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Orioles on cusp of .500 (again), other random thoughts

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Orioles on cusp of .500 (again), other random thoughts

Posted on 11 June 2011 by Luke Jones

1. Déjà vu all over again.

After Friday’s 7-0 win over Tampa Bay, the Orioles once again find themselves on the brink of the .500 mark with a 30-31 mark entering Saturday night’s test against Tampa ace David Price. A win would put Baltimore at the .500 mark for the first time since May 26.

The problem was the Orioles responding to the achievement with a disastrous 1-5 West Coast trip from which they have yet to fully recover in the win-loss column. They are 2-4 this season when entering the day with a record of one game below .500.

“We understand the math of common denominators of teams that have a good season,” said manager Buck Showalter before the Rays series. “At some point, we’ve got to get to and pass that threshold as an organization.”

Of course, Showalter knows .500 is not the top of the mountain — notice how he said to “pass that threshold” — but it’s still a significant step for a franchise lacking a winning season since 1997. The Orioles have not been above the .500 mark since April 14 when they fell to 6-5 after suffering a two-game sweep to the Yankees in the Bronx.

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2. Hardy the offseason prize

The signings of veterans Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero grabbed the headlines. Third baseman Mark Reynolds was acquired via trade three days earlier in December.

But is there any doubt that shortstop J.J. Hardy — even after missing a month with a strained left oblique — has been the offseason prize for the Orioles?

Entering Saturday, Hardy has more home runs (six) than Guerrero (five) in only half the at-bats (118 to 236). He has more runs batted in than Lee (19 to 15) in 57 fewer at-bats, many coming far lower in the lineup.

His defense has been superb after replacing the slick-fielding, light-hitting Cesar Izturis of the past two seasons.

With Brian Roberts continuing to miss time with concussion-related symptoms, Hardy has recently taken over leadoff responsibilities and responded with two leadoff home runs this week. His .370 on-base percentage entering Saturday’s game is a welcome change at the top of the order from the impatient Felix Pie and allows Robert Andino to hit more comfortably in the ninth spot.

Though there are more than three months remaining in the season, the Orioles should already be contemplating a new contract for Hardy, who is scheduled to become a free agent. Manny Machado may be the future at short, but Hardy has been a pleasant surprise in the present.

3. Arrieta racking up wins while Guthrie and Britton bite the bullet

After pitching seven shutout innings Friday night, Jake Arrieta recorded his eighth win of the season, becoming the first Baltimore pitcher to record eight wins by June 10 since Sidney Ponson in 2003. A season ago, no Orioles pitcher recorded his eighth victory until August 29 (Jeremy Guthrie).

Arrieta’s eight wins equal the total number by Guthrie (two) and Zach Britton (six) despite both holding lower earned run averages. Entering Friday night’s game against the Rays, Arrieta benefited from the fourth-best run support (7.14 runs per game) in the American League. Wins are a poor indicator for how well — or how poorly — a pitcher is performing, but Arrieta has done what’s necessary to win in most instances.

The 25-year-old still walks too many hitters and needs to be more economical with his pitches, but no one can deny his array of four pitches and overall makeup. His strikeout rate per nine innings has increased from 4.7 his rookie season to 7.5 this year, but his walks per nine innings have increased from 4.3 to 4.5.

Britton and Guthrie have been better overall in 2011, but Arrieta has solidified his position in the starting rotation. His command issues may always keep him a notch or two below the seemingly more-polished Britton and Brian Matusz, but you have to be pleased with Arrieta’s progression through 14 starts in 2011.

4. Interleague Vlad

With interleague play set to pick up again next weekend, the Orioles will travel to D.C. to take on the Nationals followed by a three-game trip to Pittsburgh the following week. That, of course, means the Orioles will be without the designated hitter spot.

What do you do with your cleanup hitter?

Showalter will not reveal his plans just yet, but admitted Guerrero hasn’t made a strong request to play the outfield in National League ballparks. Anyone who watched Guerrero hobble around right field as a member of the Texas Rangers in the World Series last October should hardly be surprised.

Though hitting .288 entering Saturday, Guerrero hasn’t exactly provided the power (.394 slugging percentage and five home runs) that suggests the Orioles absolutely need his bat in the lineup. The defense lost in right field or first base — the only two positions you could conceivably imagine Guerrero playing — creates a simple decision.

The Orioles will likely have “one heck of a pinch-hitter,” as Showalter quipped on Friday, but it’s hard to justify putting Guerrero in the field for any reason.

