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Posted on 05 October 2014 by Luke Jones
Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter would be the first to tell you much of the foundation of the Orioles’ run to their first American League Championship Series since 1997 was in place before they arrived in Baltimore several years ago.
Others may have been responsible for bringing the likes of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, J.J. Hardy, and Zach Britton to Baltimore years ago, but it was Duquette’s fingerprints all over the Orioles’ 2-1 victory to complete the three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. In fact, a trio of acquisitions made over the last 15 months — winning pitcher Bud Norris, slugger Nelson Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller — played a critical part in Baltimore sweeping its first postseason series since 1971 and sending the big-name Tigers home for the offseason.
Acquired in exchange for unspectacular outfield prospect L.J. Hoes, 19-year-old pitching prospect Josh Hader, and a draft pick in late July of last season, Norris may not have made the difference in 2013 as the Orioles fell short of the postseason, but the reasonable asking price as well as two extra years of club control made the former Houston Astros pitcher more attractive to Duquette than other seasoned pitchers with expensive or expiring contracts on the trade market.
Making his postseason debut after Miguel Gonzalez was initially slated to pitch in Game 3, Norris pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings while striking out six and allowing two hits to shut down a formidable Detroit lineup that had given him plenty of trouble in two starts earlier this season. Commanding his four-seam fastball and keeping the Tigers scoreless as the Orioles faced 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, Norris offered a gutsy performance to build on a strong campaign that included a 15-8 record with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts this season.
It was Cruz who provided Norris with just enough run support as he homered inside the right-field foul pole in the top of the sixth to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. It was the 34-year-old’s second homer of the series and 16th career postseason homer to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time list, which came after a 40-homer season that resulted in him being named the club’s most valuable player in late September.
No, Cruz wasn’t a diamond in the rough despite no club being willing to invest a long-contract in a player tainted and suspended due to last year’s Biogenesis scandal, but Duquette saw the opportunity to add a slugger on the cheap for a lineup that needed another middle-of-the-order bat. A one-year, $8 million investment made during spring training has never worked out better for the Orioles as Cruz responded with the best season of his 10-year career.
After carrying the Orioles through the first 2 1/2 months of the season and heating up once again over the final few weeks of September, Cruz once again was the offensive hero as the Orioles faced a third straight Cy Young Award winner on Sunday at Comerica Park. His flick of the bat on a high and outside pitch from Price put the Orioles ahead and further depressed what was already a subdued crowd watching their Tigers try to climb out of an 0-2 hole.
The heroics of Norris and Cruz paved the way for Miller, the acquisition that most of baseball ignored while Oakland acquired Jon Lester and the Tigers traded for Price. Those high-profile trades for aces were viewed by many experts as the moves that would automatically send the Athletics and Detroit to a meeting in the ALCS
Miller retired all five hitters he faced in Game 3, including the top three hitters in the Tigers lineup in the bottom of the eighth inning. While many criticized — or at least questioned — the Orioles’ inability to land a top-of-the-rotation starter at the trade deadline, Duquette dealt pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox for the tall left-hander, who’s dominance has transformed the Orioles bullpen from good to great over the last two months.
Pitching to a 1.35 ERA and averaging 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 23 regular-season appearances for Baltimore, Miller’s 32-pitch performance in Game 1 matched his highest total of the year and he allowed only one runner in 3 1/3 innings in the ALDS.
No, it wasn’t the sexy move and it’s not as though Lester or Price pitched poorly in their new homes, but Duquette and Showalter have constantly preached the desire to acquire players that are the right fit for their club — not necessarily the biggest or most expensive names. Miller certainly fit the bill as a reliever with great strikeout ability and excellent numbers against hitters from both sides of the plate.
And it’s a move that’s been an integral part of the Orioles continuing to play in October while the Tigers and Athletics have already been eliminated.
The Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations has often been teased by outsiders for his decade-long absence from the majors as well as his off-the-wall moves that many have even labeled dumpster diving. Not every move has turned to gold — he did sign high-priced free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, after all — but you couldn’t help but tip your cap to Duquette in watching Sunday’s game play out with the Orioles earning the series win.
