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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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Orioles stats to ponder in late June

Posted on 23 June 2016 by Luke Jones

As we rapidly approach the halfway point in the 2016 season, below are some statistics to ponder as the first-place Orioles prepare for a four-game weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

1. Baltimore is thriving at Camden Yards and against sub-.500 opponents.

“Protect your home field and beat the teams you’re supposed to beat” is the oft-quoted formula for winning teams in any sport, and the Orioles have fit that description beautifully with a 27-13 home record and a 17-7 mark against clubs under .500 entering Thursday. Their .675 winning percentage at home ranks third in the AL behind only Kansas City and Texas and fourth in the majors. Twenty of the Orioles’ next 23 games come against teams who were .500 or worse entering Thursday, but only seven games during that stretch will be played at Camden Yards, making it critical for Baltimore to improve upon its underwhelming 14-17 road record.

2. Despite their reputation, the Orioles lineup is walking at a respectable rate.

We’ve heard plenty about their free-swinging ways and lack of plate discipline over the last several years, but the Orioles quietly entered Thursday sporting the third-best on-base percentage (.328) in the AL and ranked a respectable seventh in walks. This represents dramatic improvement from 2015 when they finished 12th in OBP (.307) and 13th in walks in the AL. Baltimore’s 8.1 percent walk rate is slightly above the league average (8.0) and is substantially higher than last year (7.0 percent) or even 2014 (6.5 percent). Patient approaches from the likes of Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Pedro Alvarez aren’t surprising, but even free-swinging hitters such as Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop have shown some modest improvement in the walk department.

3. The bullpen workload is as concerning as it looks.

We know the starting pitching has been ugly with a 4.93 ERA ranking 13th in the AL, but the bullpen has held up remarkably well with a 3.07 ERA that ranks behind only Kansas City in the AL and fourth in the majors. The problem is the heavier workload as relievers have pitched 38.2 percent of the Orioles’ innings compared to 36.1 percent last year and 34.7 percent in 2014. June has been particularly taxing with the bullpen handling 41 percent of the innings after handling 40 percent in April and a more-reasonable 34.4 percent in May. With limited trade chips in their organization, the Orioles might want to consider adding another impact bullpen arm to go with Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. That would likely be easier to acquire and might provide similar value to the kind of starting pitcher the Orioles can realistically afford with few attractive assets to offer in a trade.

4. Hyun Soo Kim and Jones are at opposite ends of the spectrum for batting average on balls put in play.

Both have had their best months of the season in June, but Kim is sporting a .389 BABIP — fifth highest in the majors among those with 120 or more plate appearances — compared to Jones’ .261 mark this season. The 2016 league average mark has been .298 and BABIP typically normalizes for players over time. The South Korean left fielder has been an important contributor, but his 59.4 percent ground-ball rate leads the team and will unsurprisingly make it difficult for him to sustain his .339 average over time, especially if more teams begin successfully shifting on him. The good news is that Kim has the fourth-lowest soft-contact rate on the club, which should help more of those grounders find the outfield for hits. Meanwhile, Jones owns a career .309 BABIP and is sporting his best hard-contact rate since 2013, indications that he should expect a much better second half after dealing with an early-season rib issue and some tough luck at the plate.

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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’ 4-0 win over Royals

Posted on 09 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday 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 58th game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Tillman wasn’t sure when asked if he was carrying his best stuff of the season, but it looked like it as he pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings while allowing eight hits and matching a career high with nine strikeouts without walking a single batter. The right-hander commanded all of his pitches and was particularly good locating his fastball throughout the night. Not only did Tillman throw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 29 hitters he faced, but he got an impressive 19 swinging strikes as a struggling Royals lineup struggled to make contact and hit the ball hard. Though he entered Wednesday’s game averaging 3.7 walks per game and can struggle with command from time to time, Tillman went to three-ball counts on just two hitters and threw just 29 balls out of his 110 pitches. Simply put, Tillman was exceptional in his longest start of the season.