5. Adams’ splinters continue

If you asked most fans, they probably couldn’t even tell you if Ryan Adams was even on the 25-man roster. The rookie second baseman has 16 plate appearances since being recalled on May 20.

Sixteen.

Instead of an anticipated platoon, Andino has solidified his job at second base, and the 2006 second-round pick continues to waste away on the bench while veteran infielders Brendan Harris and Nick Green hold spots for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.

Showalter has conceded that Adams needs consistent at-bats somewhere, but the manager has also said the young infielder is gaining exposure to life in the big leagues by being in the clubhouse and dugout during games.

Maybe a hint of truth, but I’m not buying it.

Whether it’s Baltimore or Norfolk, Adams needs to be getting regular at-bats. It’s not helping the future of the club — especially with Roberts’ status becoming cloudier every season — to have Adams sitting on the bench on a nightly basis when he could be playing everyday for the Tides.

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O’s former 1st round pick Brandon Snyder: “Any day you can get a chance to spend in the big leagues is a good day”

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O’s former 1st round pick Brandon Snyder: “Any day you can get a chance to spend in the big leagues is a good day”

Posted on 07 June 2011 by Ryan Chell

On a night where all the buzz has been the selection of high school pitcher Dylan Bundy by the Orioles with their first pick in the 2011 MLB draft, another former first-round pick by Baltimore is still looking for his chance to prove he belongs in the big leagues.

Brandon Snyder

That of course is Norfolk Tides first baseman Brandon Snyder, who joined Drew Forrester on “The Morning Reaction” Monday morning to talk about his ever-continuing journey toward panning out as an Oriole and becoming one on a permanent basis.

Snyder-the O’s first round pick in the 2005 Draft out of Westfield High-did get a the call-up several weeks ago when the team was in need of position players with several of their starters hurting.

After hitting .276 with five home runs and 16 RBIs for the Tides in 35 games in 2011, Snyder was recalled to the Orioles on May 18th when shortstop Cesar Izturis was placed on the disabled list with an elbow injury.

And combined with an injury to first baseman Derrek Lee when he joined the club, he thought that he might be able to make an impact on manager Buck Showalter and the O’s front office with a lot of playing time.

It was a situation he was really looking forward to and he felt like he was never more ready than he was to show what he could do and that his time was now.

“I feel real comfortable in that atmosphere,” Snyder told Forrester. “I don’t feel like I’m over-matched at all…any day you can get a chance to spend in the big leagues is a good day.”

However, he only saw action in five games only getting twelve plate appearances. He went 2-for-9 at the plate, with the two hits coming in Baltimore’s 8-3 victory over the Nationals on Saturday, May 21st.

The victory and his performance at the plate did take some of the focus off his critical error that allowed two Nationals to score.

It was a play that Snyder felt ashamed of considering how much he considers defense a facet of his game.

“I take a lot of pride in my defense,” Snyder told Forrester. “Obviously on that stage if you make one mistake, people are going to look at that and say, ‘he’s not very good defensively’. But I really feel like I’m a very good defensive first baseman.”

“And I trust that…and I don’t think that is going to be an issue at all.”

But clearly the team felt like there still was things he needed to iron out, and when the team felt like they needed catcher Craig Tatum as the full-time backup to Matt Wieters, Snyder was told he had to wait for his opportunity yet again-getting sent back down to the Tides on May 27th-more than a week after his call-up.

While the move frustrated him, he took the demotion respectably and said he understands that it’s tough to evaluate a ballplayer based on only a handful of looks.

“It’s kind of hard to get a feel for anything when you’re not getting as much action as you might like,” Snyder said. “Hopefully the next time it is a little bit longer.”

And while most players would take a five-game look as a sign of disrespect and let that down, Snyder is confident that he’ll be back up with the Orioles yet again.

But he told Forrester he’s not worried about it…his focus will remain in whatever town he is located in-whether it’s Baltimore or Norfolk.

“You and I have talked before about it before…whereas you start taking your mind elsewhere and start trying to worry about things not under your control…that’s where you get yourself in trouble. So, I’m just trying to finish up here, have a good season and whatever happens, happens.”

And given his pace since returning to Norfolk, including three home runs and nine RBIs in as many games back with the Tides, he could definitely be getting another call-up up I-95 real soon.

And Snyder hopes that Buck Showalter and the O’s front office continue to have the patience and trust in the former first round pick who many have said the team made a mistake in drafting.

