Tag Archive | "houston"

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No time for panic, but Orioles have opponents’ attention

Posted on 27 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Jim Palmer said at one point Thursday night what we all were thinking watching the Orioles swing and miss their way to a three-game sweep in Houston in which they struck out a major-league record 52 times.

“It’s almost like they’ve never seen a breaking ball.”

The Orioles struck out more in a three-game series than the late Tony Gwynn ever did in an entire season during his Hall of Fame career.

Chris Davis struck out eight times. Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo both went down on strikes seven times. Pedro Alvarez collected six strikeouts and didn’t even start in the series finale. Jonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters struck out five times each.

What a nightmare.

To be clear, the Astros didn’t do anything that wasn’t already known about the Baltimore lineup. Throwing fewer fastballs and more breaking balls has always been the blueprint against these power hitters, but Houston pitchers executed well and the Orioles appeared more eager than usual to cooperate.

But let’s take a deep breath about a club entering the weekend still seven games above .500 and just two games behind Boston in the AL East despite a four-game losing streak and losing seven of 10. Don’t forget that the Orioles entered the Houston series below the league average in strikeouts and still ranked just sixth in the AL in that category entering Friday.

Whether you like it or not, strikeouts are a bigger part of baseball than ever.

It isn’t just the Orioles.

A few horrendous games — and, boy, were they horrendous — cannot trump a quarter of a season in which the Orioles struck out at an acceptable level relative to other teams. As I wrote earlier in the week, you have to take the bad with the good for a team that depends so heavily on the home run. That certainly isn’t an excuse to whiff at a historic rate in a three-game series, but every team is going to go through some rough patches over 162 games.

The key now will be to make the adjustments as Cleveland and other upcoming opponents will take notice of what the Astros were able to do with a steadier-than-normal diet of curves and sliders. It’s up to the Orioles to get back to where they were over the first six weeks of the season when strikeouts were rarely part of the conversation in their wins or losses.

They’ll remain under the strikeout microscope until then and rightly so after setting such a dubious record.

Buck Showalter likes to say you’re never as bad as it looks at your worst or as good as it appears at your best. That’s an appropriate message for both his players and Orioles fans prematurely pressing the panic button. Even after completing the three-game sweep, the 20-28 Astros would still trade places in a heartbeat.

After a miserable series in which he went 1-for-14, Adam Jones probably said it best after Thursday’s finale.

“Let’s get the hell out of Houston.”

But hopefully the Orioles leave the absurd strikeout totals behind.

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Ravens-related thoughts from wild-card weekend

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Some have perceived a softer culture for the Ravens since Super Bowl XLVII, but Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict reminded us Saturday that there’s a fine line between attitude and recklessness.

Baltimore may lack the big personalities and swagger that it once had on the defensive side of the football, but the Bengals linebacker has proven time and time again that you simply can’t trust him. His personal foul on Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown on Saturday was just the latest example of a player lacking any regard for others on the field and playing too recklessly in a critical spot. This came after replays showed him driving his knee into the right shoulder of Ben Roethlisberger on the sack that took the Steelers quarterback out of the game.

The Ravens are no strangers to Burfict’s antics as offensive lineman John Urschel pointed out the hit on rookie tight end Maxx Williams in Week 17 on Sunday. Former Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith called Burfict a “dirty” player last season, and ex-Ravens Ray Rice and Bobbie Williams had issues with the Bengals linebacker in his rookie season.

To be clear, the Ravens would benefit from having more attitude on the defensive side of the ball. They certainly would like to have the play-making ability demonstrated by Burfict on his late interception that looked like it would seal the Bengals’ first playoff win in a quarter-century before Jeremy Hill’s fumble.

But the famous rant from Mike Singletary describes Burfict perfectly: “It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them. Can’t do it. I want winners.”

Intimidation and ferocity have been traits of many great players over the years, but only when those qualities can be harnessed, something Burfict was incapable of doing when it mattered most.

Was Mallett watching?

A fake Ryan Mallett Twitter account garnered some attention during the Houston Texans’ embarrassing 30-0 loss to Kansas City on Saturday, but you hope that the real Mallett did reflect as Brian Hoyer turned in one of the worst playoff performances by a quarterback in recent memory.

