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“The Reality Check” Week 2 NFL Power Rankings

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“The Reality Check” Week 2 NFL Power Rankings

Posted on 12 September 2012 by Glenn Clark

Glenn Clark’s rankings…

32. Miami Dolphins (Last Week: 28)

Perhaps it’s time to work on changing snap counts

31. Indianapolis Colts (31)

Andrew Luck didn’t look terrible, though.

30. Cleveland Browns (32)

Pat Shurmur can’t wait too long for math lessons.

29. Buffalo Bills (16)

What a disaster. It can’t be as bad as it looked…can it?

28. Jacksonville Jaguars (26)

Nearly stole a road win. I can vision quite a few close calls this season.

27. Seattle Seahawks (27)

You can’t lose to Kevin Kolb and improve.

26. St. Louis Rams (25)

They got hosed by timeout mismanagement. They’re still lacking targets for Bradford.

25. Oakland Raiders (21)

I think we understand more why guys like Morgan Cox and Nick Sundberg have played through injury.

24. Carolina Panthers (17)

They ARE still capable of running the football, right?

23. Minnesota Vikings (24)

I guess we have our answers about Adrian Peterson…

22. Arizona Cardinals (29)

The.whole.quarterback.thing.

21. Tennessee Titans (20)

The Patriots will make a lot of teams look bad.

20. Kansas City Chiefs (15)

I thought they were better defensively.

19. Cincinnati Bengals (9)

They aren’t this bad. They just got their ass kicked.

18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (22)

It wasn’t an eternity ago that they were a team on the rise.

17. Washington Redskins (30)

I’m not all in yet, but it’s hard to not be impressed.

(Glenn’s rankings 16-1 on Page 2…)

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Ravens secondary faces another challenge against Detroit

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Ravens secondary faces another challenge against Detroit

Posted on 15 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Last week it was wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and this week it’s Calvin Johnson, but the Ravens secondary isn’t backing down despite a rough start in the preseason opener.

In fact, the unit is embracing the early challenges against some of the best receivers in football. Against the Detroit Lions on Friday night, the Ravens will arguably see the best receiver in the NFL as the 6-foot-5 Johnson comes off an incredible 2011 season in which he caught 96 passes for 1,681 and 16 touchdowns.

“I am looking to go against anyone,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “It’s not that it’s just ‘Megatron.’ But, it’s going to be a nice challenge going against one of the best receivers in the league. Why not start it off in preseason going against him? Getting your confidence up, getting back used to the game, like I said.”

The Baltimore defense is hoping to avoid a repeat of last week when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Jones burned the secondary repeatedly, with cornerback Cary Williams receiving most of the attention. Jones caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter as the Ravens allowed 191 total yards in the first 15 minutes of play.

However, defensive coordinator Dean Pees credited Ryan’s pinpoint accuracy on several passes and reminded everyone how the front seven was unable to get consistent pressure on the Atlanta quarterback. The Ravens hope to generate more heat on Stafford to aid defensive backs in the battle against Johnson.

A three-and-out as opposed to the touchdown the Ravens allowed on the Falcons’ opening drive would be a fine way to erase the ugly beginning to the preseason.

“We need to get off to a fast start,” Pees said. “That’s the thing that disappointed us Thursday is we got off to a slow start, and we don’t want to let anybody ever drive the ball on us, let alone go down and score on the first possession – certainly not a way you want to start the game. Now, that being said, I’ve played in enough games in 40 years of football that they have scored on the first drive, and we won the game 41-7. You have to also let that go and it’s over with and done. You make corrections on the sideline, you come back and win the game.”

Webb and the Baltimore secondary aren’t panicking over the poor showing against Atlanta after finishing with the fourth-ranked pass defense in the league last season. Pressure will be on the secondary to play at an even higher level after the loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs and how his absence will likely leave a major void in the pass rush.

Webb is expecting Friday’s performance to look much more like the unit that played at an exceptional level last season.

“When you come into the first game, you get a little anxious,” Webb said. “You want to get the interception here, you want to jump here, but it’s all about feeling the game out, feeling the team out. We kind of jumped the gun, tried to jump too much stuff. This game, I think, we are just going to let it come to us – just play football and let the defense open up to us.”

