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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 9-7 win over Houston

Posted on 23 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles salvaging the finale of a three-game set in a 9-7 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was a long time coming, but Zach Britton set a new American League record with his 55th consecutive save conversion and first since April 14. If he is indeed traded before the Orioles return home next Monday, it was a fitting final appearance for him at Camden Yards.

2. A balanced offensive attack was the difference as seven different Orioles collected an RBI. The offensive showing could have been even better if not for grounding into four double plays in the first six innings.

3. Dylan Bundy will continue receiving extra rest when off-days allow it, but he’s now posted a 7.85 ERA over his last seven starts after surrendering a career-high seven runs. He handled quite a workload over the first 2 1/2 months, and you wonder how much fatigue is factoring into his struggles.

4. Houston hitters were able to work their way back from multiple 0-2 counts as Bundy wasn’t able to finish them off. The walk to Alex Bregman preceding Nori Aoki’s game-tying three-run home run in the sixth was particularly frustrating for the young pitcher.

5. Mark Trumbo reminded us why he only plays sparingly in the outfield, but he made up for it with the game-tying home run in the last of the seventh. He was one of three Baltimore hitters to collect their 50th RBI of the season on Sunday.

6. Trey Mancini drove in two runs and improved his average with runners in scoring position to a whopping .431. You keep waiting for him to start looking more like a rookie at the plate, but it hasn’t happened.

7. Jonathan Schoop saw his streak of five straight games with multiple RBIs come to an end, but he’s had at least one in seven consecutive contests. His three-hit afternoon raised his season average to .307.

8. Jose Altuve’s greatness is hardly breaking news, but he collected four hits to finish off a .500 batting average for the series. He sure is something special to watch.

9. A move to the leadoff spot has sparked a recent surge for Adam Jones, who had four hits and passed former teammate Nick Markakis to move into sole possession of sixth place on the Orioles’ all-time hit list. He’s been in the middle of plenty of scoring rallies of late.

10. The sixth inning is a separator in today’s game as teams need starters capable of getting through six innings or an incredibly deep bullpen to survive. The Orioles gave up 11 runs in the sixth frame over this series.

11. Much was made about Dan Duquette’s trade deadline comments Saturday, but remember he was addressing season-ticket holders as players were within earshot. His actions, not his words, are what matter over the next week.

12. Had the Orioles gone 7-3 or better on this homestand to get back to .500, I could maybe understand not selling, but they have no more than six wins in any 10-game stretch since May 9. Winning five of seven isn’t enough to overlook 2 1/2 months of .379 baseball.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-4 loss to Houston

Posted on 28 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their 13th loss in 16 games in an 8-4 final at Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You mean removing Ubaldo Jimenez from the starting rotation wasn’t going to cure the Orioles’ many problems? As manager Buck Showalter likes to say, this, too, shall pass, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch until it does.

2. Alec Asher deserved an opportunity to start, but the 42 pitches he threw in the second inning alone were more than he’d thrown in any outing since May 7. His stuff and command weren’t close to being good enough against the red-hot Astros.

3. If you’re desperate for a silver lining, the Orioles took their first lead since Monday in the first inning. The drought felt like it had been that long, too.

4. After loading the bases with one out, the Orioles managed only one run in the third inning to take a short-lived 3-0 lead. This offense entered Sunday ranked 18th in the majors in runs per game and deserves as much blame as the pitching, at least relative to expectations.

5. Asher’s poor start only adds insult to the void now left in the bullpen that he’d filled quite nicely over the last few weeks. Then again, the Orioles haven’t had many late-inning leads to protect recently.

6. Jonathan Schoop is one of the few Baltimore regulars who hasn’t underachieved so far in 2017. His two-run home run in the first and RBI single in the second accounted for the Orioles’ only meaningful run production.

7. The pitch wasn’t quite as high as the one he hit off Washington’s Gio Gonzalez earlier this month, but Mark Trumbo hit a solo homer on one up around the letters from Astros reliever James Hoyt. That’s not easy to do.

8. Chris Davis isn’t the only one struggling right now, but he looks completely lost at the plate, swinging at pitches out of the zone and taking ones down the heart of the plate. He struck out three more times in the series finale, two of them looking.

