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Out-of-sync Orioles in danger of falling out of AL East race

Posted on 01 September 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but cringe at the pitching matchups as the Orioles returned home to begin a critical three-game set with Toronto on Monday.

Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yovani Gallardo going up against the Blue Jays’ three best starters? Even the most optimistic of Baltimore fans feared it could get ugly at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Instead, the embattled trio turned in three quality starts against the second-highest scoring offense in the American League. And the Orioles still lost two of three to the division leader to fall four games back in the AL East.

The term “must-win” is one of the most overused descriptors in sports, but that series win was one that Buck Showalter’s club surely wanted to have, especially playing at home where the Orioles have looked quite mortal over the last few weeks. It’s just been that kind of a second half as Baltimore fell into a tie with Detroit for the final wild card spot on Wednesday.

Trying to hold on, but seemingly losing their grip bit by bit as the summer transitions into fall. Out of sync and trying to avoid falling out of a tough division race in which Toronto and Boston aren’t going anywhere. A wild-card spot that appeared likely now looks in doubt with the likes of Detroit, Houston, and Kansas City surging.

The pitching remains the biggest concern — even two of the top three bullpen arms surrendered runs in Wednesday’s 5-3 loss — but an offense that thrived in the first half has been among the worst in the league since the All-Star break. Sure, the Orioles still hit home runs — they tied the major league record for long balls in August with 55 after hitting a record 56 in June — but they’ve all but stopped doing anything else offensively.

Remember how Baltimore ranked third in the AL with a .333 on-base percentage in the first half? Those more disciplined at-bats and the willingness to draw a few more walks have evaporated with the Orioles ranking last in the AL with a .293 OBP in the 46 games since then. They rank 12th in runs scored since the break despite continuing to lead the league in home runs, illustrating how much more dependent on long balls they’ve become to score runs as the season has progressed.

We knew all along that the Orioles lineup was constructed to win with the home run, but the all-or-nothing outcomes are as extreme as ever. Consider Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, who have combined to hit 22 home runs and bat .180 in 305 at-bats since the break. They haven’t been alone in the second-half struggles, but you just aren’t going to consistently score runs with that kind of production from your No. 4 and No. 5 hitters.

Because the offense produced at such a high level over the first half of the season, it’s still reasonable to think — at least hope? — a prolonged hot streak could be right around the corner.

But then we come back to the pitching, which ranks 13th among 15 AL clubs. Other than the first few weeks after the All-Star break when the rotation performed at a respectable level — and the offense failed to capitalize — you just can’t trust this starting pitching, especially with Chris Tillman unlikely to return before the middle of September. The bullpen continues to wilt without Darren O’Day, who is just now working out the final remnants of discomfort in his right shoulder.

The Orioles will say they were encouraged by the way Miley, Jimenez, and Gallardo pitched against the Blue Jays this week, but that kind of success feels more like an aberration than a breakthrough for the final month.

Despite exceeding expectations for most of the season, this club just isn’t firing on all cylinders and hasn’t been for quite some time. When the rotation does offer a stretch of decent outings, the offense fails to do its job. When the bats are lively, the pitching struggles to even be competitive. Or, neither phase performs well and it gets downright ugly.

On Wednesday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette added Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn, veterans who can help the abysmal outfield defense late in games and add some speed off the bench. Maybe these spare parts will help spark a struggling club, but the Orioles simply look like a team struggling to keep their heads above water these days.

The losing spells have been more frequent while the good times have been fleeting. In the first four months of the season, the Orioles had three seven-game winning streaks, two five-game winning streaks, and a four-game winning streak. In August, they won as many as three in a row just once while dropping three straight on three separate occasions.

Going just 21-25 since the All-Star break, the Orioles have been trying to hold on, but they’ll need to do more than that in September to secure their third trip to the postseason in the last five years.