Increased workload for starters?

Starters will see more action in the second preseason game of the summer, but after last week’s nine-play, nine-yard first quarter, the Ravens will shy away from specifying a concrete amount of time the starters will play against the Lions.

As is always the case, certain veteran starters such as linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed will likely be lifted earlier than the rest of their starting mates.

“We will play it by ear right now,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It could be as much as a half, it might not be. We’ll just play it by ear, see how it’s going, and see how many reps we get. Again, it will be more individual. There will be some guys staying longer than other guys. Starters, I think there are categories in there as well.”

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg expressed his preference for Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker to receive more opportunities on Friday as the Ravens try to decide who will be their place kicker. As was the case last week, Cundiff is expected to start the game before Tucker receives his chance later in the night.

It remains to be seen whether recently-injured players such as Torrey Smith, Jimmy Smith, and Courtney Upshaw will play on Friday, and Harbaugh wasn’t tipping his hand about the status of any players when he spoke to reporters on Wednesday.

“We’ll see,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t really want to mention anyone particularly right now. We will just see how it goes.”

Fight like a Raven

CONTINUE >>>

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Ugly first half brings Ravens’ offseason concerns to light

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Ugly first half brings Ravens’ offseason concerns to light

Posted on 09 August 2012 by Luke Jones

The look on coach John Harbaugh’s face through most of the first half said it all in regards to the Ravens’ performance in what turned out to be a 31-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons after a strong second-half performance by the second and third-teamers on Thursday night.

You never want to take too much away from the first preseason game, but there was no sugarcoating how ugly the performance was over the first 30 minutes of action.

The Baltimore offense was held to just nine total yards on nine plays as it failed to collect a first down in the first quarter. Playing without linebacker Ray Lewis and rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw, the defense was carved up by Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense for 191 yards in the first 15 minutes and allowed 17 points in the first half.

The effort was sluggish, but the major story was the Ravens’ biggest offseason concerns coming to fruition in the first snapshot of a live-game situation this summer. To panic would be much too premature, but to ignore the lack of a pass rush and concerns along the offensive line means you haven’t been paying attention to the events of the last seven months.

The Ravens received their first dose of reality without linebacker Terrell Suggs as they were unable to generate any pressure on Ryan, who picked on cornerback Cary Williams and the rest of the secondary as wide receiver Julio Jones caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. Matching up against Jones and fellow wideout Roddy White is challenging enough, but the Ravens’ front seven were barely able to breathe on Ryan, let alone bring him to the turf.

Upshaw’s absence certainly didn’t help, but outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle made little impact and Albert McClellan didn’t find success until Atlanta’s reserves began entering the game in the second quarter. As we’ve said all along, the Ravens will need a collective effort from multiple players to make up for the absence of Suggs, but what they showed against the Atlanta offense simply won’t get it done.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees still has plenty of time to continue to find ways to generate consistent pressure, but he won’t see very much to like when he looks at the tape of the first half against the Falcons. In addition to the struggles with the pass rush, the Ravens displayed poor tackling and appeared to lack energy on the defensive side of the ball in the first half.

Despite finally waking up to march down the field for an 11-play, 77-yard drive that finished with a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to tight end Ed Dickson in the second quarter, the offense was anemic as the middle of the offensive line struggled to open running lanes and protect the pocket. Rookie Gino Gradkowski started at center for the injured Matt Birk while Michael Oher started at left tackle and rookie tackle Kelechi Osemele played on the right side.

Most alarming about the offensive line was a renewed concern at the left guard position, which was a major topic of discussion all offseason after the free-agent departure of 2011 Pro Bowl selection Ben Grubbs in March. After a strong showing through the first two weeks of training camp that had quelled most concerns at the spot, veteran left guard Bobbie Williams struggled mightily as he was consistently pushed backwards in pass coverage and had a breakdown in communication with Gradkowski that led to another sack.

On a high note for the offensive line, tackle Bryant McKinnie held up well with the second unit as he took reps into the third quarter. Though matched up against lesser defenders, his pass blocking appeared strong and his conditioning didn’t appear to be an issue, making you wonder if he showed the coaching staff enough for him to be reinserted at the left tackle position with the starting offensive line this coming week.

