Tag Archive | "brad brach"


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Showalter’s mistake headlines costly loss for Orioles

Posted on 01 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win and some help later in the night, the Orioles instead suffered their most frustrating loss of the season on Saturday.

Beyond the obvious effects on the wild-card-standings, the 7-3 defeat to the New York Yankees was even more difficult to stomach because of Buck Showalter’s role in the late-inning collapse. As deserving of the benefit of the doubt as any manager in baseball, Showalter leaving starter Wade Miley in the game to give up the game-tying home run to Tyler Austin to start the bottom of the seventh was baffling.

The Baltimore skipper told reporters in the Bronx after the game that he believed Miley was still strong at 99 pitches and that the many left-handed hitters available to come off the New York bench — presumably against right-handed reliever Mychal Givens — prompted him to stick with the lefty starter to begin the seventh. Of course, one could dispute just how strong Miley was at that point after he’d pitched into significant jams in both the fifth and sixth innings in which the Yankees shrunk the Orioles’ lead from 3-0 to 3-2.

Miley had given the Orioles a strong performance through six innings, but that should have been all for the starter, especially considering the bullpen hadn’t been particularly taxed in the series-opening 8-1 win on Friday. This was the penultimate game of the regular season, after all, and not a game in mid-June in which you’re thinking about the long-term health of your bullpen.

The leash was long enough for that sixth inning, let alone even thinking about having him start the seventh.

But Showalter’s overthinking wasn’t the only factor working against the Orioles on Saturday if we’re being fair.

Even if Miley had been lifted after six, All-Star setup man Brad Brach was always going to factor into the late-inning equation and the right-hander just didn’t have it on Saturday, giving up four runs, two hits, and two walks while retiring only one batter in the eighth inning. Brach had rebounded nicely in the month of September, but he hasn’t been the same dominant force in the second half of the season, pitching to an underwhelming 3.94 ERA since the All-Star break.

It’s no secret that Brach carried an enormous workload with Darren O’Day missing a large portion of the season, and he hasn’t been nearly as consistent in the second half as a result.

An offense that plated three runs over the first three innings against Yankees starter Luis Severino all but went to sleep in the final six innings of the game. J.J. Hardy grounded into a 5-4-3 double play with runners on first and second with one out in the sixth, and Manny Machado was inexplicably thrown out at third after Mark Trumbo singled with two outs in the seventh. Those were the only real scoring threats for Baltimore after Machado’s opposite-field solo homer in the third inning.

There’s been far too much of that in recent weeks.

Even the defense was a question mark.

With two outs in the sixth, Machado made a nice stop of a grounder off the bat of Rob Refsnyder, but he took too much time getting up to make the throw to get him at first base to end the inning. Chase Headley then followed with a double to make it a one-run game.

There was plenty of blame to go around after Saturday’s loss as the Orioles could only watch what was transpiring in Boston and Atlanta to determine what they needed to do in the final game of the season.

It’s tough enough when players simply don’t come through, but seeing a tactician like Showalter blink in such a crucial game was disheartening. It was the kind of decision that disrupted the karma of a game in which the Orioles were winning, but we’ll never know how it might have turned out otherwise. Brach pitching in a similar fashion would have surely netted the same result of a loss.

Baltimore just wasn’t good enough on Saturday, whether talking about the players or their revered manager.

You can only hope it didn’t cost them dearly.

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After promising stretch, Orioles pitching again looking too vulnerable

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles pitching staff appeared to be turning a corner not long ago.

Despite a maddening offensive slump that led to three straight losses in Oakland last week, the starting rotation had rattled off seven straight quality starts as the latest sign of its second-half improvement. There had been some hiccups here and there from the bullpen, but Darren O’Day had finally returned a couple weeks before and the group still led the American League in ERA.

All the Orioles needed was their all-too-powerful offense to awaken from its second-half slumber and they’d seemingly be ready to take off at the right time in an all-too-tight AL East battle with Toronto and Boston.

Then, word came over the weekend that O’Day was dealing with a strained rotator cuff that required a cortisone injection and another trip to the disabled list. Manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday that the hope is for the veteran right-hander to be ready to return at the end of the minimum 15-day DL period, but a shoulder issue is one of the last things you want for a pitcher, particularly one as important as O’Day to Baltimore’s success over the last five years.