It’s fair to point out that Hoyer posted a solid 91.4 passer rating this season, but Mallett had a golden opportunity in Houston that he completely squandered as he’s more physically gifted than the Texans’ current starter. There’s no way to know for sure if Mallett would have fared any better against the Chiefs, but Houston was a much better opportunity for him than Baltimore in terms of playing time if he’d simply been more of a professional.

To his credit, Mallett has done all of the right things since signing with the Ravens, but Saturday should have been a reminder to him of what might have been. Now, he plays for a team that strictly views him as a backup behind an entrenched franchise quarterback.

He’ll be lucky to receive another opportunity like the one he had in Houston, but you hope he’s learned his lesson if that day does come.

Thankful for Tucker

While many thought of Billy Cundiff when Minnesota’s Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard chip shot that would have won the game for the Vikings, the reliability of Justin Tucker also came to mind.

To be fair, Walsh is a former Pro Bowl kicker and had missed just one kick inside 30 yards in his four-year career, but the 2012 sixth-round pick had also failed to convert four extra points this year, showing he hadn’t been as reliable from shorter distances. Meanwhile, Tucker has never missed from inside 30 in his NFL career and has missed just one field goal try inside 40 yards in his four seasons.

A miss such as Walsh’s could happen to anyone — these guys are human, after all — but Sunday likely reminded general manager Ozzie Newsome how lucky he’s been to have Tucker and how the Ravens can’t afford to let him go this offseason despite his issues from beyond 50 yards this past year.

Winning trumps all 

With John Harbaugh and the injury-ravaged Ravens speaking so much about their heart and resiliency at the end of the season, you hope that they take some notes from the Chiefs as they won their 11th consecutive game on Saturday.

At one point, the Chiefs were 1-5 and had lost their best player — four-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles — to a season-ending knee injury in October, but Andy Reid’s team did more than just to keep fighting and to play teams close every week. Of course, the Ravens weren’t as talented as Kansas City and lost the likes of Joe Flacco and Steve Smith as the season progressed, making a turnaround of that magnitude virtually impossible.

But you also don’t want players to take too much satisfaction from a 5-11 record, no matter who was on the field by season’s end.

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Ravens-Seahawks game flexed out of Sunday night spot

Posted on 29 November 2015 by Luke Jones

In the midst of one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, the Ravens officially learned Sunday night that they will miss out on hosting a prime-time game next month.

The NFL announced that Baltimore’s Dec. 13 game against Seattle that was originally scheduled for NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been flexed to that afternoon. Instead, a game between Houston and New England will now kick off at 8:30 p.m on that night.

The league announced the Ravens-Seahawks game will now begin at M&T Bank Stadium at 1 p.m. and will be televised on FOX.

Though Seattle currently holds the No. 6 seed in the NFC and collected a big home victory against Pittsburgh on Sunday to improve to 6-5, the 3-7 Ravens saw their already-faint playoff hopes crushed with the season-ending knee injury suffered by quarterback Joe Flacco last Sunday. Most had predicted for weeks that the Week 14 tilt would be moved out of the coveted Sunday night time slot.

It remains unclear whether the NFL will also move the Ravens’ Dec. 27 home game against Pittsburgh out of the Sunday night slot.

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Orioles reacquire outfielder L.J. Hoes from Houston

Posted on 25 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Two years after sending outfielder L.J. Hoes to Houston as part of the trade for pitcher Bud Norris, the Orioles have reacquired their former prospect for cash considerations.

To make room on the 40-man roster, Baltimore designated infielder Andy Wilkins for assignment on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Hoes batted .295 with 24 doubles, three triples, three home runs, and 53 RBIs in 99 games with Triple-A Fresno last season. He only received 16 plate appearances for the Astros in 2015 after 317 plate appearances for Houston over the previous two seasons.

After originally being selected by the Orioles in the third round of the 2008 draft, Hoes was traded along with pitching prospect Josh Hader and a draft pick to the Astros in exchange for Norris on July 31, 2013. Norris won 15 games as part of the Orioles’ American League East championship club in 2014 before struggling mightily and eventually being released this past season.

Having played 112 career games in the majors, Hoes has hit .237 with 12 doubles, two triples, four homers, and 22 RBIs in 337 plate appearances. Over 777 career minor-league games, the right-handed hitter has a .288 average with 29 home runs and a .369 on-base percentage over eight seasons.