Despite being under duress for most of the time he was in the game, Flacco was 9 for 12 for 88 yards and a touchdown pass while operation out of quick-tempo offense over his four series of work, but the offensive line allowed him to be hit hard a few times.

With a 36-year-old center and a 35-year-old left guard projected to start, the Ravens need as much time as possible to build continuity along the offensive line. Questions will remain about how well Williams and Birk will hold up, but the options are thin behind them as Gradkowski showed flashes but often appeared to be overpowered at the line of scrimmage.

The good news for the Ravens is they still have a month to address these issues in trying to inject life in their Suggs-less pass rush and gain stability along the offensive line. The first half of Thursday night’s game is nothing more than 30 minutes of meaningless football in the scope of the 2012 season.

But it was visual evidence that the prevailing concerns of the offseason are very real and still need to be addressed before the Ravens welcome the Cincinnati Bengals to town on Sept. 10.

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Machado up on night of first Ravens game? Ballsy move, Birds

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Machado up on night of first Ravens game? Ballsy move, Birds

Posted on 09 August 2012 by Glenn Clark

I hypothetically asked the question a few weeks ago on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net.

“If the Baltimore Orioles are able to remain in the postseason hunt into September, will it have any impact at all on how you watch/support the Baltimore Ravens in September?”

I pointed out at the time that the two teams did not have games scheduled at the same time at all during September. (The Ravens’ Week 1 Monday night and Week 4 Thursday night primetime home games come on scheduled off days for the Birds. The Week 2 game at Philadelphia is scheduled for 1pm while the O’s are scheduled to play after 4 in Oakland. The Ravens’ Week 3 game also happens in primetime while the Birds take the field in Boston at 1pm.) There would be no direct conflict unless there is a weather related reschedule, or possibly if the Orioles were to make the postseason.

The truth is that there is no basis for comparison when it comes to how Charm City sports fans would treat this short crossover period. The Orioles’ last run to the postseason came in 1997, before the Ravens had captured the collective imaginations, hearts and back accounts of the Mid-Atlantic region’s sports fans. If we date back to the time when the Baltimore Colts and Orioles shared the city; mass media consumption, television coverage and big business of sports were incomparable to 2012.

Reaction to the question was quite varied. Some fans said they wouldn’t change any priorities related to the Ravens because football simply had become more significant to them. Other fans said they couldn’t imagine making any early season football game a priority while the Orioles were in pursuit of their first playoff appearance in a decade and a half. Still others thought it impossible to think that they would have to alter the way they paid attention to or supported either franchise, stating that other cities (namely Boston and New York) have never appeared to struggle with the same problem.

For many, the topic remains the elephant in the room. It might actually happen, they just don’t want to talk about it. They’d rather say things like “let’s just see if the Orioles can hold up their end of the bargain.” The Orioles however took the opportunity Wednesday to remind you that not only does the elephant exist, it’s an actual f*cking elephant.

Perhaps the Baltimore Orioles’ decision to purchase the contract of Bowie Baysox INF (and former first round pick) Manny Machado and allow him to make his MLB debut Thursday night has nothing to do with the fact that the Ravens are opening the preseason against the Falcons in Atlanta.

Of course, perhaps the correlation is absolutely purposeful.

Perhaps the Orioles wanted to take a strike against the pro sports team in town whose success has relegated them to “orange-headed stepchild” status 364 days a year (yes, I’m giving the Birds Opening Day. Nothing more.)

Perhaps members of the Orioles organization had a conversation this week about the lackluster attendance figures at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the three games against the Seattle Mariners and said “this is probably going to be worse Thursday since fans will want to stay home and watch the football game. Let’s try to combat that somehow.”

Perhaps Peter Angelos (well…probably not Old Man Angelos but someone he allows to advise him and/or make decisions) is still pissed off about the Ravens’ Facebook jab from Opening Day and decided they wanted to put a dent in the football team’s television ratings-which will likely already be hurt by the fact that the game had to be moved from WBAL to WMAR and will be going up against the NBC affiliate’s continued Olympics coverage.

Perhaps there’s still bitterness for how the teams’ MASN-fueled relationship fell apart in 2010 and the Orioles wanted to flex their muscles a little bit to remind the Ravens they’re now working a network (Comcast SportsNet) that has clearly made the Washington Redskins a greater priority over the last two seasons.