Making matters worse are the recent struggles of All-Star setup man Brad Brach, who pitched incredibly well during O’Day’s extended absence earlier in the season. The right-hander gave up the deciding two-run homer to Boston’s Mookie Betts in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to elevate his ERA to 4.50 in 12 innings of work since the All-Star break. It would have been unfair to expect Brach to maintain the microscopic 0.91 ERA he posted in 49 1/3 innings in the first half, but you do wonder if such a stressful workload and some simple regression to the mean are catching up to him down the stretch.

If they’re to endure this latest O’Day absence, the Orioles need Brach to find his first-half form sooner rather than later.

Of course, Showalter revealing Tuesday night that 15-game winner Chris Tillman would not pitch on Wednesday due to shoulder soreness creates more restlessness. Tillman is currently slated to start against Houston on Saturday, but there is clearly enough concern to scratch your ace from a critical game against the AL East foe who just pulled even with the Orioles for second place in the division.

Dylan Bundy will now try to continue his impressive run as a starter against the highest-scoring offense in the major leagues.

It could all be fine with Tillman making that Saturday start without any issue and a rested and healthy O’Day returning to action before the end of the month, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should be feeling more urgency to fortify the pitching staff ahead of the waiver trade deadline in two weeks. At the very least, the Orioles would benefit from another reliable reliever to ease the burden on Brach and Mychal Givens in trying to bridge the gap to All-Star closer Zach Britton.

Right now, the remainder of the bullpen consists of three long relievers — Vance Worley, Tyler Wilson, and the seldom-used Ubaldo Jimenez — and unproven left-hander Donnie Hart. The Orioles entered Tuesday’s game still sporting an AL-leading 3.15 bullpen ERA, but the parts just don’t breed confidence right now.

Doubts have persisted all year about the pitching, but the latest developments aren’t doing the Orioles any favors.

The offense rising to the occasion like it did in the first half would surely quell concerns, but the Orioles can only hope that a couple of sore shoulders won’t derail what’s been a surprisingly strong season.

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Orioles come home from long road trip with good feeling

Posted on 14 August 2016 by Luke Jones

It would have been easy for the Orioles to mail it in when they fell behind 7-1 in San Francisco on Sunday.

Playing the final game of a long 10-day road trip — the last seven days in the Bay Area — and still a cross-country flight away from their second day off since the All-Star break, the Orioles looked like a team largely going through the motions for several innings as starter Wade Miley allowed six earned runs and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. The defense wasn’t sharp, and the Baltimore lineup was retired on a total of 15 pitches from Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto in the third and fourth innings.

You could hardly blame fans who might have turned the channel or elected to enjoy an early-evening nap at that point, but they missed something special as the Orioles bounced back to score seven times over the final three innings with the exclamation point being a Jonathan Schoop three-run homer with two outs in the ninth. Whether this is remembered as a season-defining win remains to be seen — Orioles manager Buck Showalter loves to cite Earl Weaver’s adage of momentum being as good as the next game’s starting pitcher — but a 5-5 road trip feels much better than a 4-6 mark for a club that’s struggled on the road all season.

There was something fitting about Schoop finishing off the colossal comeback with a three-run homer on what would have been the late Hall of Fame manager’s 86th birthday.

The Orioles owned just one win when trailing after eight innings all season, but they did secure their 34th comeback victory of 2016, third most in the majors. As flawed as they might be and as quickly as many want to dismiss their playoff chances at any sign of trouble, these Orioles under Showalter continue to be as resilient as they come.

They now return home and will play 25 of their final 45 games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where their 39-17 record has made them the best home team in the majors in 2016. That’s certainly good news for a club that needed a miraculous Sunday win to improve to 27-34 on the road.

All but 10 of those remaining games come against teams currently holding winning records, but the Orioles have fewer remaining road contests than either Toronto or Boston, an advantage over the final seven weeks of the regular season.

The Orioles have obvious flaws, but they’ve spent all season in first or second place and have provided more joy than frustration in a season in which outside expectations weren’t all that great at the start.

A loss hardly would have meant the sky was falling, but the showing wasn’t pretty for much of Sunday. Then, the Orioles reminded us what we should have already remembered countless times over the last five years.

You don’t doubt their resiliency or effort.

Bullpen pick-me-up

Lost in Schoop’s heroics on Sunday was a good bullpen performance of 4 2/3 scoreless innings a day after right-hander Darren O’Day was officially placed on the disabled list with a rotator cuff strain.

The perfect eighth from All-Star setup man Brad Brach was particularly encouraging after the right-hander entered Sunday with a 3.60 ERA since the All-Star break and a 5.40 mark in August. As they did when O’Day was sidelined with a hamstring injury for nearly two months earlier in the season, the Orioles will lean heavily on Brach to turn the ball over to All-Star closer Zach Britton, who improved to 37-for-37 in 2016 save chances on Sunday.

