Tag Archive | "Baltimore"

mancini

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Unlikely sources providing late lift for Orioles

Posted on 25 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Teams hoping to play in October often need help from unexpected sources along the way.

The Orioles acquired Steve Pearce at the trade deadline to aid their lineup against left-handed pitching, but the veteran was lost for the season after undergoing right forearm surgery last week. Minor-league prospect Trey Mancini received the call to the majors to take his place on the roster just a week ago.

The 24-year-old has responded by becoming the third player in major league history to homer in each of his first three starts to begin his career. His solo blast off Arizona lefty Robbie Ray gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead in the fourth as they’d ultimately win 6-1 to retake the lead for the second wild card in the American League.

Mancini has yet to collect a single in the majors as all four of his hits — three homers and a double — have gone for extra bases. Whether it’s short-lived success or the start of a good major league career, the spark has provided a lift at a time the Orioles have needed it with the memory of the four-game sweep to Boston still in their minds.

Of course, the rookie hasn’t been alone as Wade Miley turned in Baltimore’s second-longest start of the year on Saturday, allowing one run over 8 2/3 innings and nearly pitching the club’s first complete-game shutout in over two years. Miley matched a career high with 11 strikeouts and has now allowed one run over his last 12 2/3 innings dating back to his injury-abbreviated start last Sunday.

Who would have predicted that 10 days ago?

Facing two last-place teams has certainly helped, but Miley has commanded his fastball much better over his last two outings and is pitching with more confidence. With Kevin Gausman pushed back due to an intercostal strain and the Orioles wanting to give Dylan Bundy extra rest between starts, Miley’s improvement couldn’t have come at a better time.

After Saturday’s gem, the lefty cited a recent conversation with Scott McGregor in which the former Orioles pitcher advised him to try “easier” on the mound and to relax. Whatever he said has at least worked temporarily for the veteran starter whom many wanted to be banished to the bullpen for the remainder of the season after posting a hideous 8.41 ERA in his first eight starts for the Orioles.

He isn’t the first maligned Orioles pitcher to reverse his fortunes recently as Ubaldo Jimenez has served as one of their top starters over the last month. Recent performance doesn’t erase either pitcher’s giant missteps in 2016, but at least they’ve salvaged some good grace in helping down the stretch.

Jones sets career high

Often criticized for his aggressive approach at the plate, Adam Jones set a new career high when he drew a leadoff walk in Saturday’s first inning.

The 31-year-old now has 38 walks this season, surpassing the 36 he drew in his first All-Star campaign back in 2009. His 6.0 percent walk rate isn’t as high as his 6.9 percent mark from that season, but it’s substantially higher than where it’s been in recent years.

Jones owns a .366 average with a 1.012 on-base plus slugging percentage when swinging at the first pitch in his career and is hitting .316 with a .979 OPS on the first pitch this season. He surely goes through stretches when that approach hurts him, but I’ve always argued that the five-time All-Star center fielder would not be the same hitter if not for his aggressiveness early in the count.

Say what you want about how it might look at times, but Jones now has six straight seasons of at least 25 homers and 82 RBIs and has produced an OPS of no worse than .764 in any year over that time. He’s bounced back admirably from the rib injury that hurt his production over the first six weeks of 2016.

Drake quietly impressing

The Orioles bullpen recently welcomed back 2015 All-Star selection Darren O’Day, but right-hander Oliver Drake has quietly impressed since being recalled in late August.

In his last 11 innings, Drake has pitched to a 1.64 ERA with 14 strikeouts and only two walks and earned his first major league victory with a scoreless inning on Friday night. Manager Buck Showalter has cited improved fastball command and a tighter splitter as the reasons for his improvement at the major league level.

That splitter makes Drake particularly effective against left-handed hitting.

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jagsravens

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 24 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face a desperate team on Sunday.

After entering the season with much optimism about a talented core of young players, the Jacksonville Jaguars have stumbled out of the gate to an 0-2 start and were thoroughly outplayed in a 38-14 defeat in San Diego last week. Meanwhile, the Ravens have taken advantage of two below-average opponents to start 2-0 for the first time since 2009.