A one-year contract and two deadline trades that appeared solid but unspectacular couldn’t have paid off any better in Game 3. And while Duquette may not have built the entire core of the current club from the ground up, the pieces he’s added in recent months have helped put the Orioles four wins away from an American League pennant.
Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones
After previously leaning toward starting Miguel Gonzalez for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, manager Buck Showalter instead elected to go with right-hander Bud Norris as the Orioles will go for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.
The decision was made following Baltimore’s 7-6 win Friday to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Showalter told reporters in Detroit that the change allows the Orioles to use Norris out of the bullpen in a potential Game 5 and gives Gonzalez a chance to have a good workday on Saturday after being on standby in the bullpen for the first two games of the series.
With Kevin Gausman pitching 3 1/3 effective innings and Brad Brach and Zach Britton the only other relievers to work in Game 2, the bullpen should be in excellent shape to back up Norris in the event of a shaky outing. Ubaldo Jimenez would still be ready as a long man and all other relief options besides Gausman should be fresh.
“We didn’t need Bud as much in the bullpen [Sunday],” Showalter told reporters in Detroit. “It’s one of the reasons we kind of held off on a lot of it. We wanted to wait this time of year, some of the things that happened in the game, what that means will happen in further games comes into play.”
Norris hasn’t pitched since Sept. 24 and will be making his postseason debut, which might lead you to believe the Orioles wanted him to get his feet wet with the benefit of a two-game cushion in the Division Series. Gonzalez pitched seven strong innings and allowed only one earned run in his only postseason start against the Yankees in Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS.
The 29-year-old Norris went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts this season. In two starts against Detroit in 2014, Norris was 0-2 with a 6.39 ERA, but it was his second start against the Tigers on May 12 that sparked controversy when he plunked Torii Hunter in the ribs after giving up a late home run to Ian Kinsler, a move that prompted the right-hander’s ejection before both benches and bullpens emptied.
Gonzalez allowed eight earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against Detroit this season, which included a start on April 4 that was the worst of his season. He also made a relief appearance against the Tigers in relief of a Gausman start in mid-May.
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Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones
Though the Orioles can close out the American League Division Series with a win over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday afternoon, start times for Games 4 and 5 were announced if the series were to go beyond three games.
Game 4 would begin at either 12:07 p.m. or 1:37 p.m. on Monday, depending on whether the ALDS meeting between the Los Angeles Angels and the Kansas City Royals is still alive. Owning a 2-0 lead of their own, the Royals closing out a series win over the Angels on Sunday would push the Orioles-Tigers Game 4 start to 1:37 on Monday afternoon.
If necessary, Game 5 would be back at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday with a start time of 5:37 p.m. unless the other ALDS matchup is complete. Under that scenario, first pitch wouldn’t come until 8:07 p.m. that evening.
After Saturday’s off-day in Detroit, the Orioles will resume their series against the Tigers on Sunday with Game 3’s first pitch at 3:45 p.m. at Comerica Park. Named the new Game 3 starter on Saturday afternoon, Bud Norris will face 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price as Baltimore goes for the three-game sweep.
Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones
Even though Kevin Gausman was the odd man out when Buck Showalter decided his starting rotation for the postseason, the Orioles manager knew the 23-year-old could be a crucial piece out of the bullpen.
That couldn’t have been any truer in Game 2 of the American League Division Series when the right-hander relieved a struggling Wei-Yin Chen in the fourth inning after the Detroit Tigers had suddenly built a 5-2 lead. Not only did Gausman’s work keep the Orioles within striking distance, but he preserved a bullpen that was likely without Andrew Miller and had also seen Darren O’Day, Zach Britton, and Tommy Hunter pitch in the series opener.
“Once I started warming up, I felt pretty good right away,” said Gausman, who made 15 relief appearances as a rookie in 2013. “Usually it takes me a good amount to get loose, but two throws and I was ready to go, ready to get in there. I felt good once I got in the game [and] just tried to establish the fastball in and go from there.”
Throwing fastballs in the high 90s and a nasty split-fingered changeup in the mid-80s, Gausman didn’t allow a run until his final batter of the game, the Victor Martinez double to deep center in the eighth that plated Torii Hunter before Miguel Cabrera was thrown out at the plate by second baseman Jonathan Schoop. In all, Gausman allowed just the one earned run while striking out five and walking one over 3 2/3 innings.
