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.
Posted on 27 June 2015 by Luke Jones
(Updated: 3:55 p.m.)
Scheduled to give away the much-anticipated Buck Showalter garden gnome on Saturday night, the Orioles postponed the second contest of a three-game set with the Cleveland Indians because of heavy rain in the Baltimore area.
The game will be made up as part of a split-admission doubleheader on Sunday with Saturday’s tickets being honored for the nightcap scheduled for 7:05 p.m. The original 1:35 p.m. game scheduled for Sunday will go on as planned.
After previously indicating Kevin Gausman could start one of the doubleheader games, the Orioles will instead send Ubaldo Jimenez to the hill for Game 1 while Chris Tillman will pitch the nightcap. It’s expected that Baltimore will recall an extra reliever to boost its current six-man bullpen for Sunday.
Because they have no more off-days until July 9, the Orioles would need an extra starting pitcher against Texas on Thursday. Gausman was scheduled to pitch for Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, which would have put him on schedule for a possible start in Baltimore on Thursday, but the Tides also postponed their game, pushing the right-hander’s start to Sunday.
For those wondering, the Showalter gnome will still be given away before the second game to the first 25,000 fans 15 years old and over. The Orioles will announce the time that gates will open for the second game at the conclusion of the opener on Sunday afternoon. The gates open for Game 1 at 11:30 a.m.
The Orioles passed along additional ticket information to fans in a team release:
Fans unable to attend the makeup game can exchange their tickets for any remaining home game this season on a “dollar-for-dollar” basis. All exchanges are subject to availability and must be completed by August 31. Complimentary tickets are non-exchangeable. StubHub tickets are also non-exchangeable, but may be resold on StubHub until 7:00 p.m. on June 28. Prepaid parking permits dated for June 27 are valid only for the 7:05 p.m. makeup game on June 28.
Ticket exchanges can be performed at the Box Office or submitted in writing along with the original tickets and mailed via certified mail by August 31, 2015 to:
Attention: June 27 Rainout
333 West Camden Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
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Posted on 29 May 2015 by Luke Jones
BALTIMORE — Matt Wieters hasn’t played in a game for the Orioles in over a year, but the veteran catcher has finally learned when he’ll make his 2015 season debut.
Manager Buck Showalter announced the 29-year-old will return to the major league lineup next Friday in Cleveland after undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 17, 2014. Currently catching every other day, Wieters began his minor league rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Monday and is 2-for-9 with one RBI in his first two games and also threw out the only runner who attempted to steal a base.
“I’m not going to jinx it. I’ve already talked about it more than I should,” said Showalter about how much he’s looking forward to Wieters returning. “You can tell Matt feels good. I watched the last two innings last night and I called him on the way home. You can just tell in his voice and in his body language that he’s real close.”
Wieters will once again catch for Bowie on Saturday before playing at Single-A Frederick on Monday and Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday before joining the Orioles on their road trip. The three-time All-Star selection hasn’t caught for Baltimore since May 4 of last season and last played in a game for the Orioles serving as the designated hitter on May 10, 2014.
Despite the fact that Wieters hasn’t yet begun throwing on non-catching days, Showalter said the Orioles would not be required to carry a third catcher unless they want to when he’s activated next Friday. There had been some thought that the club might need to keep both Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger if Wieters wouldn’t be able to catch on consecutive days because of a potential injury to the other catcher. Showalter said he’s spoken to Wieters about that scenario and he’s prepared to catch a second straight game if something would happen to Joseph.
Friday marked the six-year anniversary of Wieters’ major league debut as he is now in his final year of club control before he can become a free agent this offseason.
Gausman looking forward to Norfolk
Right-hander pitcher Kevin Gausman threw 32 pitches to live hitters at Camden Yards on Friday and is expected to start at either Norfolk or Frederick on June 6.
Placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis on May 8, Gausman will throw a bullpen session on Sunday and a two-inning simulated game in Houston on Tuesday before being sent to the minors. The Orioles are in the process of once again stretching out the 24-year-old as a starter, who threw all of his pitches against a group of hitters that included Wieters and Clevenger on Friday afternoon.
“No fatigue and I don’t feel anything in my shoulder,” said Gausman, who acknowledged the recovery process being slower than he initially anticipated. “The biggest thing was just getting out there and getting guys in the box and seeing how my body was going to react. But everything felt good. Now, it’s just going forward.”
With rookie Mike Wright currently pitching well in the Baltimore rotation, Showalter is pondering the next step for right-hander Bud Norris, who is on the DL while recovering from bronchitis. Norris’ obvious struggles dating back to the spring as well as Wright’s effectiveness will make for an interesting decision.