Facing the challenge of a second consecutive road game, the Ravens certainly hopes to start faster than last week when Cleveland took an early 20-0 lead and forced them to enter catch-up mode.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its first win in Jacksonville since 2001 when the teams were rivals in the old AFC Central. The Jaguars lead the all-time regular-season series with an 11-8 mark, but the Ravens have won eight of the last 11 meetings dating back to 2000. This marks the third straight year in which the Ravens and Jaguars have met with Jacksonville prevailing in a controversial 22-20 finish at M&T Bank Stadium last year.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will fail to score a touchdown in the first quarter for the third straight game. Slow starts have been too common in the brief Marc Trestman era, which hasn’t helped to jump-start the running game going back to last season. Baltimore should be aggressive early with vertical shots against a banged-up Jaguars secondary, but Trestman has been reluctant to do so in the opening quarter. An early touchdown would go a long way in frustrating an 0-2 opponent and killing what little home-field advantage exists at EverBank Field, but Jacksonville will play hard with its 2016 season already in peril.

2. Tavon Young will intercept a Blake Bortles pass to set up a Baltimore score. The Ravens intercepted two passes last week, which doesn’t sound out of the ordinary until you remember they only had six all last season. A unheralded contributor to a revamped secondary has been the rookie Young, who hasn’t played like a final-day draft pick so far. He made a couple key tackles on Cleveland’s final drive last week and has held up well in slot coverage. He’ll come away with his first career pick defending Marqise Lee to give the Ravens offense a short field.

3. Allen Robinson and Julius Thomas will catch touchdown passes for Jacksonville. The potential return of Elvis Dumervil would certainly help, but Baltimore will need to get more pressure off the edges against Bortles, who has plenty of weapons at his disposal despite his underwhelming performance through two games. Robinson and Allen Hurts are challenging enough to handle, but Thomas is healthy and has put up good numbers early. The Ravens have done a solid job against tight ends so far, but the memory of last year’s struggles covering that position is still too fresh.

4. Breshad Perriman will catch the first touchdown of his NFL career. It’s no secret that Joe Flacco has mostly thrown to Mike Wallace, Dennis Pitta, and Steve Smith as the trio of accounted for 43 targets out of 78 total passing attempts. However, Flacco would have connected on a long touchdown to Perriman against Cleveland’s Joe Haden had the pass been thrown more to the middle of the field. Since the 2015 first-round pick played his college ball a little over two hours away, Jacksonville feels like an appropriate place for him to finally hit pay dirt.

5. The home team feeling more urgency and needing a win will edge the Ravens in a 23-20 final. This game feels like little more than a coin flip, but Jacksonville can’t afford to lose this one whereas John Harbaugh’s team is playing with a little bit of house money after the largest road comeback win in franchise history last week. Baltimore can make a strong statement by improving to 3-0, but the Jaguars will prove they’re better than they were a week ago by making just a couple more plays than the Ravens to prevail in a close game. If this were a home game for the Ravens, I’d pick them instead.

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wieters

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For better or worse, Orioles keep swinging for the fences

Posted on 24 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After taking blow after blow from Boston in a four-game sweep this week, the Orioles were finally able to fight back against Arizona on Friday night.

A night filled with frustration and missed opportunities was finally salvaged when Mark Trumbo homered to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning, giving the Orioles a 3-2 win and keeping them a half-game behind Detroit for the second wild card spot. It was Baltimore’s third solo home run of the night after Buck Showalter’s lineup had left 14 runners on base and gone 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

Trumbo provided the Orioles with just their third win all season when trailing at the end of eight innings.

“It can be a real gut punch if it goes the other way,” said Trumbo, who hit his 44th homer of the year. “It would be a tough one to stomach. Fighting really hard in the thick of things and then to have a couple chances [wasted]. The effort’s there, but someone’s got to get that big hit eventually.”

The big hits absent throughout the Red Sox series eventually came via the long ball against the last-place Diamondbacks, but the Orioles certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves, which has been a defining story for much of an underwhelming second half.

Pedro Alvarez hit a solo shot to give the Orioles their first run of the game in the eighth inning, but that came only after he had struck out with the bases loaded in the first and popped out with runners on second and third and one out in the sixth. Matt Wieters hit the game-tying homer to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but his teammates didn’t capitalize when he led off the 11th with a single to start a bases-loaded, one-out rally.