Gausman’s work put him in great company in Orioles postseason history as his five strikeouts were the most by a Baltimore reliever since Moe Drabowsky struck out 11 to earn the win in Game 1 of the 1966 World Series. The young pitcher also recorded 10 swinging strikes, matching Tigers starter Justin Verlander despite throwing 46 fewer pitches.
He didn’t earn the victory, but no pitcher was more important for the Orioles than Gausman on Friday afternoon, unless you count a Detroit bullpen that melted down for a second straight game.
“Kevin has high expectations,” said Showalter about the 2012 first-round pick from Louisiana State. “I mean, this [was] a Friday night pitcher in the SEC. Have you ever been to a Friday night game in Baton Rouge? Obviously [here], there is more people, bigger stage, basically the volume is turned up. You’ve just got to remember to breathe it in. Kevin presented himself really well.”
Needing only one more win to advance to the AL Championship Series, should the Orioles revisit Gausman’s status in the rotation based on how he performed against the Tigers Friday?
In fairness to Chen, who pitched three scoreless innings before melting down in the top of the fourth, nearly everyone acknowledged the difficult task of facing a Detroit lineup that hit .285 against left-handed pitching during the regular season. The Taiwanese lefty pitched to a career-best 3.54 ERA while winning a team-best 16 games this season and shouldn’t be nudged out after faring exactly how many thought he would on Friday.
Gausman’s electric stuff as a starter is even more dangerous in a relief role where he can crank up his fastball for a shorter outing. And it makes an already-terrific Orioles bullpen even better as they compete in October. And he provides a better long-relief option than Ubaldo Jimenez, who probably won’t see the mound unless there’s an injury or blowout situation.
The Orioles hope Gausman’s long-term home is near the top of their starting rotation, but the bullpen appears to be a great fit as they try to advance deep into October.
“We thought he could be a weapon for us in the bullpen in the playoffs,” Showalter said. “Because with their lineup, you’re going to have some challenges pitching to them. It worked out good.”
Posted on 02 October 2014 by Luke Jones
With the start of the American League Division Series now upon us, here’s how I see the Orioles and Tigers stacking up in their first-ever postseason meeting …
Skinny: The Orioles led the major leagues with 211 home runs, but the Tigers ranked only behind the Los Angeles Angels in runs and finished first in average and second in on-base percentage and slugging percentage in all of baseball.
Skinny: Comparing defense isn’t close as the Tigers have above-average fielders at second base (Ian Kinsler) and catcher (Alex Avila) and average or below-average defenders everywhere else while the Orioles ranked third in the AL in defensive efficiency.
Skinny: This category isn’t nearly as lopsided as the casual observer will tell you as the Orioles sported a better starter ERA (3.61 to 3.89) this season, but you can’t ignore a staff with the three most-recent Cy Young Award winners in a short series.
Skinny: The Orioles’ 3.10 bullpen ERA is dramatically better than Detroit’s 4.29 mark as manager Buck Showalter has a slew of options in the late innings while Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus holds his breath with 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan on the hill.
Skinny: The status of outfielder Rajai Davis will dramatically impact this phase, but the Orioles stole fewer bases than any club in the majors and the Tigers also have Kinsler and Andrew Romine as threats on the bases.
Skinny: You might be inclined to go with the Tigers in this department considering they have more postseason experience, but how can you not be impressed with the Orioles enduring everything they did this season on the way to winning 96 games?
Skinny: The rookie skipper Ausmus was always respected as having a great baseball mind in his playing days, but Showalter has the experience and the better bullpen, the area in which a manager manipulates a game the most.
Unsung hero – Darren O’Day
Skinny: When you look at how right-handed heavy the Detroit lineup is, the Orioles will need a strong series from the submariner and a 1.70 ERA in 2014 suggests O’Day is more than ready.
Prediction – Orioles in five games
Skinny: The Tigers have the advantage with their offense and starting pitching, but those gaps aren’t as dramatic as the Orioles’ edge on defense and in the bullpen. Those two factors will be the difference in what should be a very competitive and entertaining series.
