Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Shoulder issue to keep Tillman from starting Opening Day

Posted on 14 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles will have a new Opening Day starter this season, but that’s hardly their biggest concern as they held their first spring workout on Tuesday.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that Chris Tillman will not be ready to pitch in the season’s first game due to a lingering right shoulder problem, but the Orioles remain hopeful that the veteran starting pitcher could still be ready to go by the end of the first week. The right-hander received a platelet-rich plasma injection in December and is currently three weeks behind schedule for the start of spring training. Showalter said Tillman could begin pitching in spring games by mid-March if there are no setbacks.

Turning 29 in April and set to become a free agent after the season, Tillman began dealing with the shoulder issue last August and missed the better part of a month after receiving a cortisone injection. He returned from the disabled list in mid-September to make four starts before taking the ball in the American League wild-card game on Oct. 4, but he completed six innings in just one of those five outings.

At last month’s FanFest event, Tillman expressed belief that the shoulder issue was finally behind him, but he made no mention of receiving the PRP injection.

“We worked hard this offseason to make sure it’s behind us,” Tillman said. “I did a lot more shoulder stuff than I’m used to [in the offseason]. I’m used to just showing up and pitching. We’ve worked hard, and I’m pretty confident it’s behind me.”

With Tillman having taken the ball for the last three season openers, Kevin Gausman now becomes the favorite to start on Opening Day against Toronto on April 3. A brief absence from Tillman at the start of the season would hardly be the end of the world, but the Orioles are not equipped with enough depth to endure a lengthy stay on the DL from their veteran ace.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette dealt veteran starter Yovani Gallardo to Seattle in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith in January, leaving the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson as the next in line behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. The Orioles also acquired right-handers Logan Verrett and Gabriel Ynoa this offseason to add to their potential starting inventory.

Tillman has been the rock of the Baltimore rotation since the middle of the 2012 season and has posted an ERA of 3.77 or better in four of the last five campaigns. In 30 starts spanning 172 innings last season, he pitched to a 16-6 record with a 3.77 ERA and averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings, his best mark since 2013. However, he did walk 3.5 batters per nine innings, his worst mark since 2011.

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Ten Orioles questions entering 2017 spring training

Posted on 12 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The time has finally arrived for the Orioles.

Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Monday.

Seeking their fourth trip to the postseason in six years, the Orioles will begin searching for the answers to a number of questions starting this week.

Below is a look at 10 of them:

1. Who will hit in the leadoff spot for Buck Showalter?

This question shouldn’t be as complicated as many will make it out to be. No, there may not be an everyday prototype with speed on the roster, but Hyun Soo Kim led the club in on-base percentage (.382) by a wide margin in 2016 and doesn’t hit for much power, making him the obvious choice against right-handed starting pitching. Finding a leadoff hitter against lefties remains a trickier proposition, but the Orioles have seen southpaw starters in only 25 to 33 percent of games in a given season over the last several years. Joey Rickard could be an enticing option after posting a .367 OBP against lefty pitching last year. Showalter said after last season that he doesn’t want to use Adam Jones in the leadoff spot again, and his career .318 OBP should reinforce that sentiment.

2. Will there be a late addition to the major league roster?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is always tinkering with the roster and made significant signings after the start of spring training in two of the last three years. The Orioles are still pondering the possibility of adding an outfielder for speed and defense — Michael Bourn is still available — and have discussed the possibility of signing a veteran pitcher to improve the rotation depth. Longtime catcher Matt Wieters surprisingly remains a free agent, but the club made a conscious decision to move on early in the offseason and shouldn’t deviate from that short of a very cheap one-year deal.