The 27-year-old Wilkins had been claimed off waivers by the Orioles from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 6.

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Marc Vandermeer

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Marc Vandermeer’s take on the Texans underachieving 2-4 start

Posted on 20 October 2015 by WNST Staff

Marc Vandermeer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Indoor baseball doesn't have to suck. Houston has known this for 50 years...

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 11 Houston Astros

Posted on 30 August 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Houston – While Minute Maid Park has a bit of an airplane hangar vibe like Arizona and Milwaukee, this is by far the best of the trio of similar buildings. Great concessions, a cool left field wall and center field hill and the place doesn’t feel so cavernous. The team is playing good baseball and there was distinct energy in the air on the night I saw Dallas Kuechel sink the Yankees. Maybe there are some big games to come and some memories yet to be made but this is an underrated building and a nice (mostly indoor) place to watch a baseball game.

I never saw a game at the Astrodome. The punchline from most Astros fans would be: “Good, that place sucked!” But I must admit that I pine away for one night of glory in the cradle of Luv Ya Blue where sunburst uniforms and Jose Cruz running around. The current setup definitely feels like the same franchise. I liked the stadium. It’s the nicest of the domed places by far.

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Davis flashes why Orioles can’t give up on him yet

Posted on 28 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — You can’t take too much away from Chris Davis’ two-homer performance in a 5-4 win over Houston on Wednesday night.

The Orioles hope it’s the start of a turnaround from a start that’s too closely resembled the first baseman’s nightmarish 2014 campaign. But it was just over a year ago — May 20, 2014 to be exact — that Davis hit three home runs in a win over Pittsburgh before then going 7-for-43 with one long ball and 19 strikeouts in his next 11 games.

For now, manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles will cross their fingers that it’s the start of a run similar to those we witnessed in 2012 and 2013 when Davis was capable of carrying the offense for days — sometimes weeks — at a time. A breakout now would certainly help an offense struggling to score runs as the Orioles try to move back to the .500 mark.

 

“The reason why we talk about that — or you talk about it — is because of what he’s done in the past and what his track record shows,” Showalter said. “You look at some of the ERAs of their bullpen and to do it off [Houston lefty Tony] Sipp, that’s pretty hard to do.”

As critical as Davis’ home run to the right-center bleachers was to give the Orioles a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth, it merely offers a reminder of what the left-handed slugger is capable of, with no guarantees of what lies next. But it’s the reason why recent calls for Davis to be benched are based more on frustration and less in reality.

To be clear, a .216 batting average and 64 strikeouts in 174 plate appearances aren’t good enough. A 36.8 percent strikeout rate and 9.2 percent walk rate are numbers trending in the wrong direction from previous seasons, especially considering Davis is on pace to strike out a major league record 236 times.

But who do you really want to see in his place? Backup first baseman Steve Pearce is hitting .190. Prospect Christian Walker has only two home runs and sports a .656 on-base plus slugging percentage at Triple-A Norfolk this season. Former Minnesota Twins prospect Chris Parmelee has posted a strong .833 OPS for the Tides, but do you really think he’s the cure to the Orioles’ offensive woes or brings enough upside to justify starting him over a guy who hit 53 home runs two years ago?

With Davis struggling as much as he has in the month of May — along with most of the lineup — it’s perfectly reasonable to give the scuffling first baseman a day or two off, especially against a tough left-handed pitcher. It’s what Showalter did on Monday with Houston’s Dallas Keuchel on the mind. Coincidence or not, Davis has driven in four runs in his two games since then.

“As a player, I don’t think you ever want a day off,” Davis said. “You want to be in there every day, but sometimes you need it. Sometimes it’s better for them just to tell you to take a day as opposed to asking you. I think it was good. I definitely could have used the rest. It was good for me to sit back and watch the game and take a day off mentally.”

An occasional day off or a lowering in the batting order is one thing, but the Orioles need Davis’ upside in the lineup on a regular basis. It has nothing to do with his future as it appears more and more likely that Baltimore will rightly allow the frustrating slugger to depart via free agency after this season.

But the Orioles need his power potential in the lineup, because it will pay off — at least from time to time — like it did on Wednesday. Say what you want about the batting average and the strikeouts, but the 29-year-old leads the club in home runs and RBIs and is on pace to hit 37 bombs on the season.