It will be challenging enough to weather another O’Day absence, but the Orioles need Brach to get on a roll again if the bullpen has any chance of continuing to own the best ERA in the AL.

Pearce injury

Hitting for reliever Donnie Hart, Steve Pearce just missed hitting a three-run homer in the eighth inning as he was able to come off the bench for a second straight day after missing five days of action.

A flexor mass strain in his right elbow is bound to limit Pearce’s ability to play defense the rest of the way, but the Orioles desperately need his bat against left-handed pitching. Baltimore is hitting .234 with a .690 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handers and will see a pair of southpaw starters — Eduardo Rodriguez and David Price — in a two-game set with the Red Sox beginning Tuesday.

Pearce is hitting .339 with an 1.104 OPS against lefties this season.

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Orioles activate O’Day prior to series finale with Cleveland

Posted on 24 July 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — More than seven weeks after injuring his right hamstring, setup man Darren O’Day has returned to the Orioles bullpen.

The 2015 All-Star selection was activated from the 15-day disabled list 30 minutes prior to the start of Sunday’s series finale with Cleveland. O’Day last pitched on June 1, but his return provides a signficant boost to a bullpen already ranking second in the American League and fourth in the majors with a 3.10 ERA.

Baltimore optioned left-handed reliever Donnie Hart to Double-A Bowie to make room on the 25-man roster.

In O’Day’s absence, Baltimore has leaned more heavily on Brad Brach, who has responded by posting a 1.19 ERA in 53 innings and earned a trip to his first All-Star Game earlier this month. It will be interesting to see how manager Buck Showalter sequences O’Day and Brach before getting to closer Zach Britton at the end of games. Entering Sunday, Britton had pitched on four consecutive days, but he had thrown a total of only 20 pitches.

Signed to a four-year, $31 million contract this offseason, O’Day, 33, posted a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings before going to the DL in early June. However, the right-hander had given up five home runs — matching his 2015 total — and walked 4.1 hitters per nine innings, a career-high rate.

O’Day has been the backbone of the Orioles bullpen since 2012, posting a 1.92 ERA and averaging just under 66 innings per year over his first four seasons in Baltimore.

Hart’s demotion means the Orioles are back to having only one lefty in the bullpen with Britton clearly not used for matchup purposes. The 25-year-old rookie had pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings over three appearances since being promoted to begin the second half.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Yankees

Posted on 21 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday 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 94th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman pitched like an ace to close out a rough road trip on a positive note. Needing a strong start as they tried to avoid their fifth consecutive loss and a four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles got seven superb innings from the right-hander, who improved to a sparkling 14-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.18. After allowing five batters to reach over his first two innings, Tillman relied more heavily on his fastball to register four strikeouts in the third and fourth innings and did an excellent job mixing his assortment of pitches the rest of the way. In addition to retiring 16 of the last 17 batters he faced to ultimately tie Chris Sale for the major league lead in wins, Tillman became the first Orioles pitcher since Jim Palmer in 1978 to complete at least seven innings and allow no more than one run in four consecutive starts. Baltimore is now a whopping 18-3 when Tillman takes the mound, the most team wins in any pitcher’s starts this season. Where would the Orioles be without him?

2ndJ.J. Hardy has been one of the few to swing the bat well at the start of the second half, and the shortstop set an improved tone early in Thursday’s game. With the Orioles entering the day just 3-for-33 with men in scoring position since the All-Star break and Mark Trumbo having already popped up with runners on the corners, Hardy delivered a hard single past Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius to plate two runs with two outs. The hit allowed Baltimore to match its run total from the first three games of the series and gave Tillman a lead before he took the hill. Hardy added another single in the fourth.

3rdJonathan Schoop gave the Orioles some much-needed breathing room when he hit a soft liner down the right-field line to score two runs and increase the lead to 4-1 with two outs in the seventh. The two-run double came on an outside off-speed pitch from New York starter CC Sabathia, who was then lifted from the game and suffered his fourth consecutive loss. Schoop also started the scoring rally in the first with a one-out infield single and is now hitting .296 on the year.