You should never count out the Orioles under Showalter with so much baseball left to play, but an increasingly one-dimensional offense, a poor starting rotation, and a bullpen short on trustworthy arms aren’t inspiring confidence in the final month of the season.

It’s just not looking good.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 11-6 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 19 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 11-6 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 68th game of the 2016 season.

1st Matt Wieters set the tone for Baltimore’s season-high 19-hit game with a long two-run home run into the bleachers off Toronto starter Marcus Stroman in the first inning and matched his career high with four hits on the afternoon. The veteran catcher drove in a season-high four runs and scored three times while finishing just a triple short of the cycle. Three of Wieters’ seven homers on the season have come against Toronto with two of those against Stroman.

2ndJonathan Schoop homered for the second straight day, this time hitting a 458-foot bomb that nearly landed in the left-field club level in the bottom of the seventh. The second baseman’s RBI single in the fourth gave the Orioles the lead for good and put Chris Tillman in position to pick up his 10th win of the season despite a rocky five-inning performance. Schoop went 3-for-5 on the day.

3rdRyan Flaherty filled in at third base for the first game of the Manny Machado suspension and  answered the Blue Jays’ four-run second inning with an RBI single to tie the game at 4-4. The utility infielder added an RBI double in the fourth to push Baltimore’s lead to 6-4 and also made a couple nice plays in the field.

HomeBrad Brach entered with two outs in the seventh to face Josh Donaldson as the potential tying run and struck out the 2015 American League MVP. The right-handed reliever pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three and walking one. … Tillman extended his career-best winning streak to nine games and is now 9-0 with a 2.78 ERA over his last 11 starts. The right-hander surpassed Dick Hall to move into sole possession of 13th place on the Orioles’ all-time wins list with 66. … Chris Davis collected two doubles, scored three times, and drove in a run in a three-hit performance. … Hyun Soo Kim went 3-for-5 for his 10th multi-hit game of the season. … Every Orioles starter in Sunday’s game had a hit except for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was robbed of a potential home run in the bottom of the seventh. … The Orioles completed a 10-game stretch against AL East foes Toronto and Boston with a 5-5 record. … According to STATS, Baltimore will now have its first one-game road trip sandwiched between home games since June 25, 1967. Kevin Gausman will take the hill while Texas will start left-hander Derek Holland on Monday night.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 18 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 67th game of the 2016 season.

1st Jonathan Schoop started in the No. 2 spot in the order for just the third time in his career and responded with a home run, a double, a single, three RBIs, and three runs scored in a game in which runs were at a premium. The 24-year-old’s free-swinging ways are hardly conducive to hitting in the second spot in the order, but Schoop provided the early spark against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey with a one-out double in the first inning and hit the deciding solo shot to the opposite field with two outs in the bottom of the third. The Orioles own a 32-7 record in games in which he hits a home run in his career, which is a remarkable coincidence if nothing else.

2ndYovani Gallardo wasn’t great in his return as he walked four and lasted just five innings, but he surrendered only two runs to earn his second win. It was his improved velocity that was the most encouraging aspect of his first major league start since going on the DL with right shoulder tendinitis on April 22. His fastball sat in the range of 88 to 90 mph, and he touched 92 on a few occasions, including consecutive pitches to strike out Troy Tulowitzki with the bases loaded in the third. He can be more competitive carrying that kind of stuff, but just turning in an outing like this one was a dramatic improvement over what the Orioles were getting from Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wright.