2ndRyan Flaherty is known for his versatility in the field but not for his bat, making his recent contributions at the plate a pleasant development. With the bases loaded and the game scoreless in the fifth, Flaherty doubled to right off Edinson Volquez to score two, which would be all Baltimore needed to earn its first three-game sweep of the Royals since 2011. The third baseman has now hit safely in eight of his last 10 games, batting .308 with two doubles, a home run, seven runs, and seven RBIs. Flaherty also turned a terrific double play in the second, catching a Jarrod Dyson bunt in the air and immediately firing to second to double off Cheslor Cuthbert.

3rdBrad Brach took over for Tillman with two men on and one out in the eighth and eventually escaped with the potential tying run at the plate after he had issued a two-out walk. The right-hander lowered his season ERA to a remarkable 0.84 by pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings with three strikeouts to close out the victory. The performance gave Brach his second save of the season as he now has 37 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings.

HomeHyun Soo Kim knocked in the final run of the night with an RBI single and also collected the first stolen base of his major league career in the fifth. He is now hitting .372 on the season. … The Orioles improved to a season-best 12 games above .500 and finished a 7-3 homestand to increase their lead in the AL East to 1 1/2 games entering Thursday. … Losers of seven straight, the Royals scored just two runs over the three-game series at Camden Yards and have plated only four in their last six contests. … Though he struck out a season-worst four times, Mark Trumbo made his first start of the year at first base as Chris Davis missed his first game of 2016 with a couple physical issues, according to Buck Showalter. … The Orioles recorded their third shutout victory of the season. … Tyler Wilson will go to the hill to open a four-game set in Toronto while the Blue Jays will start right-hander Marcus Stroman on Thursday night.

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

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday 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 56th game of the 2016 season.

1st Mike Wright took full advantage of the mulligan from his minor-league demotion last week with seven strong innings in which he allow one unearned run and five hits while striking out four and walking two. The right-hander did have a favorable matchup against an injury-depleted Kansas City lineup missing two impact lefty bats, but he did a superb job keeping his fastball down in the zone and Royals hitters were just 2-for-8 with a walk in Wright’s third trip through the order, which has been very problematic for him this year. His hold on a rotation spot entering Monday was tenuous at best, but Wright turned in his best outing of the year for his fourth quality start of 2016.

2ndMatt Wieters wasn’t quite tired and ready to go home in the seventh, but he was more than eager to help his starting pitcher get a win by homering to dead center off Royals starter Danny Duffy, who had shut down Baltimore over his first six innings of work. The blast would prove to be the winning run as Wieters slugged the 100th home run of his career as a catcher and is now batting .362 with 17 RBIs over his last 19 games. He also did an excellent job behind the plate with a young starter who was pitching for his job on Monday night.

3rdMark Trumbo was the first Orioles batter to solve Duffy on Monday by homering on the third pitch of the bottom of the seventh after the Royals had taken a 1-0 lead on Jonathan Schoop’s error in the top half of the inning. Trumbo now leads the majors with his 19 homers, just three shy of his 2015 total in 307 fewer plate appearances this season. It was the 150th long ball of his career.

HomeBrad Brach continued his brilliant season by striking out the top three hitters in the Royals order in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He extended his scoreless streak to nine games covering 10 2/3 innings to lower his season ERA to a microscopic 0.88 in 30 2/3 innings. … Zach Britton induced three quick grounders on just eight pitches to earn his 18th save in as many tries and extend his scoreless streak to 14 games spanning 15 1/3 innings. … Adam Jones’ RBI double in the seventh tied Brady Anderson for first place in extra-base hits (243) in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. … In the eighth, Manny Machado clubbed his 15th homer, the first of the season allowed by standout reliever Kelvin Herrera. … With Monday’s victory, Showalter surpassed former Orioles manager Davey Johnson for sole possession of 29th place on the all-time managerial wins list with 1,373. … The Orioles lead the majors with 19 comeback victories and have won five of their last six with all five of the come-from-behind variety. … Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill on Tuesday while Yordano Ventura will start for Kansas City.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 13-9 win over Red Sox

Posted on 02 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 13-9 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday 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 51st game of the 2016 season.