“It’s obviously good to be able to come through an organization that has invested money into you and for fans that have invested time,” Snyder said, “and I guess you could say time and patience for me. I obviously have a lot of critics and it’s not something that I have ever really worried about, but I have also been able to have a lot of great fans.”

Snyder continued, saying that’s who he’s doing this for. He’s trying for the Baltimore Orioles community as a whole, not for his own personal gains.

“To be able to get there for them and to help a ball club that needs something…and to try and be a piece of that puzzle is a lot of  fun.”

WNST thanks Brandon Snyder for joining “The Morning Reaction” Be sure to follow him on Twitter @SnydRoast29 and check the BuyaToyota.com Audio Vault for the conversation! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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The struggles of Markakis are becoming a national story

Posted on 04 June 2011 by Rex Snider

With each passing day, many of us are eagerly anticipating an awakening of the Orioles offensive attack. The production, or lack thereof, is becoming a predictable expectation for opposing teams and their followers.

Friday’s edition of the Toronto Star previewed this weekend series as an easier task than a few recent slugfests involving the Blue Jays, especially given the “light hitting” Orioles attack.

Truth hurts, huh?

I won’t suggest the birds clubhouse is brewing with finger wagging and varied versions of the blame game; plenty of accountability and resulting culpability exists among the ranks.

But, a sobering reality is the Orioles find themselves at 25-30 and in familiar digs; they’re occupying the cellar of the American League’s Eastern Division, as the final days of spring trickle into summer.

The seasonal change means there is a LOT of baseball remaining. Can this lineup awaken from a season-long slumber? Doubts are growing by the day, and a prominent name that usually evades criticism, locally and nationally, is starting to feel the heat.

Welcome to the current plight of Nick Markakis …..

I am making certain to police my views and opinions on this very subject, because I have been especially critical of Nick’s star power and value among Orioles fans. And, my strong assessment can be attached to prior seasons.

Do I think he’s a good ballplayer? Without question, YES. However, I have never subscribed to the belief he’s one of the best young talents in the game, nor have I thought he was a foundational player for the franchise.

That said, I think Markakis has displayed a consistency in his first five seasons that suggests he’s a dependable offensive threat. Through his big league career, he has rewarded normal expectations of a top of the lineup hitter.

Over the past 4 full seasons, he’s averaged: .299 avg, 45 doubles, 18 homers, .466 slugging

When such numbers are yielded with consistency, a resulting expectation ensues. That’s the deal, period. And, such accomplishments eventually translate into a more global sense of demand, specifically on the national stage.

So, when Sports Illustrated released yesterday’s figurative roster of baseball’s MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYERS thru the first couple months, I was not surprised to see Nick Markakis as a prominent part of it.

He’s hitting .239, with 4 doubles, 4 homers and a putrid .311 slugging line. Do you realize how difficult it is to achieve such a low slugging percentage? Better yet, have you considered how difficult it will be to keep a player with such poor numbers at the top of a lineup?

For all his well publicized struggles in the first couple months, freakin’ Derek Jeter has a higher slugging percentage than Markakis. Yes, that’s how bad it really is …..

As I stated, there is plenty of “blame sandwich” for just about all of the Orioles hitters to gets a substantial bite, but expectations should not be ignored when it comes to the failures at the plate.

Mark Reynolds? He is exactly what last season evidenced …..

Derrek Lee? In 14 fewer games, most of his production exceeds that of Markakis …..

Yet, they’re the lightning rods for most of the scorn emanating from the impassioned souls of Orioles fans. Why is that? Well, as always, Markakis gets a notable “pass” with the baseball loving people in this city.

“He is the future”

Damn, if I had a couple bucks for every caller who made that statement.

Perhaps, we shouldn’t be shocked by lesser numbers and production from Nick Markakis – his doubles, homeruns and slugging percentage have flattened or decreased over the span of the last 3 seasons.

But, disappointment and frustration should exist given the lack of overall production, in 2011. Maybe it’s time to reassess the pedigree of Markakis. Better yet, it’s absolutely time to reevaluate the lofty reputation he’s garnered.

Don’t misunderstand my message, it’s not his fault that fans have overrated his abilities and true existence from a threat perspective. He’s not peddling “Nick Markakis” via Twitter or any other social marketplace.

He’s very much himself; a guy who doesn’t appear to say much or carry a leadership quality among teammates. Give him credit on this one – he’s not pretending to be a more demonstrative presence.

Lets just be honest about the season and the failures of the Orioles lineup …..