3rdMychal Givens struggled in his last appearance against Toronto last weekend, but he did an excellent job bridging the gap to the late innings on Saturday by tossing two scoreless frames on 20 pitches. With the tying run in scoring position with one out in the seventh, Givens induced a grounder from Josh Donaldson and got Edwin Encarnacion to line out to left to retire the side. The 26-year-old has had his issues against left-handed bats this year, but he turned in his 11th scoreless appearance of more than one inning this season, an important contribution to one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Home Zach Britton doesn’t deserve praise for pitching his way into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth inning, but he reminded us why he’s one of the best closers in baseball by inducing a 4-6-3 double play from Donaldson to convert his 21st save in as many chances to begin the year. Despite allowing a hit and walking two, he extended his scoreless streak to 17 games covering 19 innings since May 5 and lowered his season ERA to 0.93. … In his final action before starting his four-game suspension on Sunday, Manny Machado went 3-for-3 with a double and scored the Orioles’ second run on a passed ball in the first inning. … In his first game since breaking his left foot on May 1, J.J. Hardy went 1-for-3 with a double just inside the third-base bag to lead off the bottom of the fifth and helped turn two double plays. … The Orioles send Chris Tillman to the hill in search of his 10th victory and a series win on Sunday afternoon while Toronto counters with right-hander Marcus Stroman.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 11-6 loss to Blue Jays

Posted on 11 June 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 11-6 defeat to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 61st game of the 2016 season.

1st — With the Orioles not having as much quality in the bullpen these days with Darren O’Day on the disabled list and Buck Showalter needing to stay away from Mychal Givens and Brad Brach, T.J. McFarland offered no relief in the sixth inning. Many questioned why the lefty long man didn’t begin the bottom of the sixth with no one on, but having a leadoff runner on first can’t excuse the poor performance. You can’t walk Russell Martin and Ezequiel Carrera with Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion looming, and Toronto’s big guns made McFarland pay with a sacrifice fly and a three-run homer, respectively. Making matters worse, the lefty gave up another run in the seventh that loomed big when the Orioles lineup made the game interesting again in the top of the eighth. Five runs, five hits, and two walks over two innings certainly didn’t make his manager happy.

2nd — He somehow managed to keep the Orioles in the game into the sixth inning, but Mike Wright’s inability to throw strikes led to his downfall as just 49 of the 103 pitches he threw were in the strike zone. Trying to build off an encouraging start against Kansas City, the right-hander walked a career-high five in five-plus innings and threw first-pitch strikes to just eight of the 24 hitters he faced on Saturday afternoon. His fastball command was especially poor as he got away with a number of pitches over the course of his outing that could have made the final results even worse. After temporarily being sent to the minors before his strong outing against the Royals acted as a mulligan, this clearly wasn’t what the Orioles were looking for from the 26-year-old.

3rd — It’s difficult to find too much fault with an offense that scored six runs on the day, but the Orioles went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Baltimore stranded a runner on third with one out in the fourth, a runner on second with no outs in the sixth, and scored only one more time after Mark Trumbo’s RBI single that kept the bases loaded with no outs in the seventh. Six runs should be enough to win most days, but the Orioles did have plenty of chances to add more.

Home — The Blue Jays removed all doubt about the outcome after Brian Duensing gave up solo homers to Encarnacion and Michael Saunders in the eighth. The veteran lefty has allowed four runs in his first 3 2/3 innings with the Orioles. … Chris Davis homered in his fourth consecutive game and collected the first two extra-base hits by a left-handed batter against Toronto starter J.A. Happ this season. … Joey Rickard collected his first three-hit game since April 21 and hit his fifth homer of the season. … Manny Machado hit his 16th homer of the season and raised his average to .306 with a three-hit afternoon. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill in search of a series split on Sunday while right-hander Aaron Sanchez starts for the Blue Jays.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-5 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 10 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 6-5 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 59th game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Davis wasn’t certain to play on Thursday after missing the series finale against Kansas City with unspecified physical ailments a day earlier, but he couldn’t have come up much bigger as he drove in three runs in the come-from-behind win at Rogers Centre. Despite entering the night hitting just .175 against left-handers in 2016, Davis homered to left-center off reliever Aaron Loup to tie the game in the seventh. He then stepped to the plate with the go-ahead run on third and one out in the ninth and hit his second sacrifice fly of the game. Davis also made a leaping catch of a line drive off the bat of Justin Smoak in the third, making it a strong all-around performance for the Orioles slugger.