HomeZach Britton may have been staked to a comfortable three-run lead in the ninth, but the All-Star closer improved to a remarkable 30-for-30 in save opportunities this season by pitching a 1-2-3 frame against the heart of the Yankees order. His 30 saves in as many chances to begin a season is the 10th-best mark in major league history. … Returning to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with flu-like symptoms, Manny Machado went 2-for-4 with a run scored. … Brad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning and has not allowed an earned run in his last 14 appearances covering 16 2/3 innings. … While Machado and Chris Davis returned to the lineup, center fielder Adam Jones missed Thursday’s games after dealing with back spasms the previous night. Catcher Matt Wieters missed his third straight game while resting a bruised foot. … The Orioles return to Camden Yards on Friday to begin a six-game homestand with right-hander Dylan Bundy making his second major league start against Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer.

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Britton shines in otherwise quiet night for Orioles in All-Star Game

Posted on 13 July 2016 by Luke Jones

After going 27-for-27 in save opportunities for the first-place Orioles in the first half, Zach Britton was the right man for the job to close out the 87th All-Star Game in San Diego on Tuesday.

The left-hander became the first Oriole to earn a save in the Midsummer Classic since Don Aase in 1986 when he retired the side in the ninth inning to wrap up the American League’s 4-2 win over the National League, giving the AL home-field advantage in the 2016 World Series and its fourth straight All-Star victory. After surrendering a leadoff single to Daniel Murphy, Britton induced a grounder from Paul Goldschmidt for a fielder’s choice and a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Nolan Arenado to end the game.

A two-time All-Star selection, Britton has set the club record by beginning a season with 27 consecutive save conversions and clearly earned the respect of AL manager Ned Yost, who used the Baltimore sinkerballer as his closer behind four other relievers used in the game. On Sunday, Britton became the fifth pitcher in franchise history to record 100 career saves with the Orioles, joining Gregg Olson (160), Jim Johnson (122), Tippy Martinez (105), and Stu Miller (100).

The 28-year-old highlighted an otherwise quiet night for the Orioles’ All-Star representatives.

Appearing in his third All-Star Game and becoming the first Oriole to bat third in the AL starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996, third baseman Manny Machado went 0-for-3 and flied out to deep left in his final at-bat in the bottom of the fifth. Making his first All-Star start, the 24-year-old did make a nice play in the field on a chopper off the bat of Arenado on a fielder’s choice in the top of the fifth.

Catcher Matt Wieters entered the game in the sixth and struck out swinging in each of his two plate appearances. The 30-year-old is now hitless in five career at-bats in the All-Star Game.

The four-time All-Star selection did get to catch a one-time teammate for the first time, however, when New York Yankees lefty Andrew Miller pitched in the eighth. Wieters was already out for the remainder of the season due to Tommy John surgery when the Orioles acquired Miller at the trade deadline in 2014.

Mark Trumbo entered the game to play left field in the sixth and reached on an error in his only at-bat of the evening. The right-handed slugger is now 0-for-3 in his two trips to the All-Star Game.

A feel-good story after posting a microscopic 0.91 ERA in the first half, Orioles reliever Brad Brach did not pitch in his first trip to the All-Star Game.

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of 2016 first half

Posted on 12 July 2016 by Luke Jones

In the midst of the tightest division race in the majors at the All-Star break, the first-place Orioles have benefited from their fair share of surprise performers in the midst of a 51-36 start.

While there haven’t been any players to seemingly come out of nowhere as we’ve frequently seen in the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era, several have turned in performances few would have predicted at the start of the 2016 season. Their accomplishments are major reasons why Baltimore has been able to exceed expectations in the competitive American League East.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season with the biggest disappointments coming later this week:

Who was the biggest Orioles surprise of the first half?

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Honorable mention: Joey Rickard

5. Jonathan Schoop

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised about the 24-year-old’s first half after he hit .279 with 14 home runs and a .788 on-base plus slugging percentage in 321 plate appearances last season, but to see the second baseman take that production to the next level has been impressive.

In addition to being one of only two Baltimore players to play in all 87 games before the All-Star break — a year removed from a knee injury that cost him almost three months last season — Schoop is hitting .304 with 14 homers, 23 doubles, and 52 RBIs. His .847 OPS ranks third on the club among qualified players, which is quite a leap after he produced a .598 mark as a rookie just two years ago.

Schoop has likely benefited from some good fortune with his .348 batting average on balls in play, but he’s also shown some modest improvement in his free-swinging ways with a 3.8 percent walk rate that remains well below average but represents improvement from his 2.8 percent career mark entering the 2016 season. He hit safely in 20 of his 21 games before the break, posting a .414 average and 1.112 OPS over that stretch.