1st Matt Wieters led the offensive attack with three RBIs, which came on a sacrifice fly in the first inning and an important two-run single in the seventh that provided the Orioles some much-needed separation in a back-and-forth game. The Baltimore catcher was also fortunate in the sixth when he hit a sure double-play ball that was booted by Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, allowing the go-ahead run to score in an 8-8 game. Buck Showalter said that was the ultimate sign that things were going the Orioles’ way on a “Twilight Zone night” at Camden Yards. 

2ndMark Trumbo provided the early lift the Orioles needed after Mike Wright had surrendered a leadoff home run to Mookie Betts by drilling a two-run single into right field with the bases loaded in the first. Considering the ugliness of the first two games of the series, the Orioles could hardly afford to fall behind big early and Trumbo capitalized on their first big scoring chance of the night and also walked twice on the evening. Momentum is often an overrated concept in baseball, but Baltimore hanging four runs on the board in the first inning set the tone for the offensive explosion.

3rdHyun Soo Kim has become an important part of the lineup over the last week and collected his second three-hit game in his last seven starts. In addition to his double to deep center and two singles, Kim also walked and scored twice to raise his on-base percentage to an impressive .469. Not only is the Korean outfielder playing more frequently, but he has served as a productive top-of-the-order option for the Orioles, something they’ve needed in recent weeks.

HomeBrad Brach provided one of the only pitching highlights from either team by tossing 1 2/3 scoreless innings, entering the game when it was tied 8-8 in the sixth and lasting long enough to pick up his fifth win and lower his ERA to a microscopic 0.94. … The Orioles scored a season-high 13 runs and drew a 2016-best nine walks in Wednesday’s win. It was also the first time Baltimore had won a game in which the pitching staff allowed five homers since April 7, 2000 against Detroit. … Ryan Flaherty drove in two runs and has now recorded at least one RBI in three straight games to match a career high. … Chris Davis was the only Orioles starter not to collect a hit, but the first baseman walked four times to match a career high and scored three runs. … Pedro Alvarez registered three hits for the second time this season. … Wright surrendered a career-high four home runs in lasting just 2 2/3 innings, his shortest start of the season. … Betts became the first player in major league history to homer in both the first and second innings of consecutive games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts extended his career-high hitting streak to 25 games. … On Thursday night, the struggling Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill with the Orioles seeking a series split while Boston will hand the ball to right-hander Rick Porcello.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-4 win over Indians

Posted on 29 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 6-4 win over the Cleveland Indians 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 48th game of the 2016 season.

1stDarren O’Day couldn’t have inherited a much worse spot in the eighth with runners on second and third and no outs and the Orioles clinging to a one-run lead. Instead of wilting under the pressure, the 2015 All-Star reliever proceeded to retire Mike Napoli on a grounder to third and strike out both Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes swinging to end the inning with the lead intact. Manager Buck Showalter revealed after the game that he was trying to stay away from his reliever because he was under the weather, but O’Day couldn’t have come up bigger for the Orioles on Sunday.

2ndHyun Soo Kim picked the perfect time for his first major league homer, hammering a Jeff Manship fastball into the right-field seats to give Baltimore a 5-4 lead in the seventh. In what was his fifth consecutive start, the South Korean outfielder continued to take advantage of his increased opportunities by also drawing a walk out of the second spot in the order. We still don’t know whether Kim can be an everyday player in the majors, but his .383 average and .463 on-base percentage have provided quite the argument for Showalter to continue penciling his name into the lineup.

3rdMark Trumbo provided the immediate lift that the Orioles needed after Saturday’s deflating loss by crushing a three-run double off rookie Mike Clevinger in the top of the first inning. After scuffling for much of the road trip, Trumbo hit a big two-run blast on Friday and drove in half of the Orioles’ runs on Sunday to close out the weekend series at Progressive Field.

