Posted on 06 October 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 06 October 2015 by Luke Jones
Expecting to take the field without the services of Steve Smith on Sunday, the Ravens are hurting at the wide receiver position entering Week 5.
Their projected No. 1 receiver against the Browns, Kamar Aiken, has just 11 receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown through the first four games of the season. Those numbers don’t even match what the 36-year-old Smith did in Week 3 against Cincinnati alone.
That’s why the Ravens’ 191-yard rushing performance in last Thursday’s win at Pittsburgh couldn’t have come at a better time. Prior to Week 4, Baltimore had averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in its 0-3 start, perhaps the most surprising development of the early season.
Now, head coach John Harbaugh hopes the ground performance against the Steelers is a sign of better things to come.
“Sometimes you have to keep pounding that rock,” Harbaugh said. “They made a lot of plays against the run — especially early — and finally it kind of opened up toward the end there a little bit more. But it’s always important for us. It’s something that we count on doing well, and we need to continue to improve. I don’t think we’re where we need to be with the run game, yet. That’s something we need to continue to work on really hard.”
With Smith sidelined and starting tight end Crockett Gillmore still recovering from a calf injury, the Ravens are playing the 1-3 Browns at a perfect time. Cleveland brings the league’s 32nd-ranked defense in total yards and its rush defense ranks 31st in giving up 141.5 yards per game.
The Browns rank 29th in allowing 4.8 yards per carry, which comes a year after their defense surrendered more rushing yards than any team in the NFL. Those 2014 struggles prompted the selection of defensive tackle Danny Shelton with the 12th overall pick of this spring’s draft, but the 339-pounder’s presence has yet to make a major difference for the Browns’ front.
Of course, quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens will need to do enough through the air to prevent the Cleveland defense from consistently stacking the box, but there appears to be little reason why Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Buck Allen won’t find running room to move the chains and take pressure off an undermanned group of pass-catchers. The Ravens will need a produtive running game moving forward, especially until Smith is ready to return to action.
Even if they’re playing at M&T Bank Stadium where the Browns haven’t won since 2007, Harbaugh made it clear that the Ravens are in no position to take Cleveland lightly.
“I mean, hey, we’re 1-3, too,” Harbaugh said. “We have two 1-3 teams going at it here. We’re battling to be third place in the division right now. That’s where we stand, and that’s a tall order and we have work to do. But they have a heck of a front seven. They have good pass rushers on both edges. They have some of the most talented secondary players in the league, and we’ve seen them up close and personal every time we play them.”
The Ravens enter Week 5 tied for sixth in the NFL with 11 sacks, but the pass rush remains a topic of concern for the league’s 16th-ranked pass defense.
The good news was the boost defensive coordinator Dean Pees received from Za’Darius Smith, who collected the first two sacks of his NFL career in the third quarter of the win at Pittsburgh. In 19 snaps, the rookie collected two other tackles in addition to his takedowns of Mike Vick, flashing the skills he showed at Kentucky that prompted the Ravens to draft him in the fourth round.
“I think he has really been ramping up his intensity level,” Harbaugh said, “how he plays from one play to the next, understanding at this level the edge that you have to play on to be successful, and how hard you have to play. He applied that in that Pittsburgh game better than he has at any point in time. He has always been good, but not really good enough to make a difference until this game, and that was really good to see.”
With Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw taking on heavier workloads since the season-ending injury to Terrell Suggs, the Ravens need Za’Darius Smith and veteran Jason Babin to be productive when asked to spell the starters.
Making his Ravens debut after being inactive for two games, Babin only played seven snaps and did not record any official statistics, but Pro Football Focus credited him with a quarterback hurry.
“He was really disciplined with his pass rush,” Harbaugh said. “The thing we asked our guys to do in this game was be very disciplined with their pass rush and treat it almost like run defense, because you have a guy back there who can throw and can run and can really hurt you with him arm and with his legs.”
One of the quieter stories of the early season has been the demotion of second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who has been replaced by rookie Carl Davis in the base defense in each of the last two games.
The 2014 second-round pick missed the season opener with a knee injury and started against Oakland in Week 2, but a foolish roughing-the-passer penalty on the Raiders’ game-winning drive landed him behind Davis on the depth chart. Jernigan played just 17 of 63 defensive snaps against the Steelers, but the Ravens will need him to be a major part of their inside pass rush as the season progresses.
“Timmy is getting better and better,” Harbaugh said. “He really stepped it up the last week or so — in practice and in games. He’s very capable of being a real factor inside there, and it’s especially true when he plays a certain way, when he really gets after it, when he cuts it loose. That’s what we’re trying to get him to do — get off the ball, get off blocks, run to the football, be a physical force in there, and play fast.