3. How will the World Baseball Classic impact preparations for the start of the season?

The fourth edition of the event will present challenges to Showalter and the Orioles as five players — Jones, third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, relief pitcher Mychal Givens, and new catcher Welington Castillo — are scheduled to take part. Castillo’s inclusion is the biggest concern as he will lose precious time to better familiarize himself with the pitching staff. The Orioles will also hold their breath hoping the 26-year-old Givens doesn’t overdo it competing for the United States. Another wrinkle to consider is the makeup of the Dominican roster, which could lead to Machado sliding over to shortstop to allow Adrian Beltre to play third base. It’s not the end of the world, but the Orioles can’t be thrilled that Machado will be focused on a position other than his primary one while he’s away.

4. Are shoulder problems completely behind Chris Tillman and Darren O’Day?

Yes, both pitchers returned to pitch in mid-September and declared themselves fully healthy at last month’s FanFest event, but the real test will be how they respond to the first few weeks of spring training when they’re building up their arm strength for a long season. Entering his final season before free agency, Tillman will once again be entrusted to lead the rest of a starting rotation composed of youthful or inconsistent options. After averaging 66 innings per year in his first four seasons with Baltimore and signing a four-year, $31 million contract last winter, O’Day threw just 31 frames in an injury-plagued campaign. The Orioles can’t expect Zach Britton and Brad Brach to be quite as dominant as they were last season, so O’Day will need to return to his usual form to keep a sensational bullpen on track.

5. How do the Orioles minimize concerns about the outfield defense?

The re-signing of Mark Trumbo all but guaranteed that the outfield defense will remain an issue, which Jones hasn’t shied away from mentioning after the Orioles outfield finished last in the majors in defensive runs saved in 2016. Seth Smith is an upgrade over Trumbo in right, but he’s also 34 and average at best. Kim was also well below average in left field at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2016. Asked about the state of the outfield defense at FanFest, Duquette mentioned there being ways to more precisely position outfielders on a hitter-to-hitter basis, but that will only go so far in compensating for a lack of athleticism and speed. It doesn’t help that Jones, 31, is reaching an age when clubs typically begin considering a move to a corner spot, but he remains the Orioles’ best outfielder by a clear margin.

6. Will the cutter be a viable option for Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter?

The 24-year-old offers some of the most intriguing upside on the roster, but an early story will be whether Bundy starts using a cut fastball again. The right-hander began experimenting with the pitch again last month after it was believed to cause his arm discomfort in the fall of 2015 and subsequently removed from his repertoire last season. Of course, caution must be used to preserve Bundy’s health in what’s expected to be his first full major league season as a starter. Bundy already has a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve, and an impressive changeup, but successfully mixing in the cutter could take his starter potential to another level. And considering opponents posted a .960 on-base plus slugging percentage in Bundy’s third trip through the order last year, the introduction of another pitch certainly wouldn’t hurt.

7. How many outfield platoons will be in play?

It remains to be seen whether Kim will play more against left-handed pitching after he went 0-for-17 against southpaws in his first major league season, but Smith owns a career .594 OPS against lefties, making it clear that he’ll need a platoon partner. Rickard posted an .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties as a rookie and will likely be part of one platoon. Showalter could also use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but that further weakens the outfield defense and leads to the question of who might serve as the designated hitter in those spots. Such an alignment would leave the door open for Trey Mancini to come north with the club, but is that the best roster construction for the Orioles?

8. What impact will be made by new pitching coach Roger McDowell and new bullpen coach Alan Mills?

McDowell was mentored by former Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace and Mills served as a minor-league pitching coach in the Baltimore system over the last four years, which should make for a smoother transition than normal. Mills’ familiarity with the likes of Givens and lefty specialist Donnie Hart will be a valuable asset, but McDowell will be looking to make a good first impression with his staff. Wallace and former bullpen coach Dom Chiti were very popular with pitchers and did wonders for the likes of Britton and Brach, so the Orioles can only hope their new coaching duo has similar success stories.