And that’s not even counting what to do with Gausman once he’s stretched out as a starter in the coming weeks.
“I haven’t talked to [Dave Wallace], but I did kind of hear from the trainers,” said Showalter about Gausman’s session on Friday. “He feels good. I know Kevin thinks we’re being a little overcautious with it. He wants to pitch now, but it’ll happen and be here sooner than you think.”
Lough receives consecutive starts
The decision to part ways with outfielder Alejandro De Aza has created more opportunities for the little-used David Lough, who started consecutive games Thursday and Friday for the first time since June 9-10 of last season.
Lough has primarily served as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner in his two seasons with the Orioles, but the lack of production from the corner outfield spots makes it fair to ask whether the 29-year-old should receive an extended look. He’s hitting .278 with one home run, two RBIs, and a .694 on-base plus slugging percentage in 41 plate appearances this season.
“It’s not what I usually get, but I’m definitely trying to take advantage of it and do what I can to help out,” Lough said prior to starting Friday’s series opener against Tampa Bay. “It’s as hard as anyone could imagine, believe me. Getting a couple starts and then going to the bench for five or six days can be really tough. It’s a tough job, but I’ve kind of embraced it. I try to go out there when I do get my chance and try to help out as much as possible.”
Odds & ends
Showalter decided against bringing up a reliever for Friday’s game, saying that all members of the bullpen were available but there were a few he’d like to stay away from if possible.
Minor-league catcher Jonah Heim will undergo surgery after injury his foot at Single-A Delmarva.
The appeal hearing for left-hander Brian Matusz’s eight-game suspension is scheduled for Wednesday. The Orioles would not be allowed to replace him on the roster while he serves any potential suspension.
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Posted on 28 December 2014 by Luke Jones
BALTIMORE — It had been a forgettable seven quarters of football for Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense.
Coming off one of the worst games of his career in the offensive meltdown in Houston, Flacco and the Ravens weren’t faring much better Sunday as they trailed 10-3 to the Cleveland Browns entering the fourth quarter. Knowing they were getting the necessary help from Kansas City to make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, the Ravens needed to break through the thick fog that was threatening to wreck their season.
Even if it took an extra quarter to take effect, the message came loud and clear from their franchise quarterback at halftime.
“Joe stepped up at halftime when he talked to the team briefly,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He just made a point, kept it simple and said, ‘Let’s just go win a game.’ That kind of summed it all up for us. Let’s go do what we have to do to win a football game.”
Win is what the Ravens did in a 20-10 final to punch their ticket to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. The performance wasn’t pretty and does little to quell concerns about an offense that continues to start games at a glacial pace.
But with it also came a reminder why Baltimore can’t be counted out in the postseason despite a banged-up offensive line, a recently-inconsistent running game, and a patchwork secondary. Few expect a long playoff run for the Ravens as they face the prospects of three straight road games just to make it to Super Bowl XLIX, but don’t tell that to their seventh-year quarterback.
After completing just 14 of 27 passes for 151 yards and a 68.6 passer rating through the first three quarters Sunday, Flacco went 8-for-9 for 161 yards, two touchdown passes, and a perfect 158.3 rating in the final 15 minutes as the Ravens scored 17 unanswered points to finish off the Browns. It was the kind of performance that reminds you how dangerous Flacco can be when he heats up, just like he did in his historic 2012 postseason that resulted in a Super Bowl title.
“Anything can happen once you get into the playoffs, but I don’t necessarily want to approach it [with that mindset] with us,” Flacco said. “I’m not going to be surprised if, three weeks from now, we’re sitting here and still playing. I think when I say anything can happen — or if I was to say that — that’s implying we don’t deserve to win any games in the playoffs.”
Of course, Flacco wasn’t alone in stepping up in the fourth quarter as Torrey Smith beat Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden to make a spectacular 53-yard reception to swing the momentum with just over eight minutes to go. The fourth-year wideout then reined in a 16-yard touchdown catch on the next play as the Ravens took a 13-10 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Ravens know they’ll need to rediscover their running game for a full four quarters and to lean on a potent pass rush when potentially facing the AFC’s top quarterbacks in January — starting with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger on Saturday night — but any chance of a meaningful playoff run will begin and end with Flacco, who had the best regular season of his career despite the poor showing in Houston and the shaky beginning to Sunday’s game. The 29-year-old threw for 3,986 yards and 27 touchdowns this season, which were both career highs.
Even with long odds as the No. 6 seed, the Ravens know Flacco can be the lucky dice at the playoff table.