9. Even with his good six-inning performance to preserve the rest of the bullpen, Jimenez pitching in relief now leaves the Orioles’ with a dead roster spot for at least the next couple games since you can’t option him to the minors. It’s just not sustainable.

10. Joey Rickard collected a single in the ninth inning, but he made an error in center field for the second straight day and now has a .617 on-base plus slugging percentage. He’s not offering much off the bench.

11. The current seven-game slide is the longest losing streak for the Orioles since 2011, the last time they had a losing season. You hope that’s not a sign of things to come, but this is easily their worst stretch since losing 12 of 13 in late August of 2015.

12. The Orioles aren’t as bad as they’ve looked over the last 2 1/2 weeks, but that 22-10 start is looking more and more miraculous as time passes. The starting pitching is bad and their long-standing strengths — the bullpen and the offense — have been very mediocre. That’s not a winning formula.

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Wild-card weekend drives home key points for Ravens

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Watching wild-card weekend from home for the third time in the last four years, the Ravens had to be thinking what might have been.

They have no one to blame but themselves after losing three of their last four games to finish a mediocre 8-8, but a survey of the wild-card round field only reinforced the lack of high-quality teams in the NFL this year and in most seasons. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are, but you could argue that Baltimore was better than a few of the playoff teams if going off the eyeball test.

Oakland deserves a pass with the unfortunate injury to Derek Carr, but the Ravens would have certainly put up a better fight against Brock Osweiler and a Houston offense that was abysmal all season. The Texans finished minus-49 in point differential this season — Baltimore was plus-22 — and took advantage of a lousy AFC South with a 5-1 division record.

No one should have been surprised to see the Pittsburgh offense steamroll Miami after the Ravens scored 38 points against that same group last month. The Dolphins deserve credit for beating the teams they were supposed to under first-year head coach Adam Gase, but they registered only one victory against a team that finished with a winning record this season.

The Detroit Lions were a good story with so many exciting finishes, but they lost three straight to close the regular season, beat only one team that finished with a winning record, and finished with a minus-12 point differential.

The Ravens might have been an Antonio Brown tackle away from entering Week 17 atop the AFC North, but the defining stretch of the season was their winless October in which they lost to a non-playoff team at home (Washington) and dropped a 24-16 road contest to the woeful New York Jets. A single victory over that 0-4 stretch would have changed the dynamics of the final two weeks of the season.

Of course, being able to measure up to a few playoff squads doesn’t mean John Harbaugh’s team is close to being back at a championship level. Looking beyond the Texans’ lottery-winning draw of a Carr-less Raiders team on Saturday, the other three winners of the weekend — Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay — each possess dynamic playmakers, a truly special quarterback, or both.

The Ravens have a respectable collection of quality players — including the league’s best kicker and the top guard in the NFL — but they have nothing that measures closely to the impact provided by five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown and two-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who combined for four touchdowns and just under 300 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ 30-12 victory over Miami. And Joe Flacco didn’t come close to playing at a special level this year, either.

With Flacco arguably having more job security than anyone in the entire organization after signing a contract extension last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome better find him a playmaker or two if the Ravens’ fortunes are to markedly change for the better any time soon. It’s been a talking point for a few years now, but that makes it no less true after another non-playoff campaign.

** The four games had an average margin of victory of 19.0 points, making it the most lopsided wild-card weekend since 1981. Most expected all four home teams to prevail, but it was quite a contrast between Super Bowl contenders and pretenders this weekend.

** I couldn’t help but feel for the Raiders as they played in their first playoff game in 14 years without the benefit of their young franchise quarterback under center. Oakland should be back with such a talented group of young players on which to build, but return trips to the postseason can’t be taken for granted.

** It’s great to see Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney finally showing off the ability that warranted him being selected first overall in the 2014 draft after two disappointing seasons. He finished with an interception, two batted passes, and four quarterback pressures in a terrific performance against overwhelmed rookie quarterback Connor Cook.

** Even if Ben Roethlisberger wearing a walking boot after Sunday’s win was much ado about nothing, why in the world was the Pittsburgh quarterback and several other key starters still in the game so late in the fourth quarter?