Nick Markakis is tasked with a responsibility to spark this offense, while also driving in runs. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks. That’s why he’s gonna get paid even bigger bucks, next season, and beyond.

A significant portion of the Orioles weak offensive production rests upon his shoulders. He needs to figure it out …. NOW. As I’ve said, I have never believed he’s as good as many hometown followers suggest. But, he’s not this bad, either.

Nick Markakis has been disappointing. And, I didn’t need a national publication to point it out.

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Live from Camden Yards: Orange Crush chat at 7 as Britton seeks run support against Kansas City

Posted on 24 May 2011 by Luke Jones

**Join us in the Orange Crush live chat at 7:00 as the Orioles welcome the Kansas City Royals to town in the opener of a three-game set with rookie Zach Britton taking the hill in search of his elusive sixth win.**

BALTIMORE — What’s a guy have to do to get a little bit of run support?

Despite a string of 19 1/3 innings in which he hasn’t allowed an earned run, rookie Zach Britton has been stuck on five wins since May 1, the last time the Orioles managed to score a run while the lefty was still in the game. His 2.14 earned run average ranks sixth in the American League, and Britton will look for a little run support as he faces the Kansas City Royals in the first of a three-game set at Camden Yards.

Britton will be opposed by fellow rookie southpaw Danny Duffy, who will be making his second big league start after allowing two runs and walking six in four innings against the Texas Rangers in his debut last Wednesday. Duffy is a former third-round pick of the 2007 amateur draft and one of the more heralded prospects in the Kansas City system.

With three games against the Royals — losers of seven of their last nine — preceding a six-game West Coast trip against Oakland and Seattle, the Orioles have a golden opportunity to string together wins and eclipse the .500 mark for the first time since mid-April. Simply put, these are the opponents a young team has to thrive against if it wants to be taken seriously as a team on the rise.

In other news, Brian Matusz will make his third rehab start Friday at Norfolk. The lefty is expected to pitch six or seven innings or eclipse 90 pitches, whichever comes first. If all goes well, Matusz could join the club on the road trip and make his 2011 debut to begin June, a welcome sight for Orioles fans. Of course, the Orioles could elect to have him pitch one more rehab start before activating him from the disabled list.

In other injury-related news, Derrek Lee will head to Sarasota on Wednesday to continue rehabbing his strained oblique. He is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on June 1 if he’s deemed ready.

Second baseman Brian Roberts has seen a specialist regarding his lingering symptoms stemming from a concussion sustained in Boston last Monday night. He has not taken part in any baseball-related activity since the injury, and the club awaits word regarding his status.

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

Kansas City
LF Alex Gordon
CF Melky Cabrera
1B Eric Hosmer
RF Jeff Francoeur
DH Billy Butler
3B Wilson Betemit
2B Mike Aviles
C Brayan Pena
SS Alcides Escobar

SP Danny Duffy (0-0, 4.50 ERA)

Baltimore
2B Robert Andino
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
DH Vladimir Guerrero
C Matt Wieters
LF Nolan Reimold
3B Mark Reynolds
SS J.J. Hardy
1B Brandon Snyder

SP Zach Britton (5-2, 2.14 ERA)

As we do for every weeknight home game, join us in the Orange Crush live chat beginning at 7:00. Talk about the game with us as an array of WNST.net personalities visit the cyber sports bar throughout the evening! Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates and analysis regarding the happenings from Oriole Park at Camden Yards!

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Yankees put Orioles in familiar place in 13-2 beatdown

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Yankees put Orioles in familiar place in 13-2 beatdown

Posted on 20 May 2011 by Luke Jones

It took an extra 48 minutes for Thursday’s game to begin but less than 10 minutes after first pitch to see what kind of night it was going to be for the Orioles.

After rain pushed back the start of the series finale against the Yankees, Buck Showalter and the Orioles must have been wishing the tarp had remained on the field as New York plated five runs in the first inning off Brad Bergesen. Five days after pitching a four-hit shutout in Tampa Bay, Bergesen surrendered three extra-base hits, hit a batter, walked two, and uncorked a wild pitch before even escaping the first inning.

The game was over before CC Sabathia even took the Camden Yards mound. In the Yankees’ 13-2 beating, the burly left-hander improved to 10-1 with a 2.73 earned run average in Baltimore.

After Orioles starting pitchers had allowed only eight earned runs over the last 56 innings pitched, Bergesen gave up eight in just 3 1/3 innings to drop to 1-5 on the season. The outing erased all the good karma from his dominating start against the Rays and firmly placed him back on the rotation bubble as Brian Matusz moves closer to his season debut.