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Posted on 01 October 2014 by Luke Jones
BALTIMORE — Just a few years ago, not many would have believed Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman would be the one taking the ball for the opening game of a playoff series.
Acquired with outfielder Adam Jones as the centerpieces of the Erik Bedard trade in February 2008, Tillman carried a career 5.58 ERA in 36 starts over his first three major league seasons in which he shuffled back and forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk. The struggles left him as an afterthought in many minds as the Orioles embarked on what turned out to be a surprising 2012 season that resulted in their first postseason appearance in 15 years.
It wasn’t until that July that Tillman finally got another chance in the rotation and established himself as a major league starter by going 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts. Even with Tillman having such an impressive second half, manager Buck Showalter elected to send him to the bullpen in the 2012 playoffs where he did not pitch.
Last year, he established himself as the staff ace and was named to his first All-Star Game. And after being named the Opening Day starter for the first time earlier this year, Tillman will take another step in his dramatic progression by making his postseason debut against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Thursday night.
“It has been a journey, to say the least,” Tillman said. “I had a couple of rough years early on and kind of turned things around come 2012. I think that goes to show where the organization is at, not just personally, but all the way throughout. … For myself, like I’ve always said, it’s a big puzzle, and you’re trying to find the pieces to it and put the puzzle together.”
Completing his second consecutive 200-inning season and posting a 20-start streak of allowing three or fewer earned runs that wasn’t snapped until his final outing of the regular season, Tillman’s final 2014 numbers that included a 13-6 record with a 3.34 ERA weren’t such a sure thing as late as early June. Slow starts in the early innings and poor fastball command led to Tillman holding a 5.20 ERA through his first 13 starts.
His early-inning pains and a lingering groin issue led many to wonder if a market correction was finally taking place after his superb 1 1/2 years, but the 26-year-old instead made adjustments and went on the most successful run of his career, posting a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 starts to not only silence doubters but make it an elementary choice for Showalter to choose him as the Game 1 starter against the Tigers.
“He’s just a really hard worker. I know his talent is really immense,” catcher Nick Hundley said. “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for how good he is. It’s a tough game. You don’t roll out here and put up Nintendo numbers like he has the last three or four months without being really good.”
Tillman will be opposed by 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, leading many to overlook the tall right-hander once again, but his numbers since early June suggest he is as dangerous as any starting pitcher remaining in the postseason. The only question will be how he responds to the limelight of his first playoff appearance, but Tillman is often praised by teammates and coaches alike for his even demeanor, which should allow him to handle what’s sure to be a raucous crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
For the California native, it’s just another step and just another start, even while anticipating some butterflies.
“The only difference is the stakes are higher. I take every game the same way,” Tillman said. “They’re all important. There is not one that’s less important than the other. Once the game starts and the bell rings, that’s where we’re comfortable as a team. Might have extra feelings before the game, be nervous, but if you’re not nervous, you need to find another job.”
Hot corner, hot topic
When asked about how he anticipated handling the third base position, Showalter wasn’t tipping his hand Wednesday as the Orioles have given starts to Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes, Kelly Johnson, and Alexi Casilla at the hot corner since Chris Davis was suspended for amphetamine use on Sept. 12.
The growing pains have been clear as the Orioles had appeared to settle on Davis as their regular replacement for the injured Gold Glove winner Manny Machado before the slugger was banned for 25 games, a stretch that makes him ineligible until the ninth game of the postseason should the club advance. Baltimore made seven errors at third base over the final 10 games of the regular season.
“I feel confident in the people that will be playing and they’ve got a good track record,” Showalter said. “I don’t think anybody is trying to be as good as Manny. [He] had a historical year defensively, but we’ve been able to present ourselves well over there. I feel confident that we will continue to do that.”
Most believe Showalter will go with the strongest available defensive option in the postseason, which would be Flaherty despite the utility infielder committing three errors over his final four starts at third.
The 2012 Rule 5 pick said he is feeling more comfortable after getting extensive time at third base for the first time since the beginning of the year when he was filling in for the still-rehabbing Machado. Flaherty has made five errors in 27 starts and 255 1/3 total innings at third base this season.