HomeNolan Reimold hit his fourth homer of the season in the top of the ninth off former Oriole Tommy Hunter to make it a 6-4 game. Considering Zach Britton allowed back-to-back singles to begin the bottom of the ninth, Reimold’s homer provided some much-needed breathing room. … Britton quickly settled down to collect his 14th save in as many tries this season. … Despite allowing a season-high three homers on the afternoon, Tillman collected his seventh win of the year. … In his 66th plate appearance of the season, Ryan Flaherty hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth for his first RBI of 2016. … It was downright ugly at times, but the Orioles could feel better about a 4-5 road trip with Sunday’s win to give them series wins in two of the three cities in which they played. … Baltimore returns to Camden Yards on Monday afternoon to take on the first-place Boston Red Sox with Tyler Wilson scheduled to take on knuckleballer Steven Wright.

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

Posted on 04 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Tuesday 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 25th game of the 2016 season.

1stMark Trumbo continues to give the Orioles everything they could have asked for in the offseason trade with Seattle as he hit two home runs and drove in three runs on the night. His first homer in the second inning was an absolute bomb to left with an exit velocity of 113 miles per hour and an estimated distance of 405 feet to tie the game at 1-1. He hit his second shot off Luis Severino in the fifth to give the Orioles a 4-1 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Trumbo isn’t going to hit .337 for the entire season, but it’s tough not to be reminded of the impact Nelson Cruz brought in 2014 when you see the right fielder continuously driving the ball with authority and leading the Orioles in home runs so far this season. It was the ninth multi-homer game of his career and second this season.

2ndChris Tillman was excellent for a second straight outing as he held the struggling New York lineup to one run and five hits over seven innings, his deepest start of the young season. The right-hander struggled with his fastball command at times and walked four hitters on the night, but he used his secondary pitches effectively to keep hitters off balance and struck out nine to match his career high. Four of those strikeouts came via his slider, three by his changeup, and two by his fastball, but his curveball was also an effective pitch for much of the night. Tillman lowered his season ERA to an impressive 2.81 in 32 innings, and he is now averaging 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, which is markedly better than his 6.7 career average entering the 2016 season.

3rdBrad Brach faced four left-handed hitters in the eighth inning, but the reliever only allowed a soft one-out single to pinch hitter Dustin Ackley in a scoreless frame against the heart of the Yankees order. The lefty-heavy lineup might have been best suited for lefty specialist Brian Matusz in past years, but Brach has held lefties to a .148 average and Matusz has struggled since being activated from the disabled list late last month. Brach lowered his season ERA to 1.18 and has arguably been the Orioles’ most valuable reliever so far.

HomeChris Davis went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, but he continues to play excellent defense as he scooped a couple balls in the dirt and made a good throw to second to get the lead runner on a close play in the fourth. Buck Showalter said after the game that his first baseman is playing Gold Glove-caliber defense so far in 2016, and it would tough to argue. … With Zach Britton still resting his left ankle, Darren O’Day picked up his 16th career save and second of the season in a scoreless ninth. The Orioles are 11-1 in games in which he pitches. … Baltimore collected its sixth straight win over the Yankees, a stretch dating back to Sept. 8 of last season. … The Yankees lost their season-high sixth consecutive game and have now scored three or fewer runs in eight of their last nine games. They’re eight games below .500 for the first time since May 29, 2007. … The Orioles retook first place in the AL East after Boston fell to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night. … Tyler Wilson goes to the hill on Wednesday against New York southpaw CC Sabathia.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-1 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 27 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday 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 20th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman was terrific as he turned in his deepest outing of the year with 6 2/3 shutout innings and struck out nine to match his career high. The right-hander only allowed four baserunners as Rays hitters consistently struggled to make contact with eight of his nine strikeouts coming on swings. The biggest moment of his night came in the fourth inning when he struck out Chris Dickerson on a 95 mph fastball with runners on second and third and one out and then got Desmond Jennings to fly out to retire the side. Tillman hasn’t been much of a strikeout pitcher in his career, but his velocity is up so far this season and it was good to see him reach back for a little extra against Dickerson in such a big spot. He also effectively used his slider and curveball to miss bats as the night progressed. If not for the fact that he had a rested bullpen, manager Buck Showalter could have gone a little deeper with Tillman, who struck out four of the last six batters he faced and threw 101 pitches.