Perhaps the Orioles are hoping they can play off the small bit of fan angst created when the Ravens ended their Westminster Training Camp tradition and win the hearts of young sports fans who are angry they can’t get autographs at McDaniel College. Perhaps they’re hoping to steal back part of an already small market that has partially abandoned the Orange and Black.

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Ravens-Falcons preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Falcons preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 08 August 2012 by Luke Jones

The Ravens ramp up their summer preparations for the 2012 season by traveling to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in their preseason opener Thursday night.

Meeting the Falcons for the ninth time ever in the preseason, the Ravens are 5-3 all-time and defeated Atlanta by a 21-7 margin in their preseason finale last season. The two teams have met four times in the regular season, with the series tied 2-2.

Baltimore has won 10 of its last 12 preseason games, but the Ravens will naturally only play their starters a brief time as coach John Harbaugh labeled it a “standard” plan for the opening preseason contest. Most starters will play roughly a quarter and the Ravens have not game-planned in any way for the Falcons specifically.

Even with the brief cameo, quarterback Joe Flacco and the starting offense hope to play efficiently before calling it a night roughly midway through the first half.

“It’s all about timing and execution,” Harbaugh said. “How crisp do we play? How do we execute under pressure? How do the guys take that execution from a practice environment and take it to a game environment against another team in a live-type situation? It’s all about executing our offense.”

A story that may go overlooked by most fans Thursday night will be who is officiating the game at the Georgia Dome. The National Football League is currently using replacement officials after locking out its regular officials when labor negotiations were going nowhere in early June. Reports suggest the league is prepared to begin the season with replacement officials.

Some concerns have been raised over the competency of replacement officials and how it might impact player safety, but most players have had little to say about the labor dispute and the Baltimore coach took the high road when asked about the situation earlier this week.

The league has put the replacement officials through extensive training and candidates have officiated at the collegiate level or for other professional leagues.

“We don’t even think about that,” Harbaugh said. “The refs will be fine. They will be what they are. Everybody is going to try to do their best. Our guys have plenty of things to worry about besides the officiating.”

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess at what the injury report would look like if there were one.

Harbaugh revealed that any player who didn’t practice Tuesday would not play in the game and players who have recently been held out of extensive practice due to injury may not play either. Older veterans may also be included in the list of inactives, which could mean linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed sit out the preseason opener.

Again, this is not meant to be an official injury report:

OUT: C Matt Birk (back), DE Arthur Jones (hip), CB Jimmy Smith (back), LB Josh Bynes (back), RB Bernard Pierce (hamstring), LB Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring), LB Darryl Blackstock (groin), WR Patrick Williams (leg), TE Dennis Pitta (hand), OL Jah Reid (calf), LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon), WR David Reed (knee)
DOUBTFUL: LB Courtney Upshaw (shoulder), WR Tandon Doss (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Jacoby Jones (undisclosed), DE Pernell McPhee (knee), DT Haloti Ngata (hamstring), OT Bryant McKinnie (back)
PROBABLE: G Marshal Yanda (limited Monday and Tuesday)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. LT Bryant McKinnie

The 32-year-old lineman told WNST.net Wednesday morning that he will not only play but receive more reps than usual in the preseason opener in an effort to get into better football shape after missing the start of training camp with a lower back injury. McKinnie has worked mostly with the second-team offensive line as Michael Oher continues to receive most of the first-unit reps on the left side.

If McKinnie has a good showing against the Falcons, he’ll likely find his way back into his starting spot sooner rather than later as the Ravens will want to build some continuity with the offensive line. However, if he struggles, this competition could play out a little longer, especially if rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele continues to impress as he has during training camp.

2. LB Albert McClellan

With Upshaw unlikely to play, McClellan could find himself making the start at outside linebacker along with Paul Kruger. Last season, the former practice squad member established himself as one of the team’s best special teams players and even filled in admirably at inside linebacker when Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe were sidelined late in the season.

McClellan could at least put himself in the conversation with Upshaw for a starting spot if he can take advantage of his opportunities to work with the starting defense. Upshaw’s weight is still higher than it should be, and he’s just coming back from a sprained shoulder that sidelined him for over a week.