2ndDylan Bundy gave the Orioles what they needed when starter Tyler Wilson was lifted with two outs in the sixth inning of a one-run game. The right-hander pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out three to eventually earn the win and keep the rest of the bullpen in good shape entering the weekend. With Darren O’Day currently on the disabled list, manager Buck Showalter needs to use the likes of Brad Brach and Mychal Givens in the later innings, meaning Bundy needs to not only give them innings but to pitch effectively to bridge the gap in some close games. He did exactly that with his 47 pitches to keep the Orioles within striking distance.

3rdPedro Alvarez hit his sixth homer of the season with one out in the sixth to end Marcus Stroman’s night after the Toronto starter had retired nine of the previous 10 Baltimore hitters to settle in after a rough beginning. The long ball made it a one-run deficit and put the Orioles in position against a shaky Toronto bullpen to secure their league-best 20th comeback victory of the season.

HomeZach Britton needed just eight pitches in a perfect ninth inning to secure his 19th save in as many tries, besting Chris Ray’s 18 in 2006 to set a new club record for consecutive save conversions to begin a season. The lefty is on his way to earning a second straight trip to the All-Star Game and is sporting a 1.03 ERA this season. … Hyun Soo Kim’s double to left-center off tough Toronto closer Roberto Osuna to lead off the ninth put the Orioles in position to play small ball to plate the eventual winning run with a Manny Machado grounder and Davis’ sacrifice fly. … It wasn’t a good night for Wilson, but he managed to recover enough to give the Orioles 5 2/3 innings after allowing four runs over the first two innings. … The Orioles have now secured their third winning streak of five or more games this year and improved to a season-best 13 games above .500. … Kevin Gausman takes the hill against Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada on Friday night.

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Orioles designated hitter Paredes claimed off waivers by Toronto

Posted on 16 May 2016 by Luke Jones

After deciding they wouldn’t make room for Jimmy Paredes on their 25-man roster, the Orioles lost the designated hitter to the Toronto Blue Jays off waivers on Monday.

Paredes’ minor-league rehab assignment concluded on Sunday, but the offseason additions of Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo eliminated virtually all of the at-bats that were available to the 27-year-old last season as the club’s DH. After focusing on learning to play the outfield over the winter, Paredes injured his left wrist early in spring training and began the season on the 15-day disabled list.

His severe limitations in the field made him expendable as the Orioles are already carrying a few players on the roster not known for their defensive abilities. They hoped to be able to outright him to Triple-A Norfolk if he hadn’t been claimed by the Blue Jays.

The switch-hitting Paredes was arguably the story of the first half of 2015 as he hit .299 with 10 home runs, 39 RBIs, and an .807 on-base plus slugging percentage, but he struggled mightily after the All-Star break, hitting just .216 with an anemic .517 OPS. His playing time also diminished with just 107 plate appearances compared to 277 in the first half.

Monday marked the fourth time in Paredes’ career that he’s been claimed off waivers, a reflection of his intriguing tools but inability to produce consistently to this point in his career.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-3 loss to Toronto

Posted on 20 April 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 4-3 defeat to the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 12th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The Orioles hit two home runs off Toronto ace Marcus Stroman, but they didn’t cash in on the few other opportunities they had over the course of the night. J.J. Hardy left the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth while Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo couldn’t do any damage with two runners on and Baltimore trailing by one run in the bottom of the eighth inning. When you score three runs and only leave five men on base, you didn’t have many scoring chances to begin with against a tough pitcher and the Orioles couldn’t provide enough support to combat a Blue Jays lineup that was the far-and-away best in baseball a year ago.