The Orioles even attempted to play small ball as Michael Bourn bunted twice, once unsuccessfully and the other leading to no runs in the 11th. In the ninth, J.J. Hardy was thrown out at the plate on a very aggressive send by third base coach Bobby Dickerson.

“This was a game where we kind of knew it didn’t matter what the situation was, what we were down by,” Wieters said. “We were going to have to find a way to win this game.”

To no surprise, that way was by the home run as has been the case all season.

This is what the Orioles do, for better or worse. Such a reliance on the long ball will be a blast when they’re hot, but the tough times will leave you wondering if they’re ever going to score runs again.

The club isn’t going to magically change fundamentally in the final week of the season. That’s more of a big-picture discussion for executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and Showalter to have after the season.

The hitter-by-hitter approach certainly needs to be better than it has been over the last week in particular, but the Orioles’ best — and perhaps only — hope of securing a playoff spot is getting hot with the long ball again.

You don’t have to like their chances, but the formula still has us talking about them in the thick of the playoff race in late September. Maybe it can take them a little bit further still.

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dumervil

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Dumervil questionable to play after sitting out Friday’s practice

Posted on 23 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh celebrated his 54th birthday on Friday and would welcome the present of a returning Elvis Dumervil for Sunday’s game in Jacksonville.

Despite not participating in Friday’s walk-through practice, the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was listed as questionable to play after working on a limited basis in previous workouts this week. Dumervil told reporters on Thursday that he hoped to play, but he’s not yet 100 percent physically after undergoing offseason foot surgery and suffering a setback a few days into his initial return to practice in late August.

Harbaugh indicated that Dumervil’s availability against the Jaguars would be a game-time decision after he practiced for the first time in nearly a month.

“I thought he looked good. He’s worked really hard, and he’s put a lot of time in,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just a matter of you get to that point and decide whether it’s going to give you the best chance to win or not based on where he’s at physically. We know what kind of player he is and what he’s capable of, and that’s the decision that will just have to be made.”

As expected, the Ravens officially ruled out running back Kenneth Dixon for the third straight game as he continues to work his way back from a left knee injury. However, the rookie was doing some running on the side field during the open portion of practice and was moving pretty well despite wearing a brace.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) and interior offensive lineman John Urschel (shoulder) were both listed as questionable to play against the Jaguars. After missing Wednesday’s practice, Stanley was a full participant on Thursday and Friday and is fully expected to start. Urschel has now been a full participant in practices for three straight weeks, but he was inactive for Baltimore’s first two games.

Center Jeremy Zuttah was not listed on the final game status injury report of the week, but he was absent from Friday’s walk-through for a non-injury reason. This typically indicates a player is either receiving a day off to rest or to deal with a personal matter, but Harbaugh did not give an explanation for Zuttah’s absence.

“That’d be a good question for Jeremy, but there’s no injury there,” Harbaugh said. “Jeremy’s fine.”

Zuttah was not available for comment during Friday’s open locker room period for reporters. The 30-year-old has struggled over the first two games of the season, leading some outsiders to speculate whether the Ravens should turn to another option such as Urschel or Ryan Jensen.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars will be without their starting left tackle as Kelvin Beachum was ruled out for Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion in Week 2. Former first-round pick Luke Joeckel is listed as his primary backup.

Jacksonville listed five other starters as questionable with two of them — cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) and defensive end Jared Odrick (triceps) — not practicing all week.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with temperatures reaching the high 80s, winds up to 10 miles per hours, and a 60 percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens announced Friday that they will wear “CB” decals on their helmets for the remainder of the 2016 season in memory of longtime defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, who died of esophageal cancer last Saturday.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder)

JACKSONVILLE
OUT: OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion), TE Ben Koyack (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), S Tashaun Gipson (hamstring), RB Chris Ivory (general medical), C Brandon Linder (knee), DE Jared Odrick (triceps)

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dumervil

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Dumervil shooting to play in Jacksonville after return to practice

Posted on 22 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is hoping to make his return against Jacksonville on Sunday after practicing two straight days on a limited basis.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection hadn’t practiced since late August when he suffered a setback from offseason surgery. However, the 32-year-old said his foot has responded well to practices this week, making it possible that he will play against the Jaguars.