Upshaw clearly has the higher upside, but McClellan has had a strong start to training camp and his versatility could earn him some significant time defensively this season.

3. LB Nigel Carr

The rookie from Alabama State has earned plenty of publicity early in training camp, but he needs to turn in a strong performance on Thursday with Ellerbe unlikely to play with a hamstring injury.

Much like Ellerbe, Carr is considered a “thumper” and has drawn praise from the coaching staff and media alike, but he will need to show more discipline and the ability to drop into pass coverage to earn stronger consideration for a roster spot. Ellerbe figures to see action in the nickel package and is a good backup despite questions about his work ethic and durability.

If Lewis is also held out of Thursday’s game, Carr may even see some time with the starting defense, and you can’t ask for more than that as an undrafted rookie. The 6-foot-2, 247-pound linebacker will need to prove he belongs, however.

4. RB Anthony Allen

Expected to battle the rookie Pierce for the backup running back job behind Ray Rice, Allen has found plenty of reps with the 2012 third-round pick sidelined for much of camp with a hamstring injury. Instead, Allen has seen more competition from diminutive rookie free agent Bobby Rainey at running back.

Allen is a physical runner and impressed as a seventh-round rookie last preseason, but he doesn’t possess great vision, which may limit him to short-yardage and goal-line situations. However, he can gain separation from Pierce in their competition with a strong performance against the Falcons.

Rice will likely play no more than a series or two, meaning Allen will receive touches with the first-string offense as well as the second unit. The Georgia Tech product must secure the football and recognize running lanes in the Ravens’ zone blocking schemes.

5. K Justin Tucker

Tucker has impressed over and over again during the first two weeks of training camp, with a 62-yard field goal at M&T Bank Stadium being the highlight in front of 20,000 fans. As good as incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff has been during training camp, Tucker has created a serious competition by being even better.

It will be interesting to see if Tucker brings the same swagger and consistent leg to the Georgia Dome turf with the knowledge that kicks in preseason games will undoubtedly hold more weight in the eyes of Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. Considering the Ravens have now had a kicking competition in three of their last four seasons, it’s important to remember kicks in practice only mean so much.

The Ravens will likely alternate quarters or halves for the two kickers, so you’d expect the veteran Cundiff to handle duties in the first quarter, but many eyes will be on the rookie from Texas when he gets an opportunity to line up against the Falcons.

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McKinnie ready for playing time in Atlanta Thursday night

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McKinnie ready for playing time in Atlanta Thursday night

Posted on 08 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Despite taking part in a limited number of practices after reporting late to training camp, left tackle Bryant McKinnie expects to see plenty of playing time when the Ravens travel to Atlanta for their preseason opener Thursday night.

After practicing on a limited basis for two days late last week under the acclimation period laid out by the collective bargaining agreement, McKinnie was cleared to participate fully on Monday. However, he says he will take the field against the Falcons in the first preseason game.

Harbaugh said Tuesday the coaching staff was still deciding whether to play players who had recently returned to the practice field such as McKinnie and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

“I’m actually going to play a little more,” McKinnie told AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday morning. “We just got back into pads on Monday, so I need to get more reps and get back on the field.”

McKinnie has received limited reps at left tackle with the starting offensive line, but the 6-foot-8 tackle has seen most of his work with the second-team line as Michael Oher continues to work primarily at left tackle for the time being. Harbaugh said at the start of training camp that Oher was the team’s left tackle until further notice, but that was before McKinnie reported on July 29 after revealing he’d suffered a back injury in a fall at his home in Florida.

The Ravens are not only evaluating McKinnie’s conditioning, but it’s clear they’re sending a message that he simply won’t be handed the starting job before proving he’s in proper football shape. The 32-year-old said last Saturday he weighed 360 pounds, which was 15 pounds heavier than the reported 345-pound mark the team desired him to weigh by the start of the preseason but 10 pounds lighter than what he weighed upon arriving in Baltimore late last August.

Plenty of questions surrounded his weight and conditioning when the Ravens signed him last year, but he was the only starting offensive lineman to play every snap during the 2011 season.