2nd — The Blue Jays scored three of their four runs in two-out situations, which will typically be the difference in a one-run game. Mike Wright’s overall performance was acceptable against a potent offense as he turned in the second quality start of the season for the Orioles, but Troy Tulowitzki’s two-run double past a diving Joey Rickard gave the Blue Jays breathing room with a 3-0 lead in the top of the third. The insurance run in the seventh off Tyler Wilson — the first run he’d allowed this season — was difficult to stomach considering the right-hander had retired the first two batters of the inning before giving up a single, a walk, and an RBI double off the bat of Jose Bautista.

3rd — Orioles hitters saw a total of 16 pitches in the fifth and sixth innings, which ultimately helped Stroman get through the seventh. Baltimore left the bases loaded in the fourth, but the right-hander threw 29 pitches in the frame, which put him in danger of not being able to go deep into the game and forcing Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to turn to the middle of his bullpen. What made those two innings even more frustrating was that they involved the top four hitters in the order not even mounting a threat when they were seeing Stroman for the third time. Of course, it’s fair to point out that Matt Wieters hit his two-run shot off the starting pitcher in the seventh, but the Orioles probably would have liked their chances getting to the Blue Jays bullpen much sooner.

Home — After Manny Machado doubled on a 3-2 count and Nolan Reimold drew a four-pitch walk off lefty Brett Cecil with one out in the eighth, Davis swung at the first pitch and fouled out to the catcher. … Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-4, dropping his average to just .143 and his on-base plus slugging percentage to .493. … Mychal Givens pitched a scoreless ninth inning, but it was the first outing of the season in which he didn’t record a strikeout. … Machado hit his fifth home run of the season in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to 12 games to begin the 2016 season. … Adam Jones left the game at the end of the sixth inning with a stomach virus that began affecting him during batting practice, according to manager Buck Showalter. … The Blue Jays snapped the Orioles’ 10-game home winning streak, which was tied for the seventh longest in club history. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill on Wednesday night while Toronto will counter with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

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2016 American League East preview

Posted on 04 April 2016 by Luke Jones

The Toronto Blue Jays became the first team with fewer than 95 victories to win the American League East since the 2000 season, a trend that will continue in another parity-driven season in 2016.

The AL East also held the best last-place team in the majors in 2015 as Boston finished just six games below .500

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

1. TORONTO (2015 record: 93-69, first place)
Notable additions: SP J.A. Happ, RP Drew Storen
Notable losses: SP David Price, OF Ben Revere, LHP Mark Buehrle
Why to like them: This wasn’t just the best offense in baseball, but the Blue Jays scored 127 more runs than any other club in the AL while leading the way in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Why to dislike them: The free-agent departures of Price and the dependable Buehrle put a lot of pressure on a starting rotation that was solid but unspectacular in 2015.
Player to watch: The 24-year-old Marcus Stroman is being counted on as the ace despite having only made seven total starts (counting the postseason) after a serious knee injury last spring.
2016 outlook (91-71): Toronto’s pitching is a notable question mark, but that lineup is far and away the biggest strength that any of the five clubs in this division have.

2. TAMPA BAY (2015 record: 80-82, fourth place)
Notable additions: OF/DH Corey Dickerson, SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison, OF Steve Pearce
Notable losses: SP Nate Karns, RP Jake McGee, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 1B/DH John Jaso
Why to like them: The Rays sport the best starting rotation in the AL East and are on track to get the accomplished Alex Cobb back from Tommy John surgery later this season.
Why to dislike them: Tampa Bay’s bullpen was ninth in the AL in ERA before trading away the hard-throwing McGee and the lineup is improved but still doesn’t scare you.
Player to watch: Should Drew Smyly and Matt Moore show that their injuries are finally behind them, the Rays rotation that already led the AL in ERA a year ago will be scary.
2016 outlook (88-74): The Rays made just enough offensive improvement to propel themselves into contention and will snag one of the two wild cards in the AL.