9. Will Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander be real options for outfield depth?

No organization has valued the Rule 5 draft more than the Orioles in recent years, so the progress of these two young outfielders is worth monitoring this spring. The 24-year-old Tavarez comes from the Boston organization and spent most of last season at Double-A Portland, hitting .335 with seven home runs and 18 stolen bases. Santander, 22, is an intriguing switch hitter who hit 20 homers and 42 doubles for Cleveland’s Single-A affiliate in the Carolina League last year. The latter underwent right shoulder surgery last year, which could provide an opening for the Orioles to stash him on the disabled list for the start of the season. Neither is a sure thing to make the roster, of course, but history suggests the organization will do whatever it can to keep at least one of its two Rule 5 picks to begin the season.

10. How will the starting rotation depth shake out?

With the trade of Yovani Gallardo to Seattle last month and the departure of Vance Worley to Washington, the Orioles do not have a clear-cut “No. 6” starter to go behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. Sure, there is some inventory that includes Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Logan Verrett, and Joe Gunkel, but none inspire much confidence until they prove otherwise. When you’re already counting on inconsistent options such as Jimenez and Miley for the back end of the rotation, that’s an unsettling position in which to be. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Duquette add another veteran to the mix on a minor-league deal.

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Looking at Davis’ 2016 season, outfield defense, Orioles catching

Posted on 10 February 2017 by Luke Jones

When discussing the “three true outcomes” in hitting, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is one of the most extreme examples you’ll ever find.

Having struck out, walked, or homered in more than half of his plate appearances over the last two seasons, Davis can be frustrating to watch despite having good value, evident by the peaks and valleys of his performance over the last five years. His 2016 season wasn’t his finest but it was markedly better than his nightmare 2014 campaign that ended with a 25-game suspension for taking unapproved Adderall.

Looking beyond his unimpressive .221 batting average last season, Davis still clubbed 38 home runs and posted a strong .332 on-base percentage with a .792 on-base plus slugging percentage. It wasn’t the season he or the Orioles had in mind after agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million contract last winter, but Davis was still worth 3.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

It also wasn’t a secret that Davis was playing with a sore left hand for much of the season, and the 30-year-old clarified last month that he suffered a dislocated left thumb in late April. Missing just five games all season, the first baseman played through discomfort, citing his defensive contributions as a reason for not wanting to miss extensive time to rest the thumb.

“I was hoping there was no lasting effect, and it feels good,” said Davis at FanFest last month. “I really didn’t realize how much of an impact it was having on my swing until I took some cuts this offseason. It’s nice to have two hands to hit with again.”

Of course, determining how much a bad thumb might have impacted Davis’ performance isn’t easy, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize a hitter’s top hand is probably important. So, was there anything dramatically different about the slugger’s peripherals compared to previous years?

His 32.9 percent strikeout rate was just below his career-worst mark of 33.0 percent in 2014, but he still struck out 31.0 percent of the time in his strong 2015 season. His 65.7 percent contact rate was also a career low compared to his 67.6 percent career mark, but Davis struggling a bit more to make contact isn’t exactly news.

He posted a career-high 13.2 percent walk rate, continuing his streak of improving in that department every year since arriving in Baltimore in 2011. Still, a 0.7 percent increase from 2015 hardly raises eyebrows.

Where we start to see notable change was a dramatic decline in Davis’ pull and line-drive rates. After hitting the ball to right field well over 50 percent of the time the previous two seasons, Davis pulled the ball just 41.7 percent of the time last year. And just 19.8 percent of the balls he put in play were line drives, down from his 22.9 percentage for his career.

Davis’ plate discipline also changed substantially as he swung at just 42.7 percent of pitches, easily a career low compared to his 49.4 percent career mark. Seventy-nine of his 219 strikeouts were on called strike threes, which shattered his previous single-season high of 56.

In other words, these numbers reflect a hitter struggling to turn on pitches and more reluctant than normal to swing the bat. Sure, it could be the start of a decline for a power hitter suddenly trying to overcompensate by attempting to draw more walks, but those numbers would also reflect a batter dealing with a hand issue and possibly trying to pick his spots to swing the bat with authority.

Maybe the truth falls somewhere in the middle — we are talking about a streaky performer anyway — but the batted-ball data and noticeable change in aggressiveness support the idea that something in 2016 was out of whack beyond Davis merely getting a year older.