4. Dylan Bundy

One could argue that Bundy would be pitching in the minor leagues in a perfect world, but perhaps he’d be the ace of the Orioles rotation by now if such a sphere existed. Either way, the 23-year-old has overcome an array of injuries over the last few years to contribute meaningful innings out of the bullpen.

Instead of serving as a pseudo Rule 5 pick who’s only in the majors because he’s out of minor-league options, Bundy is rapidly becoming an intriguing candidate to start in the second half despite the Orioles’ plans of trying to keep him healthy while massaging his development in a relief role. Since Showalter began regularly giving him at least three days of rest between outings, Bundy has pitched to a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings of work.

Bundy’s 3.08 season ERA is even more impressive when noting how opponents have a .371 BABIP against him, an average likely to normalize in the second half. His velocity has also spiked since receiving more regular rest as his average fastball velocity is 94.6 mph since May 31 and was just 93.2 before that.

It remains to be seen what Bundy’s role will look like in the second half, but his continued health and reemergence as an important part of the club’s future are wonderful developments.

3. Brad Brach

How many would have believed that Darren O’Day would miss nearly six weeks of action and the Orioles would still rank second in the AL and fourth in the majors with a 3.12 bullpen ERA at the break?

With no disrespect intended to phenomenal All-Star closer Zach Britton, Brach is the biggest reason why as he’s built upon his first two good seasons in Baltimore with his own All-Star campaign that includes a microscopic 0.91 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings over 49 1/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed just one of 19 inherited runners to score and has held lefty bats to a .238 average and a .644 OPS, an important feat given the lack of a lefty specialist in the Baltimore bullpen.

Right-handers are batting .080 with a .326 OPS against Brach in 97 plate appearances as he’s provided occasional length as well as serving as a strong replacement for O’Day, who hasn’t pitched since June 1. The 30-year-old ranks third in strikeouts (58) and second in innings pitched among AL relievers.

According to Baseball Reference, Brach ranks third on the club with 2.6 wins above replacement, an illustration of how critical he’s been to the first-place Orioles.

2. Mark Trumbo

Expecting Trumbo to help fill a void in the heart of the order that wasn’t addressed after the post-2014 departure of Nelson Cruz was realistic, but the right-handed slugger has instead been one of the best offensive players in the AL in 2016.

Trumbo leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than he hit in 170 more plate appearances a season ago and only six shy of his career-high 34 in 2013. His 68 RBIs rank fourth in the majors, and his .288 average and .923 OPS would easily be career bests for the 30-year-old outfielder.

While his strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career marks, Trumbo has swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and has shown more consistency than his streaky track record preceding his time in Baltimore. It would be unfair to expect him to hit 50 home runs, but Trumbo has done more than his expected share for one of the best lineups in baseball.

And his offseason acquisition is arguably the best trade pulled off by Duquette during his time in Baltimore.

1. Hyun Soo Kim

Just over three months ago, the Orioles were convinced that Kim wasn’t worthy of being in the big leagues, a reminder that we shouldn’t take spring training performance as gospel.

Whether the organization was foolishly mistaken, he simply improved and adjusted to the majors, or it was a combination of both, the 28-year-old South Korean outfielder took advantage of sparse opportunities early and eventually earned a regular role against right-handed starters by late May. His .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead the club among those with at least 170 plate appearances.

Kim has provided a steady ability to get on base in a lineup known for its power and free-swinging ways. His 12.7 percent strikeout rate is the lowest on the club among regulars, and his 10.4 percent walk rate has been a helpful addition in the No. 2 spot in the order ahead of the likes of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Trumbo.

His .370 BABIP suggests Kim will have a difficult time sustaining his current level of production, but he’s done more than enough to suggest he’s worthy of being a major leaguer and that the thoughts of sending him back to the Korean Baseball Organization in the spring were grossly premature.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2016 first half

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ first half of 2016 that has resulted in a 51-36 start and a first-place standing in the American League East at the All-Star break?

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 first 87 games of the 2016 season.

1st Manny Machado broke out as one of the game’s best all-around players last year, but many wondered throughout the winter if he could soar even higher in 2016. The 24-year-old has done exactly that, hitting .318 with 19 home runs, 29 doubles, 53 RBIs, and a .944 on-base plus slugging percentage as the club’s best offensive player. Already a two-time Glove Glove winner at third base, Machado filled in admirably at shortstop in place of the injured J.J. Hardy for seven weeks and has been worth a combined eight defensive runs saved and 1.2 defensive wins above replacement so far this season. His 4.2 WAR (Baseball Reference) at the All-Star break ranks fifth in the AL and is easily tops on the Orioles. After serving in the leadoff role out of necessity last season, Machado has now settled into the No. 3 spot in the order and is the first Oriole to bat third in the AL All-Star starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996. 

