he will need season-ending elbow surgery.

First baseman Chris Davis is on pace to hit roughly half the number of home runs he hit last year and shortstop J.J. Hardy is still looking for his first long ball of the season in the middle of June.

Third baseman Manny Machado has been a mess at the plate and fetched a five-game suspension for his embarrassing bat-throwing incident last weekend.

And Tillman and Jimenez have been the rotation’s worst two pitchers after being identified as the duo to lead the staff back to the postseason. The Orioles entered Sunday ranking 11th in starter ERA and sixth in bullpen ERA in the AL.

Still, the Orioles remain within striking distance and show no evidence of dropping out of the race anytime soon in such an underwhelming division. The problem is they’re not displaying any signs of being on the verge of snapping off an extended winning streak to stake their claim to the top of the division, either.

As we enter the second half of June, the Orioles have offered a vibe similar to last season — three steps forward, two steps back, two steps forward, three steps back.

Decent, but not good enough.

“It’s the game of baseball. Frustration is every day,” Jones said. “But that’s how the cookie crumbles. You can’t dwell on things. If you’re put in the situation, try and succeed. If you don’t, wait for another opportunity.”

Other opportunities will come, but you can’t help but feel the Orioles missed one over these last 10 games.

Yes, it could’ve been worse.

But it could have been better.

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Orioles Still Not Getting National Respect They Deserve

Posted on 12 June 2014 by Brandon Sacks

Last night, the Orioles finished up their series against the Boston Red Sox on national television.  Wei-Yin Chen pitched seven innings of shutout baseball on the way to a 6-0 victory over the Sox.  The entire country got to watch the pitchers shut down the defending champions for the second time in three days.  The Orioles allowed one run in the series and, had the birds been able to hit during the second game, could have easily swept the Sox.

After this past game, the question rises about how often the birds play on national television.  It seems like every time the Orioles make an appearance on ESPN or FOX that they are playing either the Red Sox or the Yankees, which is slightly ridiculous.  The Orioles are scheduled to make 12 national appearances over the course of the 2014 season, five of which will not be against Boston or New York.  Three of these five games will be against the division opponent Rays, who were expected to be much better than they are showing to be.  In other words, the Orioles will appear nationally in two games they do not play divisional foes.  Only the FOX corporation (once against Oakland on FOX, once against St. Louis on Fox Sports 1.

It seems like the national media, especially ESPN, does not respect the Orioles as much as they should.  It’s nice to see the birds once again playing in the national spotlight, but it would be nice to see them playing games outside the AL East.  Over the past two years, the Orioles have a winning record against Boston and have played very well against New York.  If this is the case, then why do the Orioles continue to play these two teams almost exclusively?  It doesn’t make sense at all.

Over the past two and a half seasons, the birds have worked to throw away all memories of the terrible play that lasted over a decade.  The birds have done their jobs, so why is the national media not responding by giving them playing time to the rest of the country?  The Orioles finally have made appearances on ESPN, even hosting games in the national spotlight, but this little reintroduction is not enough.  The national media does not respect the Orioles.  That seems like the only logical explanation.  Why else would the Orioles play the majority of their nationally televised games within their division?

The Orioles have proven time and time again that they are able to play outside of their own division and do it well.  While the respect seems to be returning slowly, it isn’t coming back fast enough.  It’s a shame to see this, especially from a team that just allowed one run over an entire series against the defending World Series champions.

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Why Orioles Road Woes Don’t Spell Trouble

Posted on 05 May 2014 by Brandon Sacks

The Baltimore Orioles lost two out of three games to the Minnesota Twins after coming off a strong double header against the Pirates.  The Orioles scored  six runs during the entire Twins series and used a very depleted bullpen that was coming off short rest from the double header.  As the Orioles head to Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay, fans should think about one thing – there is no real problem yet with the Orioles.

You may ask how scoring six runs during a three game series is not actually a problem or how using too many pitchers each game is not a problem.  While there were some problems with the series just played, there haven’t been any serious problems as of yet.  Here’s why.

Ubaldo Jimenez, the $50 million free agent signed in the off season, might finally be coming to mid-season form.  While his performance was sub-par during his first few starts, he finally notched his first win as a Baltimore pitcher.  In his outing in Minnesota, he went 7.1IP and fanned 10 in the Orioles 3-0 shutout of the Twins.  Jimenez, often criticized as being a massive bust by the Orioles organization, looks to be trying to prove his haters wrong.  This last outing may just be a glimpse of why the Orioles signed him for the next four years to be one of our starting pitchers.

Manny Machado is back and ready to play every inning.  Back in September, we did not know how long it would take for Manny to come back and be ready to play again.  After starting in his first game of the season with the Orioles in the second game of the double header against the Pirates, he has shown that he is absolutely ready to get back into the swing of things.  Since coming back, he has made plays that fans would not have expected Schoop or Flaherty to make in the same position.  Once he finds his swing and starts hitting again like he did last year before the injury, Manny will once again become one of the premiere players in the league.

The Orioles currently sport a 15-14 record and are second place in the AL East.  There is no team in sole possession of last place at the moment because three are tied at 15-17.  Toronto, Boston, and Tampa Bay are all two games back from the division leader New York Yankees.  The Yankees currently have a 16-14 record, which is a half game up on the Orioles.  What’s the point here?  The Orioles are in the toughest and closest division in baseball.  While losing one or two games may swing them out of second place, picking up a game or two on the division leader would put the birds in first place.  One game is all it will take to thrust the Orioles into first place in the division.

The bottom line here is that the Orioles are not in as bad of shape as they could be considering the outcomes of some of the recent games.  If fans really want to worry about the team, that should wait until the middle of the season.  With Chris Davis coming along with his oblique strain, it isn’t long before the Orioles have a completely healthy starting lineup, which could be one of the most dangerous lineups in all of baseball once the bats come alive.  The Orioles are still in a pretty good spot, and until the middle of June, we won’t really be able to tell what to expect from the O’s as the season continues to progress.  Until then, we can keep cheering for the birds as they look to win every series from here on out.

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