“I’m shooting to try and go out as soon as I can,” Dumervil said after Thursday’s workout. “I just have to continue to keep building that endurance, building that strength, and get that explosiveness where I feel like I’m me. I’m excited.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees wouldn’t commit to Dumervil’s availability for Week 3, but the Ravens would surely welcome his presence coming off the edge where they have yet to consistently generate pressure in the pocket. He accumulated 32 1/2 sacks over his first three seasons with Baltimore and broke the franchise’s single-season record with 17 in 2014

With fellow veteran Terrell Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in last year’s opener, the pass-rushing duo hasn’t played a full game together since the Ravens’ postseason loss at New England on Jan. 10, 2015.

“It is good when you get one of your best players back on the field,” Suggs said. “We slowly, but surely, are getting our guys back. Whenever he is out there, we are going to rejoice, but until then, we are going to continue to work and get better.”

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) was a full participant in Thursday’s workout, reinforcing his expectation that he would not miss Sunday’s game despite being sidelined on Wednesday.

Running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was the only player on the Ravens’ active roster to miss Thursday’s practice because of injury. Suggs and veteran right guard Marshal Yanda received a day off as they did last week.

The Jaguars were missing five starters during Thursday’s workout, which has to be a concern for a team off to an 0-2 start despite plenty of optimism entering 2016.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder)

JACKSONVILLE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion), CB Davon House (hamstring), TE Ben Koyack (knee), C Brandon Linder (knee), S DE Jared Odrick (triceps)
FULL PARTICIPATION: Johnathan Cyprien (knee/triceps), RB Chris Ivory (general medical issue), OT Jeremy Parnell (groin), WR Allen Robinson (illness)

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gausman

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Orioles push back Gausman due to intercostal issue

Posted on 22 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Already reeling from a 2-5 start to their final homestand that has obliterated hope for a division title, the Orioles are pushing back one of their best starting pitchers due to a health concern.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman is dealing with an intercostal issue and will not start Sunday’s home finale against Arizona, according to manager Buck Showalter. Fellow right-hander Dylan Bundy will instead make the start on five days’ rest despite the original plan to give him another day of rest.

The hope is that the 25-year-old Gausman will be able to start on Tuesday or Wednesday in Toronto. The Orioles are off on Monday before beginning a six-game road trip to conclude the regular season.

“He felt it a little bit — the start of an intercostal [issue] — and we think we caught it in time,” said Showalter, who added that his back was not an issue before Tuesday’s start. “But we’ll see how it manages. We just don’t think it’s smart to have him pitch on Sunday.

“He wasn’t sick, but he had some things happening to his body that meant he might have been a little short on fluids that may have been some of it. We’re hoping it was more that than anything else, but we’ll see.”

The news couldn’t come at a worse time for the Orioles, who entered Thursday on a three-game losing streak and with only a one-game lead for the second wild-card spot. Despite being tagged for five earned runs in Tuesday’s loss, Gausman has been Baltimore’s best starter since late July and has pitched to a 2.57 ERA over his last 63 innings.

Showalter has already been using a six-man rotation and will start Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Bundy against the Diamondbacks.

Gausman threw a career-high 120 pitches over eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over Boston on Sept. 14, but he did not disclose any physical concerns after his 101-pitch outing on Tuesday night.

“I feel great,” said Gausman after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Red Sox. “I think having that extra day [of rest] definitely helped, especially this time of year. Physically, I feel great and mentally, too. I felt good.”

In 28 starts covering 166 1/3 innings this season, Gausman is 8-11 with a 3.57 ERA, 166 strikeouts, 44 walks, and 25 home runs allowed.

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stanley

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Stanley expects to play in Jacksonville despite missing practice

Posted on 21 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley expects to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars despite being absent from Wednesday’s practice with a foot injury.

The 2016 first-round pick hesitated to discuss specifics related to the ailment, but he dismissed any notion that he was in danger of missing the Week 3 contest. Stanley’s strong play and durability throughout his collegiate career at Notre Dame were factors prompting the Ravens to take him sixth overall in April’s draft to replace veteran Eugene Monroe, who missed 17 starts in his last two seasons.