2ndMark Trumbo was expected to be a solid power addition to the Baltimore lineup after being acquired from Seattle in exchange for reserve catcher Steve Clevenger in December, but the 30-year-old has instead put on a great 2014 Nelson Cruz impression. The right-handed slugger leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than the total he had last year in 170 fewer plate appearances and just six shy of his career high. His .288 average, .923 OPS, and 68 RBIs reflect his consistency, which was even more important with lineup mainstays such as Adam Jones and Chris Davis struggling early on. His defense in the outfield isn’t pretty, but Trumbo has played a major part in turning a good lineup into a great one.

3rdChris Tillman has been the shining star in a starting rotation that ranks 14th in the AL and 28th in the majors in ERA for a first-place club. The Opening Day starter not only leads the rotation with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, 98 strikeouts, and 12 wins, but he has a chance to become Baltimore’s first 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984. His strikeout rate of 7.8 per nine innings is his best since 2013, and he can largely credit an improved slider for his career-best swinging-strike percentage. According to Baseball Reference, Tillman’s 3.2 WAR is second only to Machado on the 2016 Orioles.

HomeBrad Brach and Zach Britton both earned All-Star Game invitations with ERAs below 1.00 and combining for an impressive 4.7 WAR pitching out of the bullpen. Brach has been outstanding filling in for the injured Darren O’Day and leading all Baltimore relievers with 49 1/3 innings pitched while Britton has set a club record by going 27-for-27 in save opportunities to begin the season. … The Orioles’ 137 home runs lead the majors and are the club’s most ever at the All-Star break, surpassing the 134 hit in 1996. … Jonathan Schoop is rapidly emerging as one of the Orioles’ best players, ranking second behind Machado with 23 doubles and fifth in home runs. … Hyun Soo Kim began the season as a player the Orioles were convinced they didn’t want on the major league roster, but the South Korean outfielder’s .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead Baltimore hitters with at least 170 plate appearances. … Despite making a combined $22 million in 2016, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo have combined to post a 6.84 ERA in 125 innings this season. … Adam Jones wasn’t a conventional choice as a leadoff hitter, but he’s batted .308 with 12 homers and a .345 OBP since being moved to the top spot by manager Buck Showalter on May 27. … Baltimore’s 33 home victories and .702 home winning percentage lead the major leagues. The Orioles have three seven-game winning streaks in 2016 after posting none that long from 2006-2015.

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Which Orioles should receive 2016 All-Star Game nod?

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado continues to lead the way at his position as Major League Baseball released the final 2016 American League All-Star voting update on Monday.

The 23-year-old leads Toronto’s Josh Donaldson by more than 600,000 votes with the voting period set to conclude on Thursday night. The All-Star Game starters, pitchers, and reserves will be announced on July 5.

Slugger Mark Trumbo is the only other Baltimore player with a realistic chance to win a starting spot via the fan vote as he ranks fifth among AL outfielders and trails Boston right fielder Mookie Betts by just over 100,000 votes for the final starting spot. Matt Wieters ranks second among AL catchers, but he trails Salvador Perez of Kansas City by more than 2.7 million votes.

Chris Davis ranks a distant third behind Eric Hosmer and Miguel Cabrera among AL first basemen and Adam Jones is 13th among AL outfielders.

With the Orioles off to an impressive 45-30 start and in first place in the AL East, a number of their players have reasonable claims to make the trip to San Diego on July 12.

Below is a look at each of the Orioles’ All-Star candidates:

3B Manny Machado
The case for: In addition to leading the voting at his position, the two-time Gold Glover ranks fourth among AL position players in wins above replacement and entered Monday fourth in average, seventh in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, and tied for seventh in home runs in the league.
The case against: If Machado loses the fan vote, maybe Kansas City manager Ned Yost decide to hold a grudge because of his altercation with Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in early June?
The prediction: As a starter or not, Machado is a slam-dunk choice to make his third All-Star team.