“I feel good,” McKinnie said. “I’m just ready to go work on my technique and stuff like that. Just get out here and get my reps in and get [my] footwork down. I’ve only really had one day in [full] pads.”

For now, McKinnie is focused on his play on the field and isn’t interested in discussing his reported financial strife after this week’s revelation that the Ravens will garnish 50 percent of his net compensation as part of the terms of a settlement with a lending agency that filed a lawsuit against him last November.

“There’s really no financial situation,” McKinnie said. “That was a lawsuit that took place and is actually over, so I guess they need to make a press release for that so people stop bringing that up. That’s not even on my mind.”

Listen to McKinnie’s interview with WNST.net’s Drew Forrester in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault HERE.

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

Posted on 07 August 2012 by Glenn Clark

Honorable Mention: Soccer-MLS DC United @ Sporting Kansas City (Saturday 8:30pm from Kansas City live on Comcast SportsNet); Pro Lacrosse: MLL Denver Outlaws @ Chesapeake Bayhawks (Saturday 7pm from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium live on ESPN3.com); Charm City Roller Girls (Saturday 5:30pm Du Burns Arena)

10. Evanescence/Chevelle (Tuesday 4pm Pier Six Pavilion); American Idol Live feat. Phillip Phillips (Thursday 7pm First Mariner Arena Wednesday 7pm Verizon Center); O.A.R. (Friday 5:30pm Merriweather Post Pavilion); System of a Down/Deftones (Tuesday 8pm Verizon Center); Linkin Park (Saturday 8pm Jiffy Lube Live), Aerosmith/Cheap Trick (Sunday 7:30pm Jiffy Lube Live); Steve Miller Band (Friday & Saturday 8pm Wolf Trap), Joe Walsh (Monday 8pm Wolf Trap); Little Feat (Wednesday 8pm Rams Head Live); Howie Day (Thursday 8pm Rams Head on Stage); Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Tuesday 7pm 9:30 Club); Lucinda Williams (Monday 7:30pm Birchmere); Alternate Routes (Friday 8pm Jammin’ Java); Boston/Kansas/Grand Funk Railroad (Saturday 7pm Aberdeen Proving Ground); Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw (Sunday 4:30pm FedEx Field); The Wailers (Sunday 8pm State Theatre); Silopanna feat. Cake, Citizen Cope, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, G. Love & Special Sauce, J Roddy Walston & The Business, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack (Saturday Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds)

You may not have heard this, but I enjoy the tunes of the band Of A Revolution…

Do you think the Bosstones ultimately fell off because they just couldn’t shake the stigma that came with being the band from Clueless? They were so freaking good…

I’m looking forward to seeing Citizen Cope Sunday in Annapolis…

I’m looking forward to seeing Robert Randolph even more…

9. Chris Tucker (Saturday 7pm Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric); Ian Bagg (Thursday-Saturday Baltimore Comedy Factory); Mike Birbiglia (Tuesday-Thursday DC Improv); Michael McDonald (Friday-Sunday DC Improv); Baltimore County Summer Restaurant Week (Friday-Monday throughout Baltimore County); “Nitro Circus The Movie 3D” (Wednesday), “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Campaign” out in theaters (Friday)

I pray “The Campaign” doesn’t suck. There’s been far too much good thus far.

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Davis more than folk hero for Orioles in surprising 2012 season

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Davis more than folk hero for Orioles in surprising 2012 season

Posted on 18 June 2012 by Luke Jones

Chris Davis might be the best example of what the 2012 Orioles are all about.

Entering the season with untapped potential and more failure than success at the big-league level, both Davis and the Orioles have blossomed in the first 2 1/2 months of the season, surpising critics and even the most optimistic fans in what’s been Baltimore’s best start since 2005.

The 26-year-old Davis has morphed into a fan favorite in his first full season with the Orioles, not only becoming one of the team’s most productive hitters but providing one of the craziest memories in club history when he pitched two innings to earn the win in a 17-inning marathon at Fenway Park on May 6.

Add a broken-bat home run against Pittsburgh last week and his first games in right field at the big-league level this past weekend in Atlanta and you have all the makings of a folk hero in Baltimore.

Much like the 39-27 Orioles, at times, it’s difficult to believe what you’re seeing when watching the designated hitter/first baseman/right fielder/pitching extraordinaire.