In the same way that the Orioles did with Mark Reynolds a few years ago, you take the good with the bad. A .757 OPS is less than ideal for a first baseman and a middle-of-the-order hitter, but Davis represents the most upside that the club currently has from a power standpoint, especially after the offseason departure of Nelson Cruz.

For as long as he’s an Oriole, Davis needs to remain in the lineup. Wednesday brought a much-needed — and overdue — reminder of that.

“Any time you see that swing and he makes contact and the ball hit to right field, you know it’s going to the bleachers,” said winning pitcher Brad Brach of Davis’ two home runs that helped the Orioles hand the Astros their first road series loss of the season. “You just want to see how far it goes. That’s awesome for him. He works hard every day, and I’m glad to see it’s paying off.”

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Ravens sign veteran safety Kendrick Lewis

Posted on 14 March 2015 by Luke Jones

After watching a number of their own depart in the first week of free agency, the Ravens have made their first significant addition of the offseason by agreeing to a deal with safety Kendrick Lewis.

Baltimore agreed to a three-year contract with the 26-year-old who started 16 games for the Houston Texans last season and spent the first four years of his NFL career as a starter with the Kansas City Chiefs. Lewis collected 84 tackles, two interceptions, three forced fumbles, and six pass breakups for Houston last season, but the Texans signed safety Rahim Moore to a three-year, $12 million contract earlier this week.

With starting safety Darian Stewart signing a two-year deal with Denver on Friday, the Ravens had an obvious need at the position and Lewis is considered a strong tackler despite being unremarkable in coverage. The 2010 fifth-round pick out of Ole Miss graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 27th-ranked safety in the NFL among those who played in at least half of his team’s snaps last year. Stewart was graded 23rd by the same publication.

The Lewis signing completes a fascinating game of musical chairs as he replaces Stewart, who will replace Moore in Denver after the ex-Broncos safety signed with Houston to take Lewis’ starting job. Houston was reportedly interested in bringing back the 6-foot, 198-pound Lewis, but he viewed Baltimore as a better opportunity.

Though not an addition appearing to have a great deal of upside, Lewis gives the Ravens a veteran option in anticipation of what looks to be a weak 2015 draft class of safeties beyond Alabama’s Landon Collins. Lewis and Will Hill would appear to have the inside track as Baltimore’s starting safeties at this early stage of the offseason, but others figure to be in the mix such as disappointing 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and 2014 third-round pick Terrence Brooks, who is currently recovering from knee surgery and isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season.

A restricted free agent, Hill was given the $1.542 million low tender before the start of free agency, which gives the Ravens the right of first refusal should another team sign the 24-year-old to an offer sheet.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome doesn’t typically sign unrestricted free agents due to their negative impact on the compensatory pick formula, the loss of five unrestricted free agents of their own means that the Lewis addition wouldn’t appear to impact their ability to earn the maximum number of four compensatory picks for next year’s draft.

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Slow offensive starts threatening to bring Ravens’ season to abrupt finish

Posted on 22 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — No one could have predicted Sunday’s offensive debacle that resulted in the Ravens losing control of their path to the playoffs, but the 25-13 loss continued a disturbing trend in the final month of the season.

Despite winning two of three December games on the way to a 9-6 record, Baltimore has needed to overcome alarmingly slow starts against Miami, Jacksonville, and, finally, Houston. Of course, those offensive woes continued throughout the day against the Texans as the Ravens managed only 64 total yards through the first three quarters, bringing the concern to the forefront.

In 21 first-quarter plays against the Dolphins, Jaguars, and Texans, the Ravens compiled just 54 yards, one first down, and seven points, which came on a punt block returned for a touchdown against Jacksonville. For an offense that entered Week 16 ranked 10th in total yards and eighth in points per game, the poor starts are difficult to explain, but Sunday illustrated how a disturbing trend will ultimately catch up with you before too long.

Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t offer much clarity on the first-quarter problems when asked about them on Monday.

“Each game has been different,” Harbaugh said. “Every play and every series is different. There are different reasons for it. We’ve also had fast starts, too.”

The better starts have been few and far between as the Ravens have only scored more than seven points in the first quarter twice all season, the 28-point explosion against Tampa Bay in Week 6 and a 10-point effort against San Diego in Week 13. In contrast, Baltimore has failed to score in the opening quarter seven times this season while being shut out in only four other 15-minute periods.