C Matt Wieters
The case for: The 30-year-old entered Monday ranked first among AL catchers in RBIs and homers and is second behind Perez in on-base plus slugging percentage among catchers with 175 at-bats.
The case against: Wieters has a strong argument behind Perez, but you never know if another team needing a representative could squeeze him out in favor of someone like Oakland’s Stephen Vogt.
The prediction: As a three-time All-Star selection, Wieters has a good reputation around the league and should return to the Midsummer Classic next month.

1B Chris Davis
The case for: Davis leads all qualified AL first basemen in WAR and home runs, ranks second in RBIs, and is third in OPS in addition to playing really good defense this season.
The case against: Hosmer and Cabrera both have strong cases for spots and own far superior averages, and Joe Mauer could factor in as the potential lone representative of the Minnesota Twins.
The prediction: Even with his low batting average, Davis would be a sound choice as a reserve first baseman on the AL squad and will receive the second invitation to the All-Star Game of his career.

2B Jonathan Schoop
The case for: The 24-year-old entered Monday tied for third among AL second basemen in home runs and is fourth in RBIs and OPS.
The case against: Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano are legitimate AL MVP candidates so far this season and Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia are well-known veterans also sporting worthy profiles.
The prediction: Schoop has a .978 OPS in June and is deserving of recognition in a perfect world, but there’s too much strong veteran competition here to expect him to grab a reserve spot this year.

RF Mark Trumbo
The case for: The powerful right-hander entered Monday leading the majors in home runs, ranking third in the AL in RBIs, and sitting sixth among AL outfielders in OPS.
The case against: As terrific as Trumbo has been in the power department, his defense hurts his overall value while other outfielders such as Ian Desmond and George Springer are well-rounded players.
The prediction: Sabermetricians will look at an underwhelming 1.2 WAR and argue others are more deserving, but being at or near the top in traditional categories will earn Trumbo an All-Star invitation.

SP Chris Tillman
The case for: The right-hander entered Monday second in the AL with 10 wins and is tied for seventh among AL pitchers in WAR.
The case against: After back-to-back poor starts, Tillman has fallen to 15th in ERA in the AL among qualified pitchers and is tied for 12th in the league in strikeouts.
The prediction: A brilliant performance in his next start to lower his ERA from 3.52 would help his case, but he’ll be on the outside looking in with pitcher wins no longer celebrated like they once were.

RP Zach Britton
The case for: The lefty closer leads the AL with 23 saves in as many tries and is tied for first in the league among pitchers with at least 30 innings with an incredible 0.83 ERA.
The case against: Barring a dramatic collapse over the next week or closers no longer being selected, there is no reasonable case to be made against Britton being on the team for a second straight year.
The prediction: This might be the easiest call of them all to make, and that’s saying something on a club that includes one of the five best players in baseball in Machado.

RP Brad Brach
The case for: The right-handed setup man is tops among AL relievers in WAR and is 13th overall in WAR among all AL pitchers with his 1.05 ERA in 42 2/3 innings.
The case against: Non-closer relievers are beginning to receive notoriety as we saw with Darren O’Day last year, but Brach isn’t as well known as the likes of Andrew Miller and Kelvin Herrera.
The prediction: The 30-year-old has arguably been the Orioles’ most valuable reliever — maybe even more than Britton — but he’ll unfortunately be overlooked in favor of more established names in the AL.

CF Adam Jones
The case for: A five-time All-Star selection and one of baseball’s more marketable players, Jones has rebounded from a rough start to rank seventh among AL outfielders in homers and eighth in RBIs.
The case against: Even with his impressive resurgence in June, Jones ranks 14th in OPS and 17th in batting average among qualified AL outfielders.
The prediction: His popularity and the fact that he’s from San Diego make him a reasonable candidate to be included among the “Final Vote” candidates, but he’ll fall short of an outright All-Star invitation.

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Unorthodox as they might be, Orioles won’t apologize for success

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to warn against overlooking an orchid when in search of a rose.

A mantra repeated often over the last several years in Baltimore, perhaps it’s never been more appropriate than now as the Orioles take a 45-30 record and a multi-game division lead out west for a nine-game road trip.

We know the starting pitching is a substantial weakness. Everyone beyond the Oriole Bird and his mom will remind you of that. It’s become the required caveat to attach when trying to compliment a club that began the 2016 season with seven straight wins and has rarely stumbled, remaining in first or second place in the AL East all season.

Perhaps our not-so-lofty preseason expectations — from media and many fans alike — have conditioned us to dwell on the negative while anticipating the fall that simply hasn’t happened despite a 4.96 starter ERA that ranked 12th in the AL entering Monday. But that mindset shouldn’t diminish the many ways in which the imperfect Orioles have been special this season.