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Hoping to rebound from a 4-1 heartbreaker in 15 innings on Wednesday, there was plenty of blame to go around as the Orioles couldn’t pitch, hit, field, or run and barely even registered a pulse throughout a rain-soaked affair in which they fell to 0-6 against the Yankees in 2011.

For all the talk in the offseason of competing and refusing to lie down to the Yankees, the results look no different. Despite losing three of the six in extra innings, the Orioles have been outscored 51-18. The Orioles have already lost two games to New York by 11 or more runs after the largest margin of defeat last season was only eight runs when they went 5-13 against the Yankees.

There isn’t much more to say than what I wrote less than four weeks ago when the Orioles were swept in an abbreviated two-game series in Baltimore to fall to 0-4 against the Yankees. Despite the optimism of an improved club entering 2011, the Orioles still have no answers for the guys in pinstripes.

It remains the men against the boys.

Since taking over as manager last August, Showalter is now 3-9 against the Yankees, showing no more magic than Dave Trembley, Sam Perlozzo, Lee Mazzilli, or Mike Hargrove. Showalter always downplays the significance of facing his former club, but you know it has to eat at him to fail against his former employer, especially in the embarrassing fashion in which it happened over the last two games.

Thankfully, the Orioles won’t play the Yankees again until late July. But where they go from here will be the bigger question.

After building a 6-0 lead before a bullpen meltdown led to an 8-7 loss against the Red Sox on Monday night, it was only natural to question how the Orioles would respond from the latest collapse at Fenway Park. Coming home to drop two to the Yankees only makes that sinking feeling grow even stronger.

If recent history is any indication, a tailspin could already be underway, even with the Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals coming to town for the next six games. To make matters worse, the injuries are mounting with Derrek Lee and Brian Roberts now on the disabled list.

The Orioles won’t lay down, but it’s only natural for that “Here we go again” mentality to seep into the subconscious of the clubhouse after the events of the last three games. After climbing to within one game of the .500 mark with five wins in six games before going to Boston, the Orioles have lost three straight and are now 19-23.

Not terrible, but also not indicative of any dramatic improvement in the big picture of working toward contention, aside from comparing the results to last season’s historically-poor first four months.

The Orioles will have their chance to capitalize against some beatable opponents over the next two weeks to climb to the .500 mark, or even above.

We’ll see how they fare, but this week’s events feel all too familiar to what we’ve come to expect.

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Orioles place Izturis on DL, recall Snyder from Norfolk

Posted on 18 May 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A little more than an hour before the start of a brief two-game series with the New York Yankees, the Orioles placed utility infielder Cesar Izturis on the 15-day disabled list due to a right elbow ulnar nerve injury.

The move is retroactive to May 13.

In Izturis’ place, first baseman Brandon Snyder has been summoned from Triple-A Norfolk. Snyder was hitting .276 with five home runs, 16 runs batted in, and a .798 OPS in 35 games for the Tides. He will wear No. 29 with the Orioles.

With the offseason acquisition of shortstop J.J. Hardy, Izturis was re-signed in the winter but relegated to a utility role after being the starting shortstop for two seasons in Baltimore. The 31-year-old is batting .192 with four runs scored in only 26 at-bats in 16 games this season.

First baseman Derrek Lee was out of Wednesday’s starting lineup with a strained left oblique, but the Orioles have chosen to wait to see how he responds to rest and treatment before placing him on the disabled list.

Second baseman Brian Roberts was also absent from the start of Wednesday’s game as he continues to deal with headaches dating back to Monday night’s game in Boston.

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Live from Camden Yards: Injuries shuffle lineup as Orioles host Yankees, Orange Crush chat at 7

Posted on 18 May 2011 by Luke Jones

**Join us in the Orange Crush live chat at 7:00 as rookie star Zach Britton and the Orioles begin a brief two-game set with the New York Yankees**

BALTIMORE — As if an 0-4 start in the season series against the New York Yankees wasn’t enough, the Orioles return home with a plethora of injury issues as they try to secure their first win against the Bronx Bombers at 7:05 p.m.

Leadoff hitter Brian Roberts and first baseman Derrek Lee are missing from tonight’s lineup as neither veteran escaped Boston without ailment. Roberts is suffering from headaches after diving into first base during Monday’s 8-7 collapse at Fenway Park in which the Orioles blew a 6-0 lead. Of course, Roberts dealt with headaches and concussion-related symptoms to close 2010 that failed to subside until the middle of the offseason.