3. BOSTON (2015 record: 78-84, fifth place)
Notable additions: SP David Price, RHP Craig Kimbrel, RHP Carson Smith, OF Chris Young
Notable losses: SP Wade Miley, SP Rich Hill
Why to like them: The Red Sox acquired the ace that they desperately needed and a dominant closer to go along with one of the best offenses in the AL.
Why to dislike them: There are still too many question marks in the rotation behind Price and there may not be enough bullpen depth to get to the dominant Kimbrel in the ninth inning.
Player to watch: The Hanley Ramirez outfield experience was a disaster in 2015, so the Red Sox are hoping a move to first base will help them collect on their hefty free-agent investment.
2016 outlook (85-77): There is clear upside with a club that played better late in 2015, but there are still too many questions about the pitching to make Boston the AL East favorite.

4. BALTIMORE (2015 record: 81-81, third place)
Notable additions: SP Yovani Gallardo, OF Mark Trumbo, DH Pedro Alvarez
Notable losses: SP Wei-Yin Chen, SP Miguel Gonzalez, OF Steve Pearce, OF Gerardo Parra
Why to like them: An offense that finished third in the AL in homers added two more bats with 30-homer power and the AL’s third-best bullpen could be better with Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy.
Why to dislike them: The Orioles finished next to last in the AL in starter ERA and lost their most dependable starter (Chen) while replacing him with Gallardo, a solid veteran with declining stuff.
Player to watch: Kevin Gausman will begin the year on the disabled list, but his development is key in determining whether the starting rotation can improve enough to make the Orioles a viable contender.
2016 outlook (80-82): An offense that will hit a ton of home runs and a terrific bullpen won’t be able to overcome a starting rotation that needed to be upgraded and wasn’t this winter.

5. NEW YORK (2015 record: 87-75, second place)
Notable additions: RP Aroldis Chapman, 2B Starlin Castro, OF Aaron Hicks
Notable losses: SP Adam Warren, RP Justin Wilson, OF Chris Young
Why to like them: Once Chapman returns from suspension, the Yankees will sport the scariest bullpen trio in the majors and will be able to shorten games even more than they did in 2015.
Why to dislike them: New York finished 10th in the AL in starter ERA and is depending on too many veteran position players in the heart of the lineup to fight off Father Time.
Player to watch: Much attention will fall on Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, but the key for the rotation will be whether Michael Pineda establishes himself as a legitimate No. 1-caliber starter.
2016 outlook (78-84): The lineup is littered with too many older players who won’t manage to stay as healthy and productive as they did last year when the Yankees secured a wild card.

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Welcome to Toronto – the dome that time forgot.

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 25 Toronto Blue Jays

Posted on 16 August 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Toronto – I remember when this joint jumped. I was about fifty feet away from where Joe Carter’s home run landed on that fateful night in October 1993 when baseball was celebrated and ultimately died in downtown Toronto on Yonge Street. Now, it’s almost like they’re closer to joining the Montreal Expos than to galvanizing the baseball gods of the Great White North. Sure, Geddy Lee wasn’t at Rogers Centre on my night in Canada but the baseball “experience” of Toronto has been left to the ghosts of “Ok Blue Jays” in the seventh inning stretch and the pink suits of my pal Gregg Zaun. I can’t really pick on this dome any more than it’s been decimated over the past two decades. Oh, every time the ball hits the turf a giant blast of black plastic shrapnel leaps into the air. It’s like fake baseball. Only, it’s real. Honestly, if you go, you might want to consider watching the game from the bar/restaurant at the Renaissance Hotel attached to the dome. It’s a nice seat. And it’s free with a tab or dinner. Buy dinner, get the game free. And, honestly, you wouldn’t be missing much here.

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On Sept. 8-9-10, I will be releasing an extensive essay documenting my 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit journey of 2015. You can read it and all of my work here: http://wnst.net/author/nestoraparicio/

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Even after huge win, Orioles facing tough dilemma with Tillman

Posted on 21 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles had much to be happy about following their 13-9 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday to earn their biggest series victory of the season.