Unorthodox as it might be, it’s working.

The Orioles have followed a blueprint echoed in every team sport by thriving at home and trying to hold their own on the road. Their 31-13 record at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is sensational, but they now begin a stretch of 16 of their next 19 on the road where they have been an underwhelming — but hardly disastrous — 14-17.

Having already stacked 45 wins in their first 75 games, merely playing .500 ball on the road is an acceptable outcome in terms of playoff aspirations. Going just three games above .500 overall the rest of the way is the simple formula for 90 wins, which puts into perspective how good the Orioles have been to this point despite their starting pitching.

Baltimore begins the week ranked second in the AL in runs, first in home runs, second in doubles, fourth in hits, third in batting average, and first in slugging percentage.

Impressive for sure, but what about that on-base percentage for all these free-swinging sluggers who lack plate discipline?

The Orioles rank second in the AL with a .332 OBP and are a respectable seventh in walks, significant improvement from each of the last three years when they ranked 13th or 14th in the AL in free passes. The additions of a few more patient hitters such as Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, and Pedro Alvarez have certainly helped, but the movement goes beyond that.

Unconventional leadoff hitter Adam Jones has already drawn 20 walks, four shy of his total from last year and more than he drew in all of 2014 when the Orioles ran away with the division. Jonathan Schoop, more of a free swinger than Jones, has two more walks than he had last year in 29 fewer plate appearances. Incremental improvement is still improvement.

That’s fine, but they still don’t play “small ball” and are too homer-happy, aren’t they?

“I don’t want them to apologize for being strong,” Showalter said. “It’s the product of a good approach and a good swing and a good process that that’s the endgame — that [the ball] goes a little further than maybe some of them do. I love how some guy scratches out a walk and maybe they bunt him over and he gets over to third and some guy hits a sac fly and it’s 1-0. Then, the [opponent’s] first two guys strike out, a guy walks, and a big hairy guy hits it in the bleachers and it’s 2-1. Boy, you worked real hard for that one run. That’s good.

“But there’s a time and place. We try to play to our team’s strength.”

The home run is unquestionably a strength as the Orioles have four hitters — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Jones — on pace for 30 or more home runs. Schoop is currently on track for 28 and two others — Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez — aren’t far off the pace to hit 20.

With three games remaining in June, the Orioles are seven shy of the major league record for homers in a single month — the 1987 Orioles and the 1999 Seattle Mariners each hit 58 in May — and are on pace to hit 259 this season, only five shy of the major league record held by the 1997 Mariners.

But the explanation for the prosperity goes beyond the powerful offense as the Orioles displayed over the weekend by turning double plays and making sparkling defensive plays throughout the four-game sweep over Tampa Bay. A superb infield defense can go a long way in helping your questionable-at-best starting pitching to survive just long enough to turn the ball over to the bullpen.

The Orioles rank second in the majors with a 2.91 bullpen ERA, and they’ve done that without Darren O’Day for almost a month. Closer Zach Britton is 23-for-23 in save opportunities and sports a 0.83 ERA while setup man Brad Brach owns a 1.05 ERA that should also draw All-Star consideration.

The bullpen’s 253 1/3 innings rank 10th in the majors, but Showalter is better at handling a bullpen than any manager in baseball and will do whatever he can to preserve his best arms, even if that means living to fight another day during the occasional close games in which his best relievers need rest.

Kansas City won the World Series last year despite sporting a starting rotation that pitched fewer innings than any other AL club in the regular season. It’s not that great starting pitching is any less valuable these days, but teams are finding success using a collection of high-impact bullpen arms in lieu of pushing the envelope with non-elite starters going through a lineup a third or fourth time in a game. Of course, there’s a critical balance between game strategy on any given night and maintenance of your pitching health over a 162-game schedule that Showalter seems to understand better than anyone.

To be clear, the Royals’ reliance on their bullpen is not a blueprint to proudly follow as much as it’s proof that you can survive — even thrive — without having strong starting pitching.

You just have to be exceptional in other areas of the game.

And the Orioles are doing that.

Yes, they’d really like to improve their rotation and should try to over the next several weeks leading up to the trade deadline, but the Orioles have been so good in other ways that it’s becoming more difficult to doubt their ability to remain in contention, especially with their divisional rivals having their own flaws.

It may go against conventional wisdom, but the Orioles won’t apologize as they keep winning.

The starting pitching may not be a rose, but the rest is blooming like an orchid as we approach the halfway point of the season.

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