Robert Andino will take his place at second base and hit ninth against Bartolo Colon and the Yankees.

Lee (oblique) may be placed on the 15-day disabled list, but manager Buck Showalter said before the game that the club may choose to wait a few days before making a decision. Luke Scott will slide from left field to first base, with Felix Pie taking his place in the outfield and hitting leadoff for the Orioles. Left-handed reliever Troy Patton is in Baltimore if and when Lee heads to the disabled list.

In a move anticipated before Tuesday’s postponed game against the Red Sox, the Orioles have officially placed utility infielder Cesar Izturis on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow ulnar nerve injury. First baseman Brandon Snyder has been recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to take Izturis’ place on the 25-man roster.

In other news, pitcher Alfredo Simon is expected to be activated from the restricted list on Sunday and will likely pitch in a long relief role with the return of left-hander Brian Matusz right around the corner. Matusz is slated to make a second rehab start in Bowie on Saturday.

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

New York
DH Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Alex Rodgriguez
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nick Swisher
LF Andruw Jones
SS Eduardo Nunez
C Francisco Cervelli

SP Bartolo Colon (2-2, 3.74 ERA)

Baltimore
LF Felix Pie
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
DH Vladimir Guerrero
1B Luke Scott
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Mark Reynolds
2B Robert Andino

SP Zach Britton (5-2, 2.42 ERA)

As we do for every weeknight home game, join us in the Orange Crush live chat beginning at 7:00. Talk about the game with us as an array of WNST.net personalities visit the cyber sports bar throughout the evening! Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates and analysis regarding the happenings from Oriole Park at Camden Yards!

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Orioles’ struggles becoming not so ‘early’ after weekend sweep to Rays

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Orioles’ struggles becoming not so ‘early’ after weekend sweep to Rays

Posted on 08 May 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The old baseball adage is heard countless times in the early weeks of every season, whether a team or player is off to a smoking start or struggling to clear the spring training cobwebs when the games begin to actually count.

It’s early.

Or, it’s still early.

The Orioles dropped their sixth game in seven tries on Sunday, falling 5-3 as the Tampa Bay Rays completed a three-game sweep at Camden Yards. The club now finds itself with a 14-19 record and in last place in the American League East. After a 6-1 start to spark early-season excitement, Baltimore has now dropped 18 of its last 26 games as the lineup continues to sputter and the back of the starting rotation and bullpen struggle to get the opposition out.

After losing 11 of 13 in mid-April, the Orioles and optimists insisted it was simply a bad stretch, claiming it was too early to panic. A brief run of five wins in six games to close April looked like the start of better baseball, but that idea vanished after the Orioles flamed out in Kansas City and the Rays extracted revenge for the Orioles’ sweep in Tampa Bay to begin the season. The lineup has now scored three or fewer runs in the last five games to continue the early-season frustration after the offense was expected to be much better this season.

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At some point — 33 games into the season, or roughly a fifth of the season — you have to ask yourself when it stops being “early” and concerns become more legitimate. And while many — including me — have pointed to the Orioles’ 2010 woes as a sign that things could be a lot worse to begin 2011, should a historically-terrible pace through the first fourth months last season really be the standard by which a supposedly improved club is judged?

“Just keep grinding,” said manager Buck Showalter about the club’s struggles following a third straight loss to the Rays. “What do you do, give in? Pull the dirt around you? That’s not going to happen. I was proud of the effort and the way they came back today. [The Rays are] pitching well and our bullpen came in and gave us a chance to get back in there. It just didn’t happen.”

After a 34-23 finish put him in unique, mystical territory entering last winter, Showalter sounds far more like Lee Mazzilli or Sam Perlozzo or Dave Trembley these days, unable to explain the short-circuited lineup that has done nothing to help alleviate pressure on the pitching. Of course, Showalter can do a lot of things, like change up the lineup as many have suggested, but he doesn’t swing a bat. Entering Sunday, the Orioles ranked 12th in the American League in batting average, 13th in on-base percentage, 11th in runs scored, and 10th in slugging percentage.

Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero have looked old, Mark Reynolds hasn’t hit his weight (.187 after going 0-for-2 Sunday), and J.J. Hardy has 15 at-bats all season. Even worse, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis aren’t getting on base consistently, the two players counted on the most in that department. Looking up and down the lineup, Luke Scott has really been the only player to produce what you would have expected entering the season. Roberts, Matt Wieters, and Adam Jones have had brief stretches, but the collective result has amounted to a very underwhelming lineup through the first five weeks of the season.