2ndJoey Rickard brought a sigh of relief to the Orioles dugout when he smacked a three-run shot into the left-field seats off Matt Moore with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. The Orioles had scored only one run in their previous 30 innings before the Rule 5 pick hit his second home run of the season. It would prove to be all the Orioles would need and the rest of the lineup took that literally as Tampa Ray retired 13 in a row after Rickard’s blast. The clutch hit snapped a 2-for-22 slump for the young outfielder.

3rdBrad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning despite a two-out walk and has now allowed only one run in his 13 1/3 innings to begin the 2016 season. The right-hander entered Wednesday holding left-handed hitters to a .158 average before retiring all three lefties he faced in the inning. That’s as good as any lefty specialist many clubs would typically use in such a situation.

Home — In addition to making a sliding catch in the third inning, Nolan Reimold worked a four-pitch walk with two outs and nobody on in the fifth to begin the rally that culminated with Rickard’s home run. … Pitching for the first time since April 21, Darren O’Day retired Steven Souza Jr. for the final out of the seventh and has yet to be scored upon through his first nine appearances of 2016. … Adam Jones went 0-for-4 and is now hitting .196 on the season. … Chris Davis was also hitless, but he was robbed of an extra-base hit in the fourth when Souza made a tremendous diving catch on the warning track in right-center. … Beginning a stretch of 17 of their next 20 games at home on Thursday night, the Orioles will send Tyler Wilson to the hill to open a four-game set against lefty John Danks and the Chicago White Sox.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-3 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 10 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays 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 fifth game of the 2016 season.

1stManny Machado said after the game that he isn’t yet locked in at the plate, but he sure looked like it on Sunday as he went 4-for-4, hitting a two-run home run in the second off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi and scoring two runs. The 23-year-old also showed impressive baserunning instincts in the bottom of the eighth when he scored on a wild pitch by Erasmo Ramirez — even if Matt Wieters astutely alerted him to touch the plate after he had initially missed it on his slide. Machado is hitting .429 and has homered three times over the first five games, reminding us why he’s the Orioles’ best player.

2nd — Brad Brach entered with two outs in the top of the fifth and the Rays threatening to tie the game with runners on the corners, but the right-hander got Brad Miller to fly out to deep right, just the latest example of how effective he is against left-handed hitters. He followed that with a flawless top of the sixth that included strikeouts of Steven Souza Jr. and Curt Casali, setting the tone for the rest of the bullpen to protect a small lead over the final three innings.

3rdJonathan Schoop continued his strong start to the season, collecting an RBI double to start the Orioles’ scoring in the bottom of the second inning. The 24-year-old second baseman is now hitting .313 on the young season and has four extra-base hits over the first five games. He also extended his hitting streak to 11 games dating back to last season.

HomeVance Worley was on a pitch count and hadn’t pitched since the spring finale on April 1, but the right-hander was very effective the first time through the order against a club he’d never faced and managed to get into the fifth with a 4-1 lead. Manager Buck Showalter acknowledged that he probably stuck with Worley too long trying to get him through the inning to be eligible for a win, but he’ll need to go deeper if he’s going to stick in the starting rotation. … Mychal Givens rebounded from allowing three runs in his first two appearances by pitching a scoreless seventh inning that included strikeouts of Logan Morrison and Evan Longoria. … Hyun Soo Kim collected two hits that didn’t leave the infield, but it was a good start for the South Korean outfielder in his major league debut. … Mark Trumbo collected two more singles and is now 9-for-19 on the season, all of those hits being singles. … Pedro Alvarez picked up his first hit of the season and scored the first Baltimore run by evading the tag of Casali. … The Orioles have started a season 5-0 for the first time since 1970. … Yovani Gallardo will make his second start of the season Monday afternoon in Boston and will be opposed by Red Sox ace David Price.

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