The Ravens have scored 76 points in the first quarter this season with the 28 against the Buccaneers skewing the total substantially. They’ve scored 93 in the second, 91 in the third, and 129 in the fourth quarters of play.

So, what’s been the issue?

Some observers suggest the Ravens’ preference to defer whenever they win the coin toss as a potential factor. Baltimore has kicked off to begin games 10 times this year, but the offense has scored on three of five possessions when receiving the ball at the start of the game. Like Harbaugh, many coaches prefer receiving the ball to begin the second half when a game has already taken shape, but perhaps the Ravens offense needs to be thrown into the fire to wake up more quickly.

It’s fair to note that kicking off in the first quarter will limit a team’s possessions in the opening 15 minutes, but a 15-game body of work is too big of a sample to simply dismiss the problem.

“We give thought to that every week. We consider all the ramifications of that,” said Harbaugh about the decision to receive or defer. “We do what we think is best to win the game. We generally like to start on defense. That’s generally our rule of thumb. If you look at the stats on it, that’s the way to go. You have a little better chance, maybe a percent-and-a-half better at winning, historically, if you defer and kickoff.

“We also have a very good defense, so we like doing that. But it could change next week. It’s not to say that it couldn’t change or we have any aversion to taking the ball.”

Others wonder if offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s opening script of plays is either too predictable or fails to adjust to what a defense is showing in the early stages of the game. As was the case earlier in the year against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and even Tennessee, the Texans showed plenty of A-gap blitzing to bring pressure up the middle against quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens failed to handle it physically or schematically in what was the start of a very long day.

But the biggest issue with the slow starts in recent weeks has been the absence of the running game, which has paced Baltimore to its 9-6 record and entered Sunday’s game ranked fifth in the NFL. In the last three games, the Ravens have gained only 18 yards on 10 carries in the first quarter.

The lack of production in the running game has led to far too many third-and-long situations and makes Flacco and the offense too predictable. The Ravens are 0-for-6 on third down in the first quarter over the last three weeks, failing to stay on schedule in sustaining drives.

“They’ve blitzed the run game quite a bit,” Harbaugh said. “In some games, we’ve handled that and made them pay for it, and some games we haven’t, and in this game we certainly didn’t hurt them.”

A game is rarely won or lost in the first quarter — as their overall record proves — but the Ravens’ most-recent streak of slow starts offensively finally caught up with them in dramatic fashion on Sunday. And if they manage to find their way into the postseason, the trend will need to be reversed if the Ravens want any good shot of competing beyond the first weekend in January.

It’s a weakness that’s prevented a good offense from being very good for the better part of the 2014 season.

“I guess I don’t feel as somber about it as you all do,” said Harbaugh about turning the page from the disappointment of Sunday. “There is no success without failure. You don’t improve and grow [without failure]. There’s a process to it all, and you come up short sometimes, and we came up short in this game, but that’s how you improve and get better.”

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Ravens lose both offensive tackles to injury in Sunday’s loss

Posted on 21 December 2014 by Luke Jones

As if the embarrassment of their worst offensive performance of the year wasn’t enough, the Ravens lost both starting offensive tackles to injury in the 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Right tackle Rick Wagner was carted to the locker room with a foot injury sustained in the third quarter and didn’t return. The state of the offensive line turned even worse in the fourth quarter when veteran left tackle Eugene Monroe left the game and didn’t return.

It remained unclear what the extent of each player’s injury was immediately following the game, but reports from Houston indicated Wagner was wearing a protective boot on his foot and using crutches while Monroe was also wearing a protective boot on his foot.

“There’s nothing I want to share right now,” said head coach John Harbaugh about their status after the game. “We’ll just see how those guys come out of it and see where we’re at.”

Their departures caused plenty of shuffling on the starting line as the Ravens finished the game with rookie free agent James Hurst playing left tackle and Pro Bowl right guard moving out to right tackle, a position he hadn’t played since the 2010 season. Rookie John Urschel then entered the game to occupy Yanda’s normal position.

Hurst was previously filling in for Wagner at the right tackle spot before Monroe got hurt.

The Ravens were held to just 64 yards through the first three quarters of action and rushed for just 33 yards on 16 carries against the Houston defense.

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