If Scott’s comments following the game were any indication, players are beginning to realize it’s no longer that early in the year. The frustration is mounting.

“I take a lot of pride in what I do and I speak for a lot of these guys,” he said. “We come prepared as a group and we want to see fruit from our labor on the field. For me, I lose sleep over this stuff, it bothers me. Do I have peace during it? Yes, because I know I have done everything I can possibly do. Get in the weight room, get in the cage and take care of my body.

“It’s going to turn for us. If these are our low moments — with everyone struggling — imagine what it’s going to be like when we are clicking. That is what we are looking forward to.”

For now, everyone can only wait, but the poor on-base percentage and lack of plate discipline — despite drawing walks on Sunday — doesn’t exactly scream a turnaround is imminent.

Of course, the pitching hasn’t been much better as the Orioles continue to cringe every time they get to the back end of the rotation. Brad Bergesen again allowed a start to get away from him on Sunday, allowing five combined runs in the fourth and fifth innings in a fifth career loss in five career starts against the Rays. He has now allowed 24 earned runs in 23 2/3 career innings against Tampa Bay. His earned run average ballooned to 5.57 after the loss, and the right-hander will be a strong candidate to be moved to the bullpen when Brian Matusz returns later this month.

However, Bergesen isn’t even the worst — statistically speaking, anyway — pitcher in the rotation through the season’s first 33 games. Chris Tillman’s 7.16 ERA, diminished velocity, and poor command don’t exactly scream for the 23-year-old to remain in the rotation either. The two have a combined 6.30 ERA in 60 total innings this season, a painful duo to continue sending to the hill, but who else is there to turn to with the minor leagues bare?

Baltimore starters have allowed 23 earned runs in 18 2/3 innings in the last four days, with Jeremy Guthrie and Zach Britton also taking it on the chin this weekend. With the collective struggles at the plate and on the hill, the Orioles will benefit from Monday’s day off before the Seattle Mariners come to town to conclude a six-game homestand off to an 0-3 start.

“It shouldn’t matter mentally,” said Showalter after the Orioles were swept in a three-game home series for the first time since he became manager last August, “but it’s a challenge to be mentally disciplined and not let that be a ‘Here we go again’ mentality. And that will change, too. We’ll pitch better.”

Showalter continues to remain upbeat, insisting the “worm will turn” as he often likes to say. But despite popular belief last season, the Orioles skipper doesn’t hit, pitch, run, field, or even walk on water. Juggling the lineup or making another pitching change only goes so far; the players aren’t producing.

And it was the same problem all the previous managers had.

Everyone — players included — keeps waiting around for the Orioles to start playing better. Their brief stretches of strong play have been dwarfed by longer periods of bad baseball.

There’s still plenty of season, but it’s no longer “early.”

If the Orioles are truly a better team, it’s time they start showing it.

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50 words or less …. Wednesday, April 27th

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50 words or less …. Wednesday, April 27th

Posted on 27 April 2011 by Rex Snider

Hey, it looks like this Britton kid is gonna be pretty damn good. After last night’s victory, he’s just the 5th rookie to win 4 games in April. Admittedly, one month does not make a career, but he’s a phenomenal talent to watch.

Things will be tougher over the next couple days, with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester staring down from the mound. But, the birds bats are due for a breakout …..

Here’s today’s “50 Words Or Less” …..
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Yo, Gimme A Slice …..
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I really like Tom Zbikowski, and if there is ever a case where a urinalysis test is found to be tainted, I’m hoping his recent positive result for THC is such a situation. Zibby seems to be a good-character guy and while it’s illegal, I don’t view marijuana as a drug that really corrupts anything.

His lawyer, Mike Joyce probably summed up the situation best, “the guys I know that smoke pot are all big fat guys that have the munchies …. Tom doesn’t even eat pizza”. Now that’s funny ….
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The Switcheroo
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JUST STOP. To everyone who tries to rationalize a hitter’s transition from the National League to the American League as a “struggle”, simply because of some substantial acclamation, JUST STOP …..

The list of hitters who have made the seamless transition or EVEN HIT BETTER is long and storied. Such names of success, include Bobby Abreu, Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Bonilla, Jason Bay and many, many more.

If a player like Derrek Lee is struggling, it’s simply because of that …. he’s struggling.
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Baltimore’s French Quarter ???
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It looks like a war is “brewing” in Federal Hill. Over the past decade, the amount of watering holes in South Baltimore have certainly increased to proportions never realized in the past.