Outfield defense

Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, center fielder Adam Jones drew some criticism for his comments about Baltimore’s outfield defense, but he wasn’t wrong.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette stated last October that improving the club’s outfield defense was a top priority, but the addition of the 34-year-old Seth Smith — who is at least a better right fielder than Mark Trumbo — hardly quells concerns. The Orioles outfield finished last in the major leagues at minus-52 defensive runs saved in 2016.

With Jones now 31 and dealing with an array of nagging injuries over the last two seasons, the Orioles should really be making life easier for him in the outfield while pondering his long-term viability in center. Though never as good of a center fielder as Jones, Andrew McCutchen, 30, recently agreed to move to right field for Pittsburgh, a move made easier by the presence of Gold Glove teammate Starling Marte.

Instead, Jones is working harder than ever to cover up for too many plodders in the outfield.

A chance for Chance

With projected starter Welington Castillo playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and backup Francisco Pena being designated for assignment on Friday, catching prospect Chance Sisco could reap the benefits of more extensive action this spring.

Manager Buck Showalter probably isn’t thrilled about Castillo being away from the club instead of getting better acquainted with pitchers in his first spring with the Orioles, but Sisco is considered the catcher of the future and would surely benefit from more opportunities in the Grapefruit League. Duquette has openly discussed the possibility of Sisco being ready to contribute in the majors at some point during the 2017 season.

A good spring would seemingly expedite that process.

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Orioles thoughts on Wieters decision, Britton snub, Showalter as finalist

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles gambled by extending a qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters last offseason and ultimately chose not to do it again.

Yes, they were able to keep the 30-year-old for another season when he accepted, but the $15.8 million price tag wasn’t cheap and likely altered the rest of their offseason plans. Wieters earned his fourth trip to the All-Star Game in 2016, but his .243 average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage were his lowest marks since 2013. In fact, his league-adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 87 was the worst of his career and he was worth a decent but unspectacular 1.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Those are numbers unlikely to improve — or to be maintained — as he gets older.

It’s easy to point to Caleb Joseph’s abysmal 2016 campaign as validation for keeping Wieters last year, but there’s no telling how the backup might have fared had the latter moved on. Joseph had been acceptable at the plate with regular playing time in the previous two seasons, and the Orioles would have added another veteran catcher to the mix anyway.

We also don’t know what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette might have done with an extra $15.8 million at his disposal last winter. As just one example, would the Orioles have been able to sweeten their multi-year offer to outfielder Dexter Fowler — the kind of player they needed at the top of the order in 2016 — to make him change his mind about returning to Chicago?

A year later, arguments for extending Wieters a $17.2 million qualifying offer with thoughts of fetching a compensatory draft pick were certainly valid. Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, the veteran backstop quelled concerns about his right elbow by playing in 124 games and throwing out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal, making him more appealing to potential suitors than he would have been last year. There’s also the reality of Wieters being the top catcher on the open market after Wilson Ramos suffered a torn ACL in September.

Observers have pointed to recent deals awarded to Russell Martin (five years, $82 million) and Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) as benchmarks for Wieters even though Martin is a superior defensive catcher with similar offensive production and McCann was substantially better as a hitter at the time of his signing.

But a qualifying offer would have also depressed Wieters’ value to other teams, who would have then been required to forfeit their first-round pick to sign him. Would that reality coupled with an underwhelming season at the plate have prompted Wieters and super agent Scott Boras to take another great one-year payout from the Orioles with thoughts of being in decent free-agent position again next year?

It’s hard to say, but you can understand the Orioles’ trepidation.

Replacing Wieters will hardly be a slam dunk, but the Orioles proved in 2014 that his presence isn’t the be-all and end-all of their success as they won 96 games despite him missing most of the season and Joseph and journeyman Nick Hundley handling the catching duties. Manager Buck Showalter and teammates have long praised Wieters’ leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff, but there’s also his below-average pitch-framing numbers, his struggles blocking pitches, and sometimes-questionable pitch-calling to consider.