“When Joe is hot, he’s tough to handle,” Smith said. “And that’s on us at times to get him hot and our offensive line to do a great job protecting him. When you get him hot, we’ve seen what he can do. Hopefully, that last quarter, or whatever amount it was he got hot, hopefully that continues on.”
The comparisons to 2012 will be made by optimists this week as the 10-6 Ravens return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, but they won’t be afforded the luxury of a wild-card round home game like they enjoyed two years ago. Baltimore only won consecutive road contests once this season in topping New Orleans and Miami over a three-week stretch and would need three straight to make it to Arizona.
Only one of the Ravens’ 10 wins this season came against an opponent that finished the year with a winning record — Pittsburgh in Week 2. They were 1-6 against teams that finished the season above .500.
The health of left tackle Eugene Monroe will be closely monitored after he missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. It’s difficult envisioning the Ravens surviving very long without either starting tackle as Rick Wagner was lost for the season last week.
A band-aid secondary has played admirably over the last four weeks, but too much optimism would be fool’s gold after the Ravens faced the likes of Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Connor Shaw in December. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata’s return from suspension will provide a boost to an already-imposing defensive line, but the foot injury suffered by improving rookie Timmy Jernigan on Sunday could neutralize the overall impact.
On top of it all, the Ravens will travel to Pittsburgh, a place where they’re winless in three previous playoff trips with the most recent coming at the end of the 2010 season.
There are plenty of reasons not to like the Ravens’ chances in the 2014 postseason, but could Flacco’s awakening in the fourth quarter on Sunday be a sign of what’s to come in January?
“I have no idea. If we go win the Super Bowl, I guess it will be,” Flacco said. “The goal is not to make the playoffs. That’s the first part. That has to happen in order to achieve your goal. That’s really not the goal. I’ve been here through plenty of wins in the playoffs and then losses in the AFC championship game, losses in the division round, and believe me, people aren’t any happier just because you made the playoffs. It’s not a good feeling.
“Like I said, I think if we go do what we’re capable of doing then a game like this will mean something.”
Posted on 28 December 2014 by Luke Jones
BALTIMORE — The Ravens will play their final game of the season at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
They’ll hope the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns won’t be their last time playing football until next season.
Needing a win as well as a San Diego loss to Kansas City to make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, the 2014 Ravens are facing the prospects of becoming the first team in franchise history with double-digit wins to miss the postseason. Of course, they have no one to blame but themselves after a disappointing last-second home loss to the Chargers in Week 13 and after last week’s humbling 25-13 defeat to Houston that ripped away control of their path to the playoffs.
While the Ravens have no control over what happens between the Chargers and Chiefs, they will be facing a Cleveland Browns team that’s lost four straight and will be starting rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, who was just promoted from the practice squad. On top of the inexperience under center, the Browns suspended enigmatic wide receiver Josh Gordon for Sunday’s game due to a team violation, further hurting their chances of pulling off an upset.
Baltimore will be without starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who is inactive while continuing to recover from an ankle injury suffered in Week 16. The Ravens are also without right tackle Rick Wagner (foot) after he was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week, meaning they will start rookie free agent James Hurst at left tackle and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda at right tackle. Rookie fifth-rounder John Urschel will play Yanda’s regular position.
Despite missing practices all week, linebacker Terrell Suggs (back/thigh) is active and will start against Cleveland. However, veteran defensive end Chris Canty (ankle/thigh) will not play against the Browns after missing practice all week. Canty went through a pre-game workout two hours before kickoff and appeared to be favoring the ankle injury that’s limited him for a couple weeks.
Lawrence Guy and DeAngelo Tyson will likely see time in place of Canty at the 5-technique defensive end spot.
The Ravens will depend on Gino Gradkowski and Ryan Jensen as their only reserve offensive linemen in the regular-season finale. Gradkowski is active for the first time since Week 7 while Jensen is active for his first NFL game after spending the first 15 weeks of the regular season on the practice squad. Jensen was a 2013 sixth-round pick and was inactive for all 16 games of his rookie season.
Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro is active for the first time since injuring his hamstring on Oct. 26. The seventh-round selection has been a healthy scratch for a few weeks
Second-year linebacker Arthur Brown is active for just the fourth time all season.
The Ravens are meeting the Browns for the 32nd time in the regular season with Baltimore owning a 23-8 edge. Cleveland is just 3-12 playing at M&T Bank Stadium and hasn’t won in Baltimore since 2007. Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 12 of the last 13 games against the Browns.
Sunday’s referee will be Gene Steratore.
The Weather.com forecast for Sunday’s game calls for temperatures reaching the mid-50s with calm winds and a 25 percent chance of rain late in the second half.
The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Cleveland is donning white jerseys with white pants.