Despite blowing an early 7-0 lead, the Orioles secured their fifth consecutive series win and moved back to three games above .500. Not only did they snap the Blue Jays’ eight-game winning streak at Rogers Centre on Saturday, but the Orioles have now won two straight series against their American League East foe after a 1-5 start against the highest run-producing lineup in the majors.

You could argue their wins on Saturday and Sunday were the biggest of the season so far as the Orioles outscored the Blue Jays by an 8-1 margin in the final three innings of both games.

But the impressive resiliency reminiscent of last year doesn’t erase a major problem staring manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles squarely in the face.

Once again, Chris Tillman was bad on Sunday.

Really bad.

After the Orioles scored seven runs off Scott Copeland in the top of the second, their best starter over the previous three seasons could only record one out in the bottom half of the inning before giving way to the bullpen. Everything he threw was up in the strike zone and over the heart of the plate, once again making you wonder if his lower back issues continue to linger and are impacting his ability to fully extend with his delivery.

You don’t go from being so good for three seasons to this poor without wondering if there’s something wrong physically. Tillman threw first-pitch strikes to only two of the 10 Blue Jays hitters he faced and allowed six runs, six hits, and two home runs in just 1 1/3 innings on Sunday.

“Chris has just got to get back into attack mode,” Showalter told MASN after Sunday’s win. “You trust the pedigree and the background, but he’s capable of better than that. We need to get that from him.”

How poorly has Tillman fared in four starts against Toronto this year? The right-hander has a 15.00 ERA in 15 innings against the Blue Jays. Against everyone else, Tillman has a respectable 3.92 mark.

Of course, the Blue Jays have hung a slew of crooked numbers on the scoreboard this season, but Sunday’s outing elevated Tillman’s season ERA to 6.22, which dwarfs Ubaldo Jimenez’s 4.63 mark at this point last season that led to the latter being sent to the disabled list and, eventually, the bullpen. Even with numbers skewed by Toronto, you just can’t forgive Tillman’s poor 2015 performance because he’s frequently faced the Blue Jays as they’re a major league opponent just like every other lineup he’s faced.

At least the Orioles don’t face Toronto again until early September.

A few weeks ago, we pointed to Tillman’s difficult first two months a year ago as good reason for remaining confident as he rebounded from a 5.20 ERA in his first 13 starts of 2014 to allow three or fewer earned runs in his next 20 outings to ultimately finish the regular season with a 3.34 ERA. But we’re less than two weeks away from the Fourth of July and last year’s early struggles pale in comparison to what we’ve seen so far in 2015 as he’s registered just five quality starts in 14 outings and is averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings.

Forget about the longtime debate over whether Tillman is really an ace as the 27-year-old isn’t currently performing like someone worthy of remaining in a major league rotation, but herein lies the problem. The right-hander is out of minor-league options and the Orioles obviously aren’t releasing him — he’s under club control through the 2017 season — but you wonder how many more chances Showalter can give his Opening Day starter of the last two seasons before he has little choice but to send him to the bullpen.

To be fair, fellow starter Bud Norris sports an ERA (7.57) more than a run higher than Tillman’s, but his 3.78 ERA in three starts since returning from the DL at least provides some optimism that he’s made some adjustments after a month-long absence.

Both need to be on notice at this point as it relates to their spots in the rotation.

With Kevin Gausman healthy and back in a starting routine after being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday, the Orioles have a starter waiting in the wings who posted a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts for a division-winning club last year. Time is running out for Tillman to reverse a nightmarish start to the 2015 campaign.

As Showalter pointed out, the 6-foot-5 hurler is a major reason why the Orioles completed three straight winning seasons and twice made the postseason over that time, but the starting pitcher would be the first to tell you he’s been a weak link in 2015.

You just wonder how much longer the Orioles can wait as they find themselves in the midst of another tight division race while their de facto ace entering the season continues going nowhere fast.

 

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