Wieters does offer intangibles that are difficult to quantify, but the perception of him has always been better than the actual player who never met the unreasonable expectations laid out before he even debuted in the majors.

It will be interesting to see how an over-30 catcher already with 7,000 major league innings behind the plate will be valued in the open market without a qualifying offer attached to him.

A draft pick would have been great had Wieters rejected the qualifying offer, but the possibility of having to pay him $17.2 million was too risky with other needs to address and significant raises owed to younger players in arbitration.

He may have been the right player, but it wasn’t the right price.

Britton “snubbed”

I was surprised when All-Star closer Zach Britton wasn’t named a finalist for the 2016 American League Cy Young Award.

Considering the amount of discussion surrounding his candidacy over the last few months, I assumed he would sneak into the top three in the voting conducted at the end of the regular season. However, the Baseball Writers Association of America correctly concluded that very good starting pitchers are still far more valuable than an exceptional closer over the course of a 162-game season.

There’s no disputing that Britton had a historic season with a 0.54 ERA in 67 innings while going 47-for-47 in save opportunities, but the lefty also tossed less than one-third of the innings recorded by Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, or Justin Verlander and only 16 of Britton’s 47 saves came in one-run victories, meaning he was working with some margin for error in roughly two-thirds of those save chances.

That’s not intended to diminish what Britton did, but the context is necessary. A better argument probably could have been made with a bigger workload, but the 28-year-old pitched more than one inning just seven times.

None of the aforementioned AL Cy Young finalists posted an ERA below 3.00, but there’s a reason why virtually all relief pitchers are former starters. It’s far more difficult to succeed going through a lineup multiple times in an outing, and that should still be recognized despite no AL starter standing out with a truly great season in 2016.

Britton absolutely earned the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award and warranted far more consideration for the Cy Young than any relief pitcher in recent years. It would have been great to see him as a finalist, but I can’t go as far as saying it’s a travesty, either.

Showalter as a finalist

It’s unfortunate that Showalter being named a finalist for the AL Manager of the Year now looks like a punchline after his decision not to use Britton in the wild-card game cost the Orioles a better chance of advancing.

A club almost universally picked to finish in fourth or fifth place in the AL East this season qualified for the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, a reflection of the exceptional work Showalter has done since arriving in Baltimore in 2010. You can still consider Showalter to be an excellent manager while also believing he made a terrible move that he’ll likely hear about for the rest of his career.

Great doesn’t mean perfect as the Orioles and their fans painfully learned that night.

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Orioles make qualifying offer to Trumbo, pass on Wieters

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Facing Monday’s deadline to submit qualifying offers to their pending free agents, the Orioles settled on a split-decision with their two biggest names.

As expected, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette did make the one-year, $17.2 million offer to outfielder Mark Trumbo while passing on the opportunity to do so with four-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters. Should Trumbo reject the offer, the Orioles would be entitled to a compensatory draft pick if he signs with another club this offseason.

While making the qualifying offer to the 30-year-old Trumbo was a no-brainer after he led the major leagues with 47 home runs this season, the decision with Wieters was more complicated. After accepting the club’s $15.8 million qualifying offer a year ago when he was still returning to full strength from Tommy John surgery, the 30-year-old Wieters appeared in 124 games but posted a .243 batting average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage, his lowest marks since 2013.

With Wieters now considered the top free-agent catcher on the market after Wilson Ramos suffered a serious knee injury in September, this offseason likely represents his last best chance to secure a long-term deal. That reality led many to believe he would have rejected the one-year offer, which would have then led to draft compensation for the Orioles. However, a $17.2 million salary for 2017 would be hefty for a player worth only 1.7 wins above replacement this past season, according to Baseball Reference.