Below are Sunday’s inactives:
OT Eugene Monroe
DE Chris Canty
S Brynden Trawick
CB Chris Greenwood
DE Steven Means
DT Terrence Cody
TE Phillip Supernaw
QB Brian Hoyer
CB Justin Gilbert
LS Charley Hughlett
C Ryan Seymour
DL Ahtyba Rubin
OL Andrew McDonald
WR Phil Bates
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Posted on 27 December 2014 by Luke Jones
(Editor’s note: The Browns announced that wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for a team violation after this post was published.)
Needing help in Week 17 is never a comfortable feeling, but it’s reality for the Ravens as they welcome the Cleveland Browns to town for the regular-season finale on Sunday.
Baltimore needs a win coupled with a Kansas City victory over San Diego to advance to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years under head coach John Harbaugh. Should the Ravens win and not receive help from the Chiefs — who will be starting backup Chase Daniel in place of injured quarterback Alex Smith — it would be the first time in franchise history that they’d finish a year with double-digit wins and not make the postseason.
Of course, the Ravens wouldn’t trade their current predicament with the Browns, who are losers of four straight and are forced to start rookie free agent Connor Shaw due to Week 16 injuries suffered by Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. While many in Baltimore are displeased by the possibility of the Ravens missing the playoffs for a second straight year, Cleveland needs a win just to complete its third non-losing season since 1999.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 32nd time in regular-season history. Baltimore is 12-3 against Cleveland at M&T Bank Stadium and has won 12 of the last 13 over the Browns under Harbaugh. The Browns haven’t beaten the Ravens in Baltimore since 2007.
Here’s what to expect as the Ravens hope to extend their season beyond Week 17 …
1. Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown in what could be his final game with the Ravens. The Browns own the league’s seventh-ranked pass defense, but top cornerback Joe Haden is questionable with a shoulder injury that limited him in practice all week. Meanwhile, Smith is facing the possibility of Sunday being his last game with Baltimore. It will be interesting to see what kind of market potentially develops for the 2011 second-round pick as he’s proven himself as a solid — and occasionally spectacular — No. 2 receiver, but the Ravens cannot and should not pay him as anything more than that. Regardless of what happens this offseason, Smith will catch his team-leading 11th touchdown of the 2014 campaign.
2. Browns wideout Josh Gordon will have his best game since his 2014 season debut in Week 12. Draw whatever conclusion you’d like, but Cleveland’s once-promising season crashed right around the time that the talented receiver returned from a lengthy suspension. There’s no doubting Gordon’s immense talent, but he hasn’t provided the shot in the arm the Browns needed as they’ve lost four of the five games in which he’s played. Gordon will have a chance to finish the season on a high note against the league’s 28th-ranked pass defense and even with Shaw under center, the 6-foot-3 receiver will eclipse 75 receiving yards and catch his first touchdown of the year, beating Rashaan Melvin in coverage.
3. Timmy Jernigan and Pernell McPhee will combine for three sacks against a vulnerable Browns interior line. All eyes will be on Elvis Dumervil and his quest to lead the league in sacks, but the Ravens should have few problems exploiting the interior portion of the Cleveland line as Nick McDonald is expected to start at center for the injured Ryan Seymour. The Browns have struggled inside since the loss of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack earlier in the year, and McPhee and Jernigan have had plenty of success as interior rushers in passing situations. While Cleveland will do whatever it can to contain Dumervil and Terrell Suggs off the edges, the Ravens will wreak havoc on the rookie Shaw with pressure right up the middle.
4. Justin Forsett will crack the century mark to complete one of the most surprising seasons in franchise history. The running game has suddenly become a concern over the last couple weeks, but the Browns are dead last in the NFL against the run, which will soften the blow of neither Eugene Monroe or Rick Wagner playing on Sunday. Even without his starting tackles to block for him, Forsett will take advantage of a front seven that will struggle to set the edge and will fail to protect cutback lanes, leading to a couple long runs. Forsett will join Jamal Lewis, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice as the only running backs in franchise history to post a 1,200-yard season.
5. The Ravens will win 24-13 before learning they will miss the postseason after not receiving the necessary help from Kansas City. Sunday’s game will be one of those contests that’s closer than it should be, but the Browns’ inability to consistently move the ball will allow the Ravens to stay ahead until they put together a fourth-quarter drive to make it a two-score game. Unfortunately, the Chargers will continue their late-season mojo with a win over the Chiefs to clinch the No. 6 spot. Considering the adversity and injuries the Ravens experienced in 2014, a 10-win season looks good on paper, but the memory of late-season losses to San Diego and Houston will lead to the most offseason pressure Harbaugh has felt since coming to Baltimore.
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