“It’s going to take a lot for me to miss a game,” said Stanley, who couldn’t recall the moment when the foot issue surfaced in the Week 2 win over Cleveland. “I haven’t missed a game [going back to] all my college career.”

Third-year lineman James Hurst is listed as the backup left tackle on the Week 3 depth chart released by Baltimore’s public relations staff, but rookie left guard Alex Lewis also worked extensively at left tackle during training camp.

Running back Kenneth Dixon remains sidelined while recovering from a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee, but he is nearing the end of the original timetable of a four-week recovery set when he sustained the injury on Aug. 27. The Ravens are averaging only 3.0 yards per carry so far this season, making the talented rookie an intriguing option once healthy again.

“He’s working hard, and he’s getting closer,” Harbaugh said. “It’s one of those injuries [that takes time]. Everyone knows what the injury was, so you have a timeline on that. He seems to be on schedule. I’m looking forward to getting him back.”

The Jaguars were without a number of players during their Wednesday workout, a list that included wide receiver Allen Robinson (illness), left tackle Kelvin Beachum (concussion), and defensive end Jared Odrick (triceps). Beachum was carted off the field in Jacksonville’s loss to San Diego on Sunday and was hospitalized overnight.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G John Urschel (shoulder)

JACKSONVILLE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion), S Johnathan Cyprien (knee/triceps), DE Jared Odrick (triceps), WR Allen Robinson (illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Chris Ivory (general medical issue), OT Jeremy Parnell (groin)

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dumervil

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Ravens hoping this could be the week for Dumervil’s return

Posted on 21 September 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated 11:30 a.m.)

The Ravens are off to their first 2-0 start in seven years despite being without their best pass rusher, but that could change against Jacksonville as Elvis Dumervil returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.

Head coach John Harbaugh did not refute a recent ESPN report saying that the Pro Bowl outside linebacker was aiming to make his return in Week 3 from offseason foot surgery last month. Activated from the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 22, the 32-year-old only practiced on a limited basis for a few days before suffering a setback and once again being sidelined.

“You’ll know [he has a chance to play] if he practices, in all honesty,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “He has to practice. It’s really in Elvis’ hands. It’s going to be kind of a feel thing for him. There’s soundness there from what I’m told. He feels it. It’s just a matter of whether he feels the strength is there, and the explosion, and everything he needs to go out there and compete.”

With Dumervil out, Albert McClellan has served as the starting strong-side outside linebacker in the base defense opposite veteran rush linebacker Terrell Suggs. Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon have received more opportunities in pass-rushing situations, especially with Suggs not yet playing at his pre-injury level in returning from last season’s Achilles injury.

The Ravens have mostly relied on their interior pass rush and blitzing to create pressure, but their edge rushers have yet to make a dynamic impact in disrupting the pocket. A healthy Dumervil would figure to change that after accumulating 32 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons with the Ravens.

“I feel like I’m getting close, but I don’t know what close means yet,” Dumervil said last week. “We’re working hard, working with the guys here. I’m really getting better, so looking forward to really soon.”

Baltimore is also hoping to welcome back rookie running back Kenneth Dixon sooner rather than later. The fourth-round pick suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Aug. 27 and was still wearing a brace as of last week. He was expected to miss around four weeks at the time of the injury.

Beyond those preexisting conditions entering the start of the season, the Ravens have remained healthy through their first two games. It’s quite a contrast from this time last year when they’d already lost Suggs for the season and two other starters — Eugene Monroe and Chris Canty — to multi-week injuries.

“We just have to keep work on getting healthy,” Harbaugh said. “We have a few guys that are trying to get back right now.  I’m very hopeful, very hopeful to get those guys back soon. We didn’t have anything serious — it doesn’t look like — coming out of that [Cleveland] game. We are very grateful for that.”

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Costly week all but squashes AL East title hopes for Orioles

Posted on 21 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — David Ortiz sent one deep into the night and with it went virtually all hope of a division title for the Orioles.