“Part of my job here was to be able to be flexible and move around,” Flaherty said. “Getting over there the last couple weeks with Manny being gone, with Chris being gone [has helped]. You feel a little more comfortable the more you’re there.”
Rotation, roster remain secret
Showalter said Wednesday that he won’t announce the rest of his starting rotation until the conclusion of Game 1, but Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris will be the three starters behind Chris Tillman — in some order.
The 23-year-old Kevin Gausman was told to be ready for Game 1, a surefire sign that he will pitch in relief during the Division Series. However, it remains to be seen how many will be joining him in the bullpen as the Orioles are debating whether to go with a six-man group of relievers and a six-man bench or seven relief pitchers and five on the bench. A six-man bullpen would include Gausman, closer Zach Britton, right-handers Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter, lefty Andrew Miller, and either righty-hander Brad Brach or left-hander Brian Matusz.
“The decision for us is going with 10 or 11 [pitchers], and we’ve kicked it around until we’re blue in the face like everybody does,” Showalter said. “If you knew exactly what was going to be needed for each game, it would be real easy to do.”
The deadline to finalize the Division Series roster is 10 a.m. Thursday.
“Cheerleader” Machado progressing well
Machado was back at Camden Yards to watch Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series before reporting to Sarasota to continue rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee.
The 22-year-old remains optimistic that he’ll be 100 percent for the start of spring training in February.
“I’m doing everything,” said Machado, who is embracing the role of cheering for teammates despite not being able to play. “Activating the muscles and trying to get my quads back. I’m basically full-go [in a] couple weeks, hopefully. I have full range of motion already, and hopefully in a couple weeks, I’ll start riding the bike and get that going.”
Mr. Oriole pays visit
Hall of Fame third baseman and Orioles legend Brooks Robinson was a special guest speaker before the 2014 Orioles completed their workout at Camden Yards on Wednesday.
“His message was that he’s excited to see how excited Baltimore is,” Tillman said. “To us, that’s special. He’s been there. He’s been there for the World Series, for the playoffs, and he said this is the most fans he’s ever seen walking around the streets wearing their Baltimore Orioles jerseys and are proud of it.”
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Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones
Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus announced his starting rotation for the American League Division Series against the Orioles with right-hander Max Scherzer taking the ball for Game 1 as expected.
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner will be opposed by Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman and posted an 18-5 record with a 3.15 ERA in 33 starts spanning 220 1/3 innings this season. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA in six career starts against Baltimore with 45 strikeouts and nine walks in 39 innings.
The Tigers will send 2011 AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to the mound for Game 2 despite an off year in which the right-hander went 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA in 32 starts.
Lefty David Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner and acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in late July, will start Game 3 for the Tigers back at Comerica Park and right-hander Rick Porcello is scheduled to pitch Game 4.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has yet to announce the rest of his starting rotation beyond Tillman in Game 1, but Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris are expected to start with the 23-year-old Kevin Gausman shifting to a relief role in October.
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Posted on 29 September 2014 by Luke Jones
(Updated: 11:45 p.m. Wednesday)
After much frustration waiting for start times to be announced for the American League Division Series between the Orioles and the Detroit Tigers, fans have finally received some clarity.
The results of the Wild Card Games are now in the books, which means the times for the first three games of the series have been finalized.
With the Kansas City Royals winning the AL Wild Card Game Tuesday night, we officially learned that Oriole Park at Camden Yards will host Game 1 of the ALDS Thursday at 5:37 p.m with Chris Tillman taking on 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.
The second game of the series will begin at 12:07 p.m. Friday as a result of San Francisco winning the National League Wild Card Game.
Game 3 in Detroit is already locked into a 3:45 p.m. start on Sunday while times for Monday’s Game 4 and Wednesday’s Game 5 back in Baltimore — if necessary — have yet to be announced.
All ALDS games will be televised on TBS with Brian Anderson, Dennis Eckersley, and Joe Simpson on the call.
Major League Baseball also announced that Jeff Kellogg, Scott Barry, Dan Bellino, Fieldin Culbreth, Paul Schrieber, and Jim Wolf will be the umpiring crew for the Orioles-Tigers series.
Umpires CB Bucknor, Chris Conroy, Ed Hickox, and Brian O’Nora will serve in the replay center in New York during the Division Series.
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