Tag Archive | "Chris Tillman"

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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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“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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“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’ 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’ 5-2 win over Mariners

Posted on 19 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners 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 38th game of the 2016 season.

1st Matt Wieters entered Wednesday with just four extra-base hits on the season before hitting his third home run of 2016 in the second, collecting an RBI double in the fourth, and scoring an insurance run after another double in the eighth. It was the third time in his career in which he registered three extra-base hits in a game and the first one since May 26, 2013 in Toronto. He also made his 700th career start at catcher, becoming the fourth Orioles backstop to accomplish the feat behind Rick Dempsey, Chris Hoiles, and Gus Triandos.

2ndChris Tillman continued his early-season roll by winning his fifth straight start, completing 6 1/3 innings and allowing two runs and four hits while striking out six and walking three. Despite giving up his first homer since April 8 — a stretch of 44 2/3 innings between long balls — Tillman has now struck out at least six hitters in each of his last five starts. He ran his record to 6-1 and now has recorded six consecutive quality starts to match his career high. Tillman is now 7-0 with a 2.96 ERA in nine career starts against the Mariners, who traded him to Baltimore as part of the Erik Bedard trade in 2008.

3rdZach Britton recorded his first five-out save since Aug. 10, 2015 — also against Seattle — and did his best work in the eighth when he inherited a bases-loaded, one-out situation in a 4-2 game and proceeded to strikeout Dae-Ho Lee and induce a grounder from Chris Iannetta to escape the jam. The lefty is now 11-for-11 in save situations to begin the season and passed Jorge Julio for sole possession of fifth place on the Orioles’ all-time saves list with 84 in his career.

HomeMark Trumbo hit a long home run to left in the second inning to put the Orioles on the board early after Tuesday night’s shutout and added a single and a run scored in the fourth. He is now leading the club with 12 home runs on the young season. … Joey Rickard has reached base safely in 11 consecutive games, his second on-base streak of 11 or more games this season. … Making his major-league-best 200th consecutive start, Manny Machado has only one hit in his last 22 at-bats. … The Orioles will send Tyler Wilson to the hill in search of a series win on Wednesday afternoon while Seattle starts right-hander Nathan Karns.

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Orioles sitting pretty six weeks into 2016 season

Posted on 16 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Six weeks down, 20 more to go.

Just a simple reminder that it’s still early in 2016 as the Orioles begin a new week holding the best record in the American League by percentage points. But how can you not be optimistic about a club that’s already put together two seven-game winning streaks after no previous run of victories lasting that long since 2005?

Even after Sunday’s disappointing 6-5 loss to Detroit to snap their latest winning streak, the 23-13 Orioles are off to their best start through 36 games in 11 years. It’s quite an improvement from the many preseason forecasts — including this writer’s — expecting Baltimore to be no better than fourth or fifth in the AL East.

We knew the Orioles would hit plenty of home runs — they entered Monday leading the majors in that category — and their bullpen sports the best ERA in all of baseball, but the starting pitching was the major question mark. Through Sunday, Baltimore ranked a respectable seventh in the AL in starter ERA (4.22).

Can the Orioles sustain the success? That’s the question we’ve uttered so many times over the last five seasons whenever Buck Showalter’s club is in the midst of exceeding outside expectations.

No one can predict the future as it relates to injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, but some of the factors their critics have used against the Orioles in past seasons aren’t looking so bad in 2016.

Remember how detractors harped on the 2012 Orioles’ run differential throughout their improbable run to the franchise’s first postseason appearance in 15 years?

Their plus-37 mark so far this season suggests being 10 games above .500 is hardly a fluke. Of course, all it takes is a couple lopsided defeats to throw that mark out of whack when we’re still so early in the schedule, but we are almost a quarter of the way through the marathon.

What about 2014 when Baltimore finished third in the AL with a 3.44 ERA but stat-heads pointed to a 3.96 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark ranking 11th? So far this season, the Orioles sport the AL’s best FIP (3.63) while ranking fourth in ERA (3.53)

Their rotation FIP (3.88) is even better than the rotation ERA, primarily a reflection of Orioles starters allowing fewer home runs than any other AL club. Some regression is likely, but the rotation allowed the second-most homers in the league a year ago, reflecting how much improvement there’s been in that department so far.