Much of the damage had already been done in the five days leading up to Tuesday’s seventh inning when Kevin Gausman gave up a three-run homer to the Boston designated hitter, turning a one-run deficit into a four-run chasm with the way the Orioles have swung the bats on the current homestand and for much of the second half.

A 21-game winner in Rick Porcello shutting them down on Monday was one thing, but former Baltimore farmhand Eduardo Rodriguez stifled them on Tuesday as Orioles batters expanded the zone and didn’t record a hit until rookie Trey Mancini hit a solo home run with two outs in the fifth inning of his major league debut.

You can question Buck Showalter for not turning to lefty specialist Donnie Hart in that fateful encounter with Ortiz and instead sticking with Gausman, who wasn’t nearly as sharp against the Red Sox on Tuesday as he was in a brilliant eight-inning performance in a 1-0 win at Fenway Park last week. Whether you agreed with the manager’s confidence in his starter or not, the 25-year-old has pitched like an ace over the last six weeks and Hart entered the night with all of 17 major league appearances under his belt, so he wasn’t leaving the second coming of Andrew Miller in the bullpen, either.

Gausman throwing a fourth consecutive fastball instead of trying to bury a split-changeup in a 1-2 count appeared unwise after Ortiz had nearly homered on a fastball in his previous at bat, but catcher Matt Wieters and the starting pitcher both noted that the 40-year-old slugger had laid off several splits earlier in the game. Of course, it didn’t help that Gausman’s fastball intended for the low-and-away corner rose up and over the outer half of the plate.

Still, these were just details in what’s been the harsh truth for the Orioles since coming off their best road trip of the season. With the chance for an American League East title still sitting right there in their return to Oriole Park at Camden Yards last Thursday, Showalter’s club hasn’t risen to the occasion.

Facing the last-place Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles settled for an underwhelming four-game split. Meanwhile, the Red Sox took four straight from the New York Yankees to increase their lead over Baltimore in the division from one game to three by the conclusion of the weekend.

And knowing they needed to take three out of four from Boston to keep themselves in good position to still win the AL East with nine more games remaining after that, the Orioles have scored a total of four runs over the first two games of the series — both 5-2 losses. An offense once among the best in baseball has scored two runs in each of its last four games, losing three of them.

Now a season-worst five games out of first place with 11 to play, the Orioles’ remote chance of winning the division would be to take the final two games of the Boston series and play lights out the rest of the way while hoping the Red Sox stub their toe substantially. At this point, securing a wild card isn’t a sure thing, either, with Toronto now a game ahead for the first spot and Detroit closing the gap to just 1 1/2 games for the second berth currently held by the Orioles.

Even with their division hopes all but gone, the Orioles can still rebound and have managed to do so  several times after rough stretches in the second half despite a disappointing 31-33 mark since the All-Star break. But the last week illustrates how the Orioles haven’t been able to extend the good times like they did in the first half when they strung together three different seven-game winning streaks.

You thought a 6-3 road trip including critical series wins over Detroit and Boston might have been the springboard for the Orioles to retake the division lead, but they have instead drifted in the wrong direction while the Red Sox have reeled off six straight victories since Gausman’s masterpiece last Wednesday night.

A 2-4 start to the final homestand of the season clearly isn’t what the Orioles had in mind, especially after thriving at Camden Yards for most of the season. There’s still time to recover to maintain their grip on a postseason spot, but their hopes for anything better than a wild card have been all but crushed in the matter of six days.

In a costly week, the Orioles just haven’t been good enough while the Red Sox have emerged as the class of the AL East.

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machado

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Time running out for Orioles bats to heat up again

Posted on 20 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles knew it would be difficult against Cy Young Award candidate Rick Porcello on Monday, but there’s nothing easy about playing in a pennant race, especially against a Boston lineup that’s the best in baseball.

That especially holds true when you’re waiting for a once-explosive offense of your own to finally heat up again. Baltimore has hung a crooked number on the board every now and then since the All-Star break, but the offensive consistency that propelled them to first place for the better part of four months in spite of shoddy starting pitching has disappeared.

Taking nothing away from Porcello’s impressive 89-pitch complete game, the Orioles scored fewer than four runs for the 33rd time in 63 games since the break on Monday. In contrast, they scored three or fewer runs only 31 times in 87 games in the first half.