A two-time Gold Glove winner earlier in his career, Wieters threw out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal in 2016, but his pitch framing is rated well below average and he struggled to block pitches in the second half of the season. With early estimates already putting their 2017 payroll above $150 million with club-controlled players owed raises in arbitration, the Orioles ultimately didn’t want to risk having to make such a large one-year commitment to a catcher past his prime.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of Baltimore working out a long-term deal with Wieters should his market be cooler than anticipated, but super agent Scott Boras will be hellbent on finding the kind of deal he didn’t believe was out there a year ago when he accepted the Orioles’ qualifying offer.

It will be interesting to see how the market develops for Trumbo, who is coming off a career season that earned him the second All-Star invitation of his career. The offensive numbers speak for themselves, but his defensive struggles in right field negatively impacted his overall value as he finished with a 1.6 WAR, making him a better candidate to serve as a first baseman or designated hitter moving forward.

Though Trumbo is likely to reject the qualifying offer, he found a home in Baltimore and was very comfortable in the Orioles clubhouse after being traded three times in a two-year period.

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Orioles announce plans for 2017 FanFest on Jan. 28

Posted on 28 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2016 World Series isn’t over, but the Orioles have announced the date for their annual FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center.

After the unusual timing of holding the event in mid-December last year and long before first baseman Chris Davis was re-signed to a seven-year, $161 million contract, the Orioles have moved FanFest back to later in the offseason on Jan. 28, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. As always, it will feature autograph sessions with current and former players as well as question-and-answer forums with management and players, clinics, exhibits, and games for kids.

Access for season-ticket holders begins at 10 a.m.

An event designed to celebrate baseball and drive ticket sales for the new season, the Orioles will have interesting decisions to make between now and then with a group of free agents headlined by 2016 All-Star selections Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo. In 2017, Baltimore will be attempting to qualify for the postseason for the fourth time in the last six seasons.

Tickets are not yet on sale, but more information will be released at Orioles.com/FanFest as the event approaches.

 

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Showalter lets down when Orioles needed him most

Posted on 05 October 2016 by Luke Jones

You may not think so right now, but Buck Showalter is a very good manager.

To borrow a phrase he likes to use, I’ve got a long memory.

Without him, the Orioles wouldn’t be the winningest team in the American League over the last five years and wouldn’t have three trips to the playoffs under their belts, but that doesn’t change the truth about what happened in the AL wild-card game on Tuesday night.

He let his players down in the 5-2 loss to Toronto in 11 innings.

The story of the defeat that ended the season really should have been about an Orioles offense that continued its second-half swoon by managing only two runs and four hits in the biggest game of the year. Baltimore rarely made good contact and didn’t even register a hit over the final five innings against a mediocre Blue Jays bullpen. The offense falling off a cliff — not the pitching — was the biggest reason why the Orioles struggled to play .500 ball after the All-Star break.

It was frustrating to watch on Tuesday, but players don’t always perform the way you want them to. That’s just the way it goes sometimes in the athletic arena with the opponent trying to win, too.

But there’s no defending not using your best pitcher — the closer many believe could be the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner — with your season on the line.

The clamoring for All-Star selection Zach Britton began in the eighth inning when Brad Brach entered and continued when the right-hander got into trouble against the heart of the Toronto order in the ninth. Instead of turning to Britton to escape the jam, Showalter summoned veteran right-hander Darren O’Day, who missed much of the season due to injuries and had rarely even pitched since being activated from the disabled list in mid-September.

But the moves worked, whether you agreed with them or not. At the very least, you could concede that Showalter was showing trust in two individuals who had been All-Star relievers the last two years. Brach and O’Day have pitched in plenty of high-leverage spots and likely would have pitched if the game had stretched into one or two extra frames anyway.

That’s when any attempt to defend Showalter has to end, however.

Lefty Brian Duensing had pitched well in a handful of appearances down the stretch, but the journeyman with a career 4.13 ERA started the bottom of the 11th inning. Even so, he struck out Ezequiel Carrera to once again save face for the manager.

Now was finally the time for Britton with one out in the 11th and the top of the Blue Jays lineup coming up, right?