** Can you imagine how long their fans would have been screaming about the Packers’ failed fourth-down run from the their own 42-yard line in the third quarter if it had resulted in the turning point of a New York Giants win at Lambeau Field? I suppose having a future Hall of Fame quarterback helps to cover up a bad coaching decision as Rodgers was sensational on Sunday.

** No, I don’t believe the Monday trip to Miami made by Odell Beckham Jr. — and several of his teammates — was the reason why the Giants lost to Green Bay, but it did fairly call his focus and priorities into question just days before the biggest game of his young NFL career.

Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is highly respected around the league and summed it up nicely via his Twitter account. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should, and Beckham certainly fueled the flames of the story by turning in a lousy performance.

Maybe he should have asked Tony Romo if a pre-playoff vacation is worth the potential backlash.

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Sizing up Ravens’ playoff picture entering Week 16

Posted on 19 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens were lucky not to have their playoff hopes all but squashed on Sunday, but their 27-26 win over Philadelphia leaves them with an 8-6 record and multiple paths to the postseason.

The first is clear while the others involve assistance from other teams.

Winning road games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would give the Ravens their first AFC North division title since the 2012 season. Of course, that would require Baltimore to win its first games on the road since September.

Many are hyping the Christmas Day showdown at Heinz Field as an AFC North championship game, but it’s not enough for the Ravens to merely win on Sunday. The Steelers host the winless Cleveland Browns in their regular-season finale, meaning the Ravens would almost certainly need to win a road game against the Bengals for the first time since 2011 in order to secure the division championship.

A path to a wild card also remains — at least for now.

The Ravens completed Week 15 a game behind Miami for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. A win for the 9-5 Dolphins at Buffalo on Christmas Eve would force Baltimore to beat the Steelers to stave off elimination for a playoff spot. A Miami loss would keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive in Week 17, no matter what happens against Pittsburgh.

Despite the daunting task of playing their two biggest division rivals on the road in consecutive weeks, the Ravens do have a 7-3 conference record working in their favor as a tiebreaker over fellow playoff contenders Tennessee, Denver, and Houston. Of course, Baltimore owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins via the 38-6 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 13.

Currently competing for the AFC South title, the Texans and the Titans meet in Week 17, meaning one is set to lose at least one more game.

If the Ravens are to make the playoffs while losing one more game, they would need the Dolphins to lose out and the other 8-6 wild-card contenders to each lose at least one more game.

Below is a look at the remaining schedule for the Ravens and the other contenders for the final wild card in the AFC:

PITTSBURGH (9-5, first place in AFC North)
Remaining opponents: Baltimore, Cleveland

HOUSTON (8-6, first place in AFC South via head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee)
Remaining opponents: Cincinnati, at Tennessee

MIAMI (9-5, No. 6 seed)
Remaining opponents: at Buffalo, New England

BALTIMORE (8-6, seventh in AFC via conference record)
Remaining opponents: at Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati

TENNESSEE (8-6, eighth in AFC via head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver)
Remaining opponents: at Jacksonville, Houston

DENVER (8-6, ninth in AFC)
Remaining opponents: at Kansas City, Oakland

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Long, painful week for Orioles ends with no relief

Posted on 22 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles had a chance to stop the bleeding on Sunday after a difficult 1-4 start to an eight-game homestand.

Waiting out a rain delay of more than four hours on the heels of two of their worst losses of the season, the Orioles watched first-place Toronto squander another late lead in a loss at Cleveland. Second-place Boston fell hard in Detroit. Even Seattle — who entered the day one game behind Baltimore for the second wild-card spot — blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning to lose to lowly Milwaukee.

A victory in the finale of the four-game set with Houston would have shrunk the Orioles’ American League East deficit to just 1 1/2 games and increased their lead over the Mariners. It wasn’t a must-win game, but it represented a valuable opportunity to salvage a four-game split, exhale, and regroup after allowing an unseemly 27 runs to the Astros the previous two nights.