That’s simply not good enough for a club that’s designed to score plenty of runs.

After averaging just under 5.1 runs per game in the first half, the offense is roughly a run worse since the break at just over 4.1 per contest. The starting pitching will likely be remembered as the Achilles heel of the 2016 Orioles, but the rotation ERA has improved from a hideous 5.15 before the break to a more acceptable 4.51 in the second half.

Yes, the home runs have still been there, but everything else from the first half — the doubles, the high on-base percentage, a few more walks — has dried up to anemic levels. Since the All-Star break, the Orioles rank first in home runs, but they’re 10th in runs, last in doubles, last in batting average, and last in on-base percentage in the American League.

Allowing five runs to the Red Sox on Monday wasn’t ideal, but you better be ready to score when playing a lineup that’s plated a whopping 5.6 per game this season. The Orioles’ AL East title hopes are circling the drain barring three straight wins to conclude the current series, but the offense needs to get on a roll to not only secure a wild card but to try to make some noise in October.

To be fair, the Boston offense hasn’t had an equal all year — the Red Sox have outscored every other AL club by at least 100 runs in 2016 — but the Orioles were at least worthy of being mentioned in the same breath in the first half.

Unfortunately, that feels like a long time ago for Buck Showalter’s club as Boston has begun pulling away.

Bundy dilemma

Monday marked the fourth time in Dylan Bundy’s last seven starts that the right-hander has allowed five earned runs as he took the loss in the 5-2 final.

His 6.62 ERA over his last 34 innings has led many to wonder if he’s tired after eclipsing the 100-inning mark for the first time since his first full professional season in 2012. You can certainly argue that the Orioles are overdoing it with Bundy, but what passes as conventional wisdom in the baseball industry is hardly exact science when it comes to taking care of pitchers’ arms.

The stress of pitching in a pennant race in the major leagues definitely changes the dynamics, but the Orioles originally intended to have Bundy throw around 100 innings in the minor leagues last year before a shoulder injury derailed his season. Does that setback automatically lead to a plan for him to throw even fewer frames a year later, or do you just need to let him go and see what you have at some point?

Bundy again said after Monday’s game that he feels good physically, and it’s worth noting that his average fastball velocity has been up over his last three starts compared to the lull he went through over five starts starting in mid-August. However, his command has suffered in recent outings as he’s walked 19 batters over his last 29 2/3 innings.

On Monday, he struggled with the feel for his curveball, causing him to shy away from using it and making him too predictable with only the fastball-changeup combination. That was evident when David Ortiz appeared to sit on a changeup and hit a decently-located one for a home run in the fifth.

Yes, Bundy might be tired as the Orioles continue to push him further than anyone would have predicted, but he could just be experiencing the typical struggles of a 23-year-old pitcher with limited experience in the majors.

Other side of attendance question

No matter who’s at fault, the Orioles drawing an announced crowd of just 18,456 for the opener of the biggest series of the year is a shame and not a good look.

It’s easy to blame the fan base — plenty of people are already doing that — but many reasons for the decline in attendance have already been discussed, ranging from the tardiness in sending out season-ticket invoices and a substantial price increase to the elimination of cheaper deals such as Tuesday bargain nights for upper-reserve seats. Anyone who expected a different story for this week’s games hasn’t paid attention to the weeknight attendance woes for even the most intriguing opponents throughout the season.

But what has the organization — not the club on the field, but the business and marketing side — done to try to pack Camden Yards for weeknight games when it was apparent over the summer that this problem wasn’t going away? Where are the weeknight promotions such as discounted tickets, concession specials, or a few more giveaways that have become all but exclusive to weekend games?

If a restaurant with good food is struggling to attract patrons during the week, does management simply stomp their feet and continue to ask why no one is coming there to eat or do they try to do something about it in the form of specials and attractive deals?

Yes, winning should be enough — no one is arguing that this is the best fan base in baseball — but you have to be prepared to try to find other ways to compel people to come to the ballpark on weeknights, especially when they can watch the games on high-definition TV at home every night. If not, maybe you just don’t care all that much to have more people in the ballpark for such important games.

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