Are residents of the area fed up with less than sober visitors? Umm …. according to an assembled group of neighbors, this indeed appears to be the case. Hey, if we’re gonna pick on Kegasus, we must be fair about the subject. Here’s the STORY
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You’re Wrong
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I don’t care how much football knowledge the national or local experts possess, there is NO WAY of being near accurate in predicting the 1st round of the upcoming NFL Draft.

While such lists help us in familiarizing ourselves with the top talent, Mock Drafts can only be taken seriously for that purpose. Trust me, I’m right on this one …..
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Congratulations
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Please just get married and GO AWAY …..

While the American public endures increased gas prices and a continued stymied economy, the British royals dominate many headlines because of a certain wedding. What’s the big deal? It’s freakin’ wedding ceremony …..

And, they’re stealing some magic …. as they’re getting married on the 13th anniversary of my wife becoming the luckiest girl in the world – at the Little Church of the West, in Las Vegas.
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The Proof Is Right Here
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Perhaps, Axl Rose said it best …. “all we need is just a little patience”.

Through 21 games, the Baltimore Orioles have collectively walked just 52 times, while striking out 136 times. Slice the numbers any possible way, this K/BB ratio translates into bad baseball.

Have a GREAT Wednesday …..

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For Struggling O’s Things SHOULD Be Worse

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For Struggling O’s Things SHOULD Be Worse

Posted on 25 April 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

As evidence continues to mount that the 2011 Orioles may not be quite who we hoped that they would be, as fans we can at least take solace in the fact that we’ve been down this road before, all too often in fact these days. And for as bad as things in Birdland seem to be these days, we don’t have to look back too far to realize that things could be much worse for this team. In fact it’s arguable that as things stand today, 20 games into the 2011 campaign, not only could things be worse for these Orioles, but they should be worse…arguably much worse.

Consider first that no matter how anxious any or all of us may have been to buy in to the perception that this team would be much improved, you still had to squint a bit to see these O’s as legitimate contenders. The expectation was more likely a run at .500 (which typically means wildcard contention through July) and respectability while playing some entertaining baseball in the process…for a change.

 

Even for the most pie-eyed of optimists the April schedule must’ve looked daunting. The first month of the season charged this team with facing the big 3 in their own division (2 series with NY, 1 with BOS and 1 with TB) along with the defending AL champion Rangers, and the 3 teams (CWS, MIN & DET) that look to be fighting it out for the central (and perhaps the wildcard) when the dust settles on this season. The Indians looked to be the O’s only April reprieve, and we all saw how that turned out too.

 

At 8-12 the Orioles should be counting themselves as fortunate. Couple the daunting April schedule with the statistics that the team has managed to produce, the injuries and illnesses that they’ve been forced to deal with and suddenly 8-12 (3-4 in the division) looks nothing short of miraculous.

 

-         Brian Roberts currently leads the team in HRs (3) and RBI (15)

-         Adam Jones is batting .229 and is still one of the team’s most productive bats

-         Luke Scott (who will carry the team at stretches) is hitting .214 with 4 RBI

-         Derrek Lee is hitting a Garrett Atkins-like .211 with 2 RBI

-         Nick Markakis is not seeing many pitches and is batting .209

-         Mark Reynolds is hitting .179 and striking out nearly 1 in every 3 at bats

-         Robert Andino leads the team in batting average

 

If all of the above persist, it’s fair to say the Orioles will be playing much closer to their record from last year than the 8-12 they’ve played to so far.

 

-         Jeremy Guthrie has already had to be skipped a turn in the rotation due to illness

-         JJ Hardy has been out and seemingly took all of the team’s momentum with him

-         Brian Matusz has yet to make a start

-         They can’t find at bats for Jake Fox

-         No one is trying to win the job in left field.

-         Their most credible closer is dealing with a murder wrap and is currently in extended spring training

-         The back end of the bullpen is a mess

-         Koji’s durability still can’t be counted on in an important role

-         The only suspect April opponent (CLE) swept the O’s

 

All things considered it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team producing those stats to be closer to 4-16 like the O’s were last year after 20 games than the 8-12 that they are currently.

 

Most of the issues laid out above have a way of correcting themselves over the course of 162 games; others may require more creativity in solving. It stands to reason though that as the level of competition goes down and the numbers go up, these Orioles could still be a scary proposition at some point. If they’ve managed to stay near afloat through this tough first 3 weeks of the season, they’re bound to be scary as the hits begin to fall.

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