But there’s no understating how important Davis’ emergence has been this season, especially with stints on the disabled list by Nolan Reimold, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Markakis. Center fielder Adam Jones has emerged as a superstar by leading the Orioles in batting average, home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, and runs scored, but Davis ranks second or third in all five of those categories in becoming a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat in the lineup.

His 12 home runs and 60 strikeouts in 211 at-bats entering Monday night aren’t overly surprising given Davis’ reputation when the Orioles acquired him in the Koji Uehara trade last July, but his .294 average defies what we saw over his last three years in Texas where Davis went from looking like a future star in 2008 to a player fitting the mold of a “Quad-A” hitter before being dealt.

The raw power has never come into question — evident by his broken-bat homer to right field off Pittsburgh reliever Tommy Watson last Wednesday — as Davis hit 17 home runs and batted .285 in 295 at-bats during his rookie season with the Rangers in 2008. However, the left-handed slugger quickly earned the reputation of a hitter who struck out too much, didn’t walk enough, and struggled to handle plus-fastballs in the major leagues. Those flaws led his batting average to plummet to .238 in 2009 and .192 in 2010, causing Davis to bounce back and forth between the Rangers and Triple A in his final three years in Texas.

It was difficult to project Davis as anything more than a less-patient, less-powerful version of Reynolds entering the season, which didn’t speak highly for his potential when considering how flawed Reynolds is as a player.

In 2012, Davis hasn’t made any dramatic changes to his overall approach — 60 strikeouts to just 13 walks — but his improvement against plus-fastballs has led to the substantial increase in average. A career .204 hitter in 255 career at-bats against power pitchers (those in the top third in the league in strikeouts plus walks) entering 2012, Davis has handled them at a .286 rate in 42 at-bats this season.

Davis has also handled left-handed pitching at a far more successful clip, batting .327 in 53 plate appearances against southpaws in 2012 after hitting only .236 against lefties in 275 career at-bats entering 2012.

While his high strikeout and low walk totals aren’t indicative of a hitter that will continue to hover around the .300 mark, Davis has been a model of consistency through his first 57 games this season. Aside from an abysmal seven-game stretch in May in which he went 3-for-28 and struck out 14 times, the left-hander has consistently sat somewhere between .290 and .310 as we reach the final two weeks of June. His .355 batting average for balls put in play indicates Davis has been fortunate, but it’s actually lower than the .366 combined clip he posted last year for the Rangers and Orioles.

When seeing the ball well, Davis shows exceptional power to straightaway center and the opposite field has eight of his 12 home runs have traveled in either of those directions.

After Markakis was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a broken hamate bone, manager Buck Showalter turned to Davis to hold down the No. 3 spot in the order as the Orioles were depleted even further offensively. He’s hit only .206 in 34 at-bats batting third, but the lineup shift could present an interesting decision for Showalter when Markakis returns — projected to be some time during the next homestand, according to the right fielder.

Should Davis remain around the .300 mark, would you consider keeping him in the third spot and moving Markakis to the No. 2 slot? The move would allow Showalter to drop J.J. Hardy in the order, which would make sense with the shortstop hitting only .253 despite 11 home runs.

Whatever the Baltimore skipper decides, it’s a good problem to have.

For a team suffering its fair share of injuries and not receiving the same power numbers it enjoyed from Reynolds a season ago, Davis’ emergence has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season.

His willingness to do whatever is asked of him reflects the spirit of the 2012 Orioles.

Need someone to pitch? Not a problem.

You want to put me in right field in a National League ballpark, even though I’ve never played there in the big leagues? Sure thing.

Whatever it takes to win.

Much like watching the Orioles, you keep waiting and wondering if it’s going to last, but Davis has given no indication of slowing down any time soon.

And he just might be realizing the potential so many saw in him when he first arrived in the big leagues.

 

 

 

 

 

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I hope contract helps Jones keep Birds accountable

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I hope contract helps Jones keep Birds accountable

Posted on 27 May 2012 by Glenn Clark

I’ve already used both space on Twitter (@WNST, @GlennClarkWNST) and on AM1570 WNST.net to opine about the significance of the Baltimore Orioles giving CF Adam Jones the richest contract in franchise history.