Sporting a career-low ERA (2.58) and registering a career-high 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, Chris Tillman has led the starter improvement and is so far providing the bounce-back season the club needed. We know the starting pitching will continue to be the hot topic as it relates to staying in games and preventing an exceptional bullpen from wearing out in the second half.

“The pitching’s been solid,” Showalter said. “That’s the thing that’s going to allow us to maintain the level we’re going to have to have to compete in our division. You’re going to have to take care of your own business every night and not expect any help from anybody. But the pitching has been as good as I could hope for it to be so far.”

Being solid is good enough for the starting pitching, but how great can the offense be?

Beyond hitting home runs, the Orioles entered Monday ranked third in the AL in runs, second in batting average, second in on-base percentage, and second in slugging percentage. Their 8.4 percent walk rate is markedly better than their 7.0 percent mark a year ago, reflecting more patience at the plate.

Manny Machado has looked every bit the part of the 2016 AL MVP after finishing fourth in the voting last year. It was fun wondering this winter if the 23-year-old could be even better than he was in 2015, but he’s been exactly that so far as one of the very best players in baseball.

Newcomer Mark Trumbo was initially viewed as an insurance policy for the potential free-agent departure of Chris Davis in the offseason, but he’s been the club’s second-best hitter while the likes of Davis and Adam Jones struggled through parts of the first six weeks. Expecting him to hit .300 would be unrealistic, but there’s no denying him having a Nelson Cruz-like impact on his new club so far.

Machado and Trumbo have led the way, but the Orioles have three other hitters — Davis, Jones, and Jonathan Schoop — sporting an OPS of at least .770 after recent surges. And that’s not even considering Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez, who are hitting well below their career numbers but are capable of being above-average offensive contributors at their respective positions.

Of course, none of this means the Orioles are a lock to win their second division title in three years and secure their third postseason berth in five seasons as we know there’s a very long way to go. Boston has sported the best offense in the league and lost no ground to the Orioles during the latter’s seven-game winning streak that ended on Sunday. Toronto has lagged behind the other two in third place, but the Blue Jays surprisingly sport the best starter ERA in the AL while they wait for their imposing lineup to heat up.

The Orioles aren’t going to run away with this division, but there’s plenty to like about them through the first six weeks, some expected and some of it not. And it’s been more than just smoke and mirrors.

Yes, Baltimore is sitting pretty.

Prettier than expected, which is really be nothing new for these Orioles by now.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 1-0 win over Detroit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday 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 33rd game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman continues to look the part of an ace early on as he went toe to toe with 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and tossed seven shutout innings for his fifth victory of the season. Despite getting off to his customary slow start by allowing a total of four baserunners and throwing 38 pitches over his first two frames, Tillman settled in nicely to retire 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced. He recorded an impressive 13 swinging strikes and struck out seven batters, the final two coming immediately after he surrendered a leadoff double to Nick Castellanos in the top of the seventh. The right-hander has now posted five consecutive quality starts and has struck out an impressive 36 batters over those 33 innings of work. His season ERA now sits at a strong 2.58.

2ndAdam Jones picked the opportune time to hit his 200th career home run as he knocked a 92 mph fastball from Verlander into the Orioles bullpen with one out in the bottom of the sixth for the only run of the game. It was the third straight time that Jones had swung at a first-pitch fastball, and the center fielder didn’t miss one of the few mistake pitches made by the Detroit right-hander. The RBI moved Jones into sole possession of eighth place on the Orioles’ all-time list with 663, surpassing Melvin Mora. After a difficult start to the season, Jones has now homered in three of his last four games and has raised his average from .200 to .248 over that time.

3rdZach Britton induced three grounders for a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record his 10th save in as many tries to begin 2016. It was his 83rd career save, tying the left-hander with Jorge Julio for fifth place on the Orioles’ all-time saves list.

HomeDarren O’Day worked around a leadoff single to retire the side in the eighth inning, which included getting Miguel Cabrera out for the second straight night in a close game. … The Orioles beat the Tigers by a 1-0 score for the first time since Sept. 23, 1981 at Memorial Stadium. It was the second shutout victory of the season for Baltimore. … Mark Trumbo saw his 25-game on-base streak snapped in an 0-for-3 night. … The Orioles can clinch a series win on Saturday night with Mike Wright going to the hill against Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez.