Yovani Gallardo gave the Orioles exactly what they needed after poor performances by Wade Miley, Chris Tillman, and a host of long relievers had decimated the bullpen to the point that infielder Ryan Flaherty pitched the ninth inning of Saturday’s loss. Enduring two different rain delays, Gallardo allowed one run over the first four innings on Sunday.

Then, the fifth came.

Two-time Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado bobbled a chopper off the bat of Teoscar Hernandez for an error to begin the inning. Four batters later, a Carlos Correa line drive to right-center went off the glove of right fielder Chris Davis for a two-run double that would give the Astros a 4-1 lead. Manager Buck Showalter said after the game that his normal first baseman had lost the ball in the lights, but the two defensive miscues led to three runs for Houston.

The bottom of the fifth wasn’t much better as Adam Jones singled home Nolan Reimold to make it a 4-2 deficit, but the center fielder overslid second base as he advanced on the throw home and was then tagged out, ending the inning and adding a baserunning mistake to the poor defense in the top half of frame.

Taking nothing away from a strong eight-inning performance by 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, the Orioles cost themselves dearly in that fateful inning. Of course, it didn’t help that the bats largely fell silent again after the Baltimore pitching hadn’t given them much of a chance on Friday or Saturday.

Gallardo deserved better over his seven solid innings of work, but the Orioles have done whatever it takes to lose on this current homestand. In a two-game sweep against Boston, little went right across the board. After a 13-5 blowout victory over the Astros in the series opener, the Orioles made major league history Friday night by homering four times before recording a single out and amazingly lost by seven as Miley and the bullpen surrendered a combined 15 runs.

Despite falling to just 11 games over .500 for the first time since June 22, the math tells you the Orioles are still in fine shape and only a modest winning streak away from potentially being back in first place. But it doesn’t feel that way with a maddeningly inconsistent offense, a shorthanded bullpen, and a starting rotation reverting to its first-half form after showing some improvement since the All-Star break.

Since a four-game winning streak in which they swept Cleveland and won the opener of a series with Colorado to improve to an AL-best 58-40 on July 25, the Orioles have gone 9-16 and have been passed by both the Blue Jays and the Red Sox in the division.

It isn’t panic time yet, but losing the final three games against Houston — a team that came to Baltimore having lost four in a row and 13 of its previous 19 — felt alarmingly reminiscent of last year’s four-game home sweep to Minnesota that led to a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games ending any real chance of making the postseason. Of course, the Orioles are in better position now than last year at that point, but their 2016 season appears to be at a crossroads.

The offense has slumped for the better part of six weeks now, once again too dependent on the home run. Dating back to the last West Coast trip, the last six hits apiece from Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo have all been homers, illustrating the largely all-or-nothing performance from the lineup.

The health of No. 1 starter Chris Tillman remains in question despite him saying his shoulder felt fine after his worst start of the season on Saturday. Acquired at the deadline to fortify the rotation, Miley is sporting a 9.53 ERA in his four starts with the Orioles.

The bullpen is once again without Darren O’Day, who doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a strained rotator cuff. Closer Zach Britton has been nothing short of brilliant all year, but getting to him is becoming increasingly difficult with fellow All-Star reliever Brad Brach struggling since the break.

The Orioles had been nearly invincible at Camden Yards this season in winning 70 percent of their games there, but they no longer have the best home mark in the majors after dropping six of their last seven in Baltimore.

No, things aren’t always as bad as they seem when a team is struggling like the Orioles are right now. The good news is that they didn’t lose any ground Sunday with their competitors all falling.

But instead of stopping the bleeding and starting to reverse their recent fortunes, the wound grew deeper in another frustrating loss.

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Home runs continue to stunt Gausman’s success

Posted on 19 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman is having a strange season in 2016.

He’s pitched better than his 4-10 record indicates as he entered Thursday’s start having the fourth-worst run support among qualified American League starters. His 4.11 ERA has still made him Baltimore’s No. 2 starter behind Chris Tillman, but he hasn’t taken the major step forward that many hoped to see.

It hasn’t been all bad for Gausman, who is striking out a career-best 9.1 batters per nine innings as a starter to rank 14th among qualified major league pitchers. Despite walking a career-high six in San Francisco last weekend, the 25-year-old has issued a very reasonable 2.6 free passes per nine innings in 2016.