We now finally know all of the details and Jones is set to discuss those details Sunday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

I won’t be attending Sunday’s press conference. I would, but our WNST.net Ballpark reporter Luke Jones has been denied the right to ask questions at previous press conferences and I don’t want to run the risk of causing a scene at what should almost certainly be a day of celebration.

Adam Jones’ contract extension is as much an event to celebrate as almost anything we’ve seen in the last 15 years of baseball in Charm City. The Birds have perhaps addressed both their present and their future and made a major statement about their willingness to do things differently than they have for more than decade while losing many more games than they won.

I’m aware Jones perhaps took a hometown discount in signing the contract a season and a half shy of free agency. I’m aware the team still appears to need more pitching than they currently have to be an annual contender. I’m aware that the team now needs to shift attention to catcher Matt Wieters when it comes to contracts.

There was something bigger than jumped out at me though.

As I was given more time to dissect what Jones’ deal really means, I thought back to December 1997. For O’s fans around my age, Brady Anderson was about the coolest thing to ever happen to the Orange & Black. He had young female fans worship him and young male fans…well…basically worship him. He had it all. Sideburns, muscles, personality, charm, speed, defense and an amazing 50 home run season.

(I didn’t mention anything about performance enhancing drugs. You do what you want there.)

After Anderson’s 50 home run campaign in 1996 and the Orioles’ run to the ALCS in ’97, young fans like myself lived in fear of waking up one morning to be informed that Anderson had signed a major deal with the New York Yankees or Atlanta Braves or Cleveland Indians.

Anderson was certainly not the commodity at 34 that Jones would have been had he reached free agency at 28, but he still had market interest. He ultimately passed on shorter deals with more per season to accept five years and $31 million from Peter Angelos and the Orioles. Anderson’s best seasons were clearly behind him, but it still meant quite a bit for the franchise to make the move.

I also thought back to January of 2009, when Andy MacPhail locked up OF Nick Markakis for six years and $66 million, the richest contract extension the franchise had given to a player until Jones’ deal. (SS Miguel Tejada had received the overall most lucrative contract in team history until Jones.) While certainly not reaching superstar status, Markakis has given the Birds stellar defense and a mostly consistent bat.

But beyond the significant contracts, there is a more important similarity between the two players whose time has spanned much of the team’s “Rock Bottom Era.” The issue is that neither player was able to use his major contract to help keep the team accountable.

A baseball player with a rich contract is in a unique situation with the franchise paying the deal. Because the money is guaranteed, the player has the right to get away with certain things a player in another league might not be able to. In the case of the Orioles, they’ve really needed a player who has been willing to stand up and say “we need better” as the team suffered through losing seasons after losing season.

Allow me to be fair to the two players involved. Anderson was only part of the club at the very beginning of their lean years, and the team was still making at least some attempts to improve by bringing in the likes of Albert Belle and others. (Anderson however has become a well known defender of the Angelos regime in recent years, which has helped him find his way back into the organization.) Markakis has never been much of a vocal type, but he did publicly question the direction of the organization. His participated in a dinner with Angelos that season to discuss those very issues.

Perhaps there is an argument to be made that Markakis’ 2010 outburst DID lead to accountability, as two years later the Orioles have shown themselves (at least for two months) to be one of the better teams in baseball.

But moving forward, I hope it’s a role that suits Jones well. I hope the fire, drive, passion and determination to win that have made Jones an emotional figure in recent years will translate both on field and off. I hope that if the Birds make questionable decisions, he’ll call them out for them. It doesn’t need to be something he does publicly, just a statement made privately from the player slated to receive more money during his tenure than any Oriole before.

I hope Jones embraces not only the responsibilities of an on field leader and star, but as a bit of a caretaker for an organization that has so desperately lacked the right man for the role. I hope he puts pressure on the organization to make the moves necessary to stay in contention every season. I hope he never takes the easy way out and thinks “Mr. Angelos (or insert future owner’s name here) has made me a rich man. It’s not my place to stand up to him.”

I feel as though Jones can be a significant part of the solution for the Orioles. I hope he’s up for everything that comes along with the task.

-G

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John Smoltz says Orioles face mental challenge to keep winning

Posted on 23 May 2012 by WNST Audio

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