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Starting pitching passing the test for Orioles so far

Posted on 12 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The home runs hog the spotlight, but another encouraging development has sparked the Orioles to a season-best eight games above .500 as they began a seven-game homestand on Thursday night.

We figured that Buck Showalter’s club would hit the long ball and runs would be aplenty in 2016, but what about the starting pitching?

While the offense hit an impressive 13 home runs over a four-game winning streak, the rotation quietly turned in four consecutive quality starts for the first time in 2016. In fact, the Orioles have recorded 11 quality starts in their last 14 games since the return of Kevin Gausman on April 25 after registering just three in their first 18 games.

The 9-5 stretch has elevated Baltimore to seventh in the AL in starter ERA at 4.28.

Certainly not great, but good enough with a terrific bullpen backing up the rotation. The Kansas City Royals showed last year that you don’t need excellent starting pitching to contend as they finished 12th in starter ERA and pitched the fewest starter innings in the AL before ultimately winning the World Series.

Perhaps even more encouraging than the Orioles’ starter ERA is the fact that they rank third in the AL in starter fielding independent pitching (FIP) at 3.74, suggesting the peripherals have been better than the results. Starters have allowed a league-low 16 home runs, rank 10th in strikeouts, and have issued the fifth-fewest walks among AL clubs. This is marked improvement from a year ago when the rotation surrendered the second-most homers, finished 10th in strikeouts, and issued the sixth-highest total of walks in the AL.

Yes, the Orioles have pitched in cool and damp conditions to aid in their efforts to prevent the long ball, but the weather hasn’t stopped their lineup from leading the league in home runs.

Leading the way for the rotation have been Chris Tillman and Gausman, who have accounted for seven of the Orioles’ 14 quality starts to begin the season.

Through the first 5 1/2 weeks of the season, Tillman has not only bounced back from a forgettable 2015 season, but the right-hander has been better than ever. Even more impressive than a tidy 3.05 ERA through seven starts has been his ability to miss bats as he’s struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings, a significant improvement from his 6.8 career average.

The increased use of his slider has been the difference for the 28-year-old as he’s thrown it 16.2 percent of the time, up from just 7.2 percent a year ago. He’s gotten more strikeouts and a higher swinging strike percentage with his slider than any other pitch in 2016.

Despite beginning the year on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis, Gausman has looked the part of a top-half-of-the-rotation starter through his first four outings, posting a 2.16 ERA and striking out 8.3 and walking just 1.8 per nine innings. The Orioles talked all offseason about the need for the 25-year-old to take a big step forward to help them contend, and his start to the season has been encouraging.

Perhaps more important than the results is the fact that his velocity is in line with where it was two years ago, indicating that the health of his shoulder hasn’t been a major concern. The improvement of his breaking ball has also added another dimension to his repertoire.

The rest of the rotation has been more uncertain, but it’s still allowed the Orioles to compete.

As we’ve come to expect, Ubaldo Jimenez has been hot and cold with a couple exceptional starts and some ugly ones in which he’s struggled to throw strikes, netting him a 4.54 ERA entering Thursday.

Mike Wright’s 5.83 ERA is ugly, but he sports a 4.10 FIP and opponents have a .356 batting average on balls in play, signs of hope that his results could improve with better fortune moving forward.

Tyler Wilson has been the most pleasant surprise as he sports a rock-solid 3.57 ERA as a starter. His stuff doesn’t wow you and he’s struck out just 4.4 batters per nine innings, but he doesn’t issue many walks and has limited home runs, allowing his defense to be a bigger factor in his success. Whether he can sustain that level of success remains to be seen.

Veteran Yovani Gallardo is set to begin a throwing program and has reported improvement with the strength of his right shoulder. The Orioles certainly aren’t ready to give up on the free-agent acquisition despite a concerning start to the season in which he was struggling just to reach the high 80s with his fastball before being placed on the DL on April 23.

The 30-year-old’s return isn’t imminent, but he would potentially give Showalter another viable option should Wright be unable to straighten himself out or if opposing lineups begin catching up to Wilson.

No, the parts aren’t all pretty, but the sum has contributed to an impressive 20-12 start.

The Orioles don’t really need exceptional starting pitching as they entered Thursday ranked third in the AL in runs scored per game (4.625) and first in bullpen ERA (2.33). They just need their rotation to rank in the middle of the pack to contend in the AL East.

Not great, but just good enough.

And that’s exactly what the Orioles have gotten so far.

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