“Sometimes, too much thinking is not good. He knows the defense now, and we expect him to play with a real high motor. And when he does that, he’s very effective.”
Returning questions in return game
With Michael Campanaro now out for the season with a back injury, the Ravens have gone back to the drawing board with their return game.
The latest depth chart lists veteran Lardarius Webb as the No. 1 punt returner, but the kick returner is listed as “to be determined.” Newly-acquired Chris Givens has experience returning kicks in St. Louis while Taliaferro and Allen also practiced handling kickoffs over the summer.
However, the Ravens’ best option might be on their practice squad where receiver Jeremy Ross currently resides. Ross returned kicks and punts in Detroit for two years and scored a touchdown doing each during the 2013 season.
“We’ll look at all our options. We have guys on the roster that can do it,” Harbaugh said. “Chris is a guy that can do it, too, as far as the kick return stuff. We’ll just see where we’re at come Sunday on that, but it could be someone here. Obviously, it could be somebody outside, too.”
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Posted on 05 October 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 05 October 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 05 October 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 22 September 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 15 September 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 21 August 2015 by Nestor Aparicio
Cleveland – If most stadiums in the 1990s were knockoffs of Camden Yards, this Cleveland model is most closely re-constructed in Philadelphia and Washington. They’ve ripped out a bunch of seats in the upper reaches of right field and they’ve added a garden feel to centerfield. The left field bleachers are still kinda intimidating and cool. And the third base club level still looks like a clubhouse at a horse racing track. In the end, there’s very little that’s memorable about this place but it’s still a nice place to watch a baseball game and a big upgrade over The Mistake on The Lake. Now, if Lebron James could only hit a baseball…
On Sept. 8-9-10, I will be releasing an extensive essay documenting my 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit journey of 2015. You can read it and all of my work here: http://wnst.net/author/nestoraparicio/
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Posted on 29 June 2015 by Luke Jones
BALTIMORE — The Orioles pitched two shutouts, their top six relievers threw a combined 18 pitches, and Adam Jones finally made his return to the lineup on Sunday.
The Buck Showalter garden gnome giveaway was a huge hit.
— Luke Jones (@BaltimoreLuke) June 29, 2015
And, oh yeah, the Orioles found themselves back in first place in the American League East for the first time since April 19.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona might have been asking himself why he waited until the ninth inning of Game 2 to get ejected after his team’s abysmal day, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for a better doubleheader. In tossing shutouts in both games of the twin bill — a 4-0 win in the opener and an 8-0 final for the nightcap — the Orioles did something they hadn’t accomplished since Sept. 6, 1974 when they twice blanked the Indians in a doubleheader at old Cleveland Stadium.
“It was big. It was a good day,” said Game 2 winner Chris Tillman, who pitched a much-needed seven shutout innings to help his own psyche after Ubaldo Jimenez tossed eight scoreless frames in the opener. “Ubaldo went out and did an outstanding job. There was a lot of offense today in both games. It was really fun to watch.”
On the same day they won the 5,000th game in club history, the Orioles came out of the weekend only reinforcing what many have begun thinking more and more over the last four weeks. They’re looking like a first-place club and woke up Monday morning in that very position, percentage points ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in a division where four clubs are currently separated by one game.
It’s a different season and a different club, but you couldn’t help but notice that the Orioles seized first place for good on July 3 last season. The similarities are there with an excellent defense, a stellar bullpen, and a revitalized offense hitting home runs, but even the starting pitching got into the act after struggling in recent weeks by allowing just two earned runs in 21 innings of work against the Indians.
Right now, the AL East is far from the poor division it looked to be six weeks ago as three clubs — Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and New York — would have qualified for the playoffs if the season had ended on Sunday. Whether the Orioles will follow the same script of 2014 remains to be seen, but 18 wins in 23 games to move to the top of the division would have any club feeling good about itself.
“It’s a return for that, but it can be very fleeting,” Showalter said. “The only thing I look at is the loss column now and then. I don’t pay much attention to the other part of it.
“See if you can stay engaged and have a chance to roll the dice in September. That’s what it’s about. Position yourself to be in it in September and play meaningful games when the leaves start turning. It’s not that complicated.”
Continuing to win at a .783 clip as they have for more than three weeks isn’t sustainable, but the Orioles learned last year that it doesn’t take prolonged winning streaks to pull away from the pack if you consistently win series. If you combine the four games — two home and two away — against Philadelphia, Baltimore has now secured seven consecutive series wins.
Unlike the Orioles clubs from a few years ago, this group of players has the experience of bouncing back — like when they were six games below .500 earlier this month — that brings confidence the rest of the way. They know it won’t be this easy over the final three months of the season, and Showalter makes sure his players are prepared for that reality, never wanting them to be too high or too low after any result.