Right?

Instead entered the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, who had pitched admirably over the last six weeks but fared poorly as a reliever earlier in the season. In reference to his unorthodox mechanics alone, he’s a high-maintenance pitcher who undoubtedly benefits from the lengthier warm-up session in the bullpen and the normal routine before a scheduled start.

Simply put, he was out of his element in a high-leverage relief setting and looked like it, giving up two singles and the game-winning three-run home run to Edwin Encarnacion on three consecutive pitches. Jimenez clearly didn’t do his job, but he was being asked to fulfill a role he wasn’t used to and hadn’t done well out of the bullpen earlier in the year.

That wasn’t the spot for him with better options available, and that’s on the manager.

This all took place as Britton — with his historic 0.54 ERA — watched from the bullpen and was forced to wait for that save situation that never came.

Inconceivable.

Showalter said after the game that Britton was healthy and available, the last morsel of information observers needed before crushing the Baltimore skipper. He preferred saving Britton while going to other options in the bullpen – inferior ones – despite the fact that the lefty had warmed up a few different times.

It’s true that using Britton in a tie game on the road deviates from the tired by-the-book way managers have handled closers for the last 25 years, but we thought Showalter was better than that. In fact, he had used Britton in the ninth and 10th innings of a tie game at Rogers Centre back on July 31, a contest the Orioles eventually won in 12 innings as Logan Ondrusek pitched the final frame.

If a game was important enough in late July to use Britton in a non-save situation on the road, how can you not use him with your season hanging by a single thread?

Maybe pitching him wouldn’t have mattered with the Orioles failing to generate any offense beyond Mark Trumbo’s two-run homer in the fourth, but you could more easily stomach Jimenez or Duensing or Tommy Hunter or Dylan Bundy – or even Britton himself — giving up the game-winner if they’d at least exhausted their best options to that point.

Instead, Showalter was too worried about not having Britton around later in the game if that save chance ever materialized. He’ll spend all winter pondering what might have been if he’d simply been more concerned with extending the game.

As a man often praised for being two steps ahead of the opposition, Showalter needed to be more in the now and not thinking so much about the hypothetical inning or two later in an elimination game. It was overthinking, not terribly different from the decision to leave Wade Miley in too long during Saturday’s costly loss at Yankee Stadium.

That failure late in Tuesday’s game coupled with the invisible bats ultimately cost the Orioles their season.

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Orioles include rookie Mancini on roster for AL wild-card game

Posted on 04 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have included 10 pitches on their roster for Tuesday’s American League wild-card game against Toronto.

The roster construction for a single game is a unique exercise since the advancing club may reset its players for the Division Series, which explains why starting pitcher Kevin Gausman is not among the 25 players eligible to play against the Blue Jays. Gausman pitched 7 1/3 strong innings to earn the victory in the playoff-clinching finale against the New York Yankees on Sunday.

In addition to starter Chris Tillman, manager Buck Showalter has included right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Dylan Bundy on the roster, providing the Orioles ample long-relief options should Tillman run into early trouble or the game go into extra innings.

Starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley are not on the wild-card game roster after pitching in New York over the weekend. Right-hander Vance Worley was the most notable reliever left off the roster.

There were no real surprises among the position players, but rookie Trey Mancini was included just over two weeks after being promoted to the majors. Having received the call when Steve Pearce was lost for the season with a forearm injury, Mancini gave the Orioles a spark against left-handed pitching with three home runs and a double in 15 plate appearances.

Below is the full AL wild-card game roster:

PITCHERS
RH Brad Brach
LH Zach Britton
RH Dylan Bundy
LH Brian Duensing
RH Mychal Givens
LH Donnie Hart
RH Tommy Hunter
RH Ubaldo Jimenez
RH Darren O’Day
RH Chris Tillman

CATCHERS
Caleb Joseph
Matt Wieters

INFIELDERS
Pedro Alvarez
Chris Davis
Ryan Flaherty
J.J. Hardy
Manny Machado
Trey Mancini
Jonathan Schoop

OUTFIELDERS
Michael Bourn
Adam Jones
Hyun Soo Kim
Nolan Reimold
Drew Stubbs
Mark Trumbo

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Orioles choose body of work over hot hand for AL wild-card game

Posted on 03 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The question would have been a terrible joke in mid-August.