So, what’s been the problem beyond the shoddy run support?

The right-hander just hasn’t been able to keep it in the ballpark.

After giving up a pair of late home runs against Houston to soil what was shaping up to be a strong outing in Thursday’s 13-5 win, Gausman has allowed 1.63 homers per nine innings this season, the eighth-worst mark among qualified starters in the majors. Since giving up just three long balls in his first 36 2/3 innings of the season, Gausman has surrendered 20 over his last 90 1/3 innings. You can’t blame it on pitching at Camden Yards, either, as 15 of the 23 he’s allowed in 2016 have come on the road.

After giving up only 0.6 homers per nine innings in 20 starts in 2014, Gausman’s home run rate sits at 1.5 per nine over the last two years, the biggest statistical factor that has kept his ERA above 4.00. Of the 61 runs (earned and unearned) allowed by Gausman this year, 32 have scored via the home run. In contrast, just 24 of the 58 runs allowed by Tillman — another pitcher prone to giving up home runs — have scored on round-trippers.

Fans often question Gausman’s aggressiveness — particularly on the road — but that doesn’t paint the entire picture.

Fifteen of the 23 home runs in 2016 have come against Gausman’s fastball, but the issue isn’t really with that pitch itself. He’s allowed one long ball per 18.6 plate appearances against right-handed hitters but just one per 35 plate appearances against lefties.

His split-changeup has made him very effective against left-handed bats, but his breaking ball — whether you label it a slider, a curve, or a “slurve” — designed to help against right-handers continues to be a below-average pitch. Opponents are hitting .351 with four home runs and six doubles against the 293 sliders he’s thrown in 2016, according to FanGraphs. In contrast, opponents are hitting .216 with four homers and five doubles on the 462 splitters he’s thrown.

Gausman has thrown his breaking ball a career-high 13.1 percent of the time in 2016 as he continues to try to develop it as more than just a “show-me” pitch, but he remains too much of a fastball-dependent pitcher against right-handers. This unsurprisingly makes him more vulnerable to the long ball if his fastball command within the strike zone isn’t superb. Even with the great velocity, right-handed hitters generally know he’s going to lean on the fastball in big moments and aren’t afraid of his breaking ball.

The expectations have been high for Gausman since he was selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft. The Orioles and their fans understandably want to see more, but his 3.98 ERA over the last three seasons has still made him a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

Without Gausman developing a pitch to better defend himself against the right-handed hitters who are hitting .290 with an .859 on-base plus slugging percentage against him in 2016, it’s difficult envisioning him being dramatically better than what he’s been to this point in his career. To be clear, that would hardly make him a bust as most highly-touted pitching prospects never become an ace.

It’s just very difficult for a two-pitch pitcher to become a top-of-the-rotation guy.

After 64 career starts in the majors, this might just be who Gausman is.

** J.J. Hardy continues to quietly have a solid season at the plate despite missing nearly seven weeks with a broken foot.

A two-homer night on Thursday doesn’t change the reality that he lacks the same power that he once possessed, but his hard contact rate of 37.5 percent is easily the highest of his career, according to FanGraphs. He isn’t going the other way more often than in the past, but a different approach focused on hitting line drives has prompted him to hit .409 to the opposite field compared to his .248 career mark.

After an abysmal 2015 in which he played with a torn labrum in his left shoulder all season, Hardy needed to bounce back and has done so with a .278 average, seven home runs, 19 doubles, and a .743 OPS.

** Mark Trumbo hit his 35th homer of the season on Thursday to set a new career high.

He is hitting just .156 with a .583 OPS since the All-Star break, but he does have seven home runs over those 32 games. In fact, Trumbo’s last four hits dating back to the final game of the Oakland series on August 11 have all been home runs.

Talk about all or nothing.

** Hyun Soo Kim registered the first four-hit game and first triple of his major league career on Thursday night. He is now hitting .329 with a .406 on-base percentage and a very respectable .449 slugging percentage in 244 plate appearances.

Remember when the Orioles were convinced he couldn’t play in the majors after a poor start in spring training?

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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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