“We have the ups and downs,” said third baseman Manny Machado, who hit his career-high 15th homer on Sunday and continues sprinting toward superstar status a week shy of his 23rd birthday. “We started off a little slow. We had players injured, and we’re just getting back into it. Everybody’s starting to get healthy. This is just the midway point.
“There’s a lot more baseball ahead, a lot more slumps, a lot more games lost coming ahead, but we’ve got to stay focused and stay with the mindset that we have.”
The Orioles know they aren’t perfect.
Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are still sifting through a crowded corner outfield situation that will likely require parting ways with one or two options. As a whole, the group has been more productive in June, but the Orioles have to hope they’ll make the right decisions and the remaining pieces will continue getting the job done.
Tillman’s strong performance on Sunday was a step in the right direction as he and Bud Norris still have a long way to go to quell concerns over their immense struggles in the first half of 2015.
But these issues don’t feel insurmountable and certainly aren’t any worse than the weaknesses the other AL East contenders are facing. Even in winning 96 games and the club’s first division title in 17 years last year, the Orioles had their flaws.
It’s tough to ignore the similarities with 2014, even down to the contributions from unexpected sources such as Jimmy Paredes, Chaz Roe, and Chris Parmelee a year after Steve Pearce, Brad Brach, and Caleb Joseph emerged from the shadows.
“This team tries as much as we can not to think about last year,” said Chris Davis, who hit his club-leading 16th homer on Sunday night. “It was obviously a great year, but it’s over with. You have to turn the page and focus on what’s at hand. I think we’re proud of the way we’re playing right now and battling these last few days and playing with somewhat of a short roster.
“Guys have stepped up and have done a great job.”
And the Orioles have stepped to the top of the AL East as a result.
Posted on 27 June 2015 by Luke Jones
If anyone benefited from Saturday’s postponement due to heavy rain, it was Orioles closer Zach Britton.
Second in the American League behind only Minnesota’s Glen Perkins with 22 saves, Britton pitched for the fifth time in seven days Friday to preserve a 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians. As the Orioles have played their best baseball of the season with 16 wins in their last 21 games, Britton has earned the save in nine of those victories.
“Sometimes, his performance gets taken for granted,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s really hard to do what Zach’s doing.”
While no Oriole currently leads his position in AL All-Star voting, Britton’s performance all but demands an invitation to Cincinnati on July 14 at this point. If selected by Kansas City manager Ned Yost, Britton would become the 10th Orioles closer since 1979 to be named to the All-Star Game.
The lefty has pitched more innings (32 2/3) than any AL reliever with more than five saves and is 22-for-23 in save chances with his only blemish coming on April 25 when suspect defense contributed to a blown save in a game the Orioles won in extra innings. His ERA of 1.93 and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings — he struck out just 7.3 per nine in 2014 — have squashed any lingering doubts that Britton could repeat what he did last season.
After transitioning from starter to long reliever to first-time closer last year, Britton has been asked to carry a heavier workload in his second year as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man. In an era when most closers are only asked to pitch one inning, Britton converted the two four-out saves of his career earlier this season and has twice secured five-out saves this month.
It’s no wonder Showalter made a point to recognize Britton’s heavy workload on Friday night after his fifth save in a week.
“It’s difficult. You physically have to make sure that you’re OK to go — you’re doing stuff in the gym or maintenance,” Britton said. “These are things that I’m learning. Last year, I don’t know if I had that many appearances in that [few] days. It’s just little things I’m learning, but it’s kind of the job title. I’m just adjusting to it.”
Because he doesn’t shy away from pitching to contact, the Orioles closer will go through spells in which he puts runners on base like he has in recent outings. Of his nine saves in the month of June, Britton has allowed at least one batter to reach eight times, but he continues to get that all-important 27th out to preserve victories.
As we saw in the clinching Game 3 of last year’s AL Division Series, Britton escaping trouble is typically only a ground ball away. On Friday, he worked around a leadoff single to convert his 18th consecutive save opportunity, matching his best stretch of 2014.
“It’s not always easy I guess,” Britton said. “The last couple, I’ve had some guys on and had to work out of it a little bit. The hitters up here are so good, and guys are starting to get aggressive on that sinker, so it is just about execution on that first hitter. The last couple times, it just hasn’t been there. It’s not easy; I learned that last year you go through times where you have guys on every time out there. It’s the times where things aren’t going your way all the time that you just got to battle.
“I’m just making pitches when those guys get on and getting out of those jams. I think the big thing is I know I’m one pitch away from getting that double-play ball.”
It may not be easy, but Britton has made it look that way, leaving him more than deserving of a trip to the All-Star Game.