Who should pitch for the Orioles in the American League wild-card game: No. 1 starter Chris Tillman or the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez?

Manager Buck Showalter has chosen experience over the hot hand with Tillman slated to take the ball against Toronto’s Marcus Stroman at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night. It’s not difficult to make an argument in favor of the 28-year-old who’s served as the club’s de facto ace over the last four seasons and started the opener of both playoffs series in 2014, but Jimenez was arguably the biggest reason the Orioles stayed afloat in September to qualify for the playoffs for the third time in five seasons.

Less than two months ago, Tillman was in the midst of a career year and had improved to a sparkling 15-4 with a 3.46 ERA after a win over Oakland on Aug. 11. Meanwhile, Jimenez sported an ERA just south of 7.00 and was lucky to be pitching out of the bullpen in mop-up duty once per week as questions persisted about his future with Baltimore.

Circumstances changed, however, with Tillman missing the better part of a month with a right shoulder issue that surfaced the morning after that outing against the Athletics. In his four starts since being activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sept. 11, he’s posted a 3.79 ERA with 14 strikeouts and eight walks in 19 innings.

Solid, but not great.

Meanwhile, Jimenez has experienced an improbable renaissance with his two-seam fastball and improved command of his other pitches over his last seven starts, producing a 2.45 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 13 walks over 47 2/3 innings. Over that stretch, he tossed the only complete game of the season for the Orioles and allowed three or fewer runs in all but one start.

Both performed well against the Blue Jays in Toronto last week, but Jimenez was better with 6 2/3 scoreless innings in which he allowed only one hit. Tillman gave up one earned run over 5 1/3 innings last Wednesday.

Tillman infamously pitched to an 11.72 ERA in six starts against Toronto last season, but his 3.63 mark in four starts against the Blue Jays this season has been more in line with what we’ve come to expect from the right-hander over the years. In 2016, Jimenez has a 6.43 ERA against the Blue Jays in six games — five of them starts — this season and retired only one batter against them in his worst start of the year on June 12.

And that’s where the decision likely comes down to trust for Showalter and the Orioles.

Jimenez deserves plenty of credit for turning his season around, but who do you trust more pitching in a game of this magnitude? Jimenez probably provides the greater upside right now, but Tillman still feels like the one who has the best chance to figure out a way to keep the Orioles in an elimination game if he doesn’t have his best stuff. The last thing you want is the “bad” Jimenez showing up in the biggest game of the season and not being able to even throw a strike in the bottom of the first inning.

If we’re being realistic with both teams having a specialized roster for a single game, this one is more likely to come down to the bullpens with neither Tillman nor Stroman being a great bet to hang around much longer than two times through the order. Under such a scenario, the Orioles have the edge with the better bullpen and the best closer in baseball looming at the end of the game.

Showalter told reporters that both Jimenez and rookie Dylan Bundy will be available out of the bullpen, giving the Orioles plenty of long-relief options should Tillman struggle early.

Major League Baseball announced the schedule for the first three games of the best-of-five AL Division Series (see below) as the winner of Tuesday’s game will face the top-seeded Texas Rangers with games being televised on TBS. Should the Orioles advance to the ALDS, they would host Texas for Game 3 at 7:38 p.m. on Sunday, the same day the Ravens host Washington at M&T Bank Stadium at 1 p.m., which would likely create plenty of traffic headaches in the afternoon.

2016 ALDS vs. Texas
Game 1 (at Texas): Thursday, 4:38 p.m.
Game 2 (at Texas): Friday, 1:08 p.m.
Game 3 (at Baltimore or Toronto): Sunday, 7:38 p.m.

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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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