Tag Archive | "jason berken"

Growing the Arms, Pie in the Sky, and Goodbye to an Un-American Eyesore

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Growing the Arms, Pie in the Sky, and Goodbye to an Un-American Eyesore

Posted on 30 August 2009 by Sam Angell

OUT NUMBER ONE

The past ten games have shown us something about these 2009 Orioles. This year’s record may not show it, but this is not the same team that has put up losing campaigns the last 12 seasons. This year’s team has fight – and isn’t done putting up some positively exciting results. That may not have been more evident than Sunday afternoon, when rookie Brian Matusz set new career highs with eight strikeouts and seven innings pitched. After five starts in which he showed flashes of brilliance but couldn’t put everything together, Matusz knew he was going to have a better day on Sunday, and told teammates and reports to expect it.

He was right.

Matusz seems to be showing an incredible sense of self-awareness. His ability to identify and correct his mechanical flaws with the help of pitching coach Rick Kranitz will prove invaluable over the course of his career, and could help him avoid prolonged stretches of poor outings. There will undoubtedly be more missteps along the way for Matusz, and the team he dominated on Sunday was not exactly one of the Major League’s most potent offenses. But the Indians – especially Andy Marte, who went 0-3 against Matusz – had shown a knack for delivering some painful knockout blows during the four-game series at Camden Yards this weekend. Even when the Birds could retire the Indians, it seemed like they had to put a little extra work in, as center fielder Adam Jones twice robbed Indians of home runs on Saturday night. Matusz shut the Tribe down. It will take time to know for sure, but he certainly looks like he could turn into the top-of-the-rotation ace that the Orioles hoped he would be when they selected him in the first round last year.

Matusz hasn’t been the only Oriole looking good lately. Chris Tillman has continued to impress over his first few Major League outings, and although David Hernandez has suffered a few setbacks recently, he bounced back with a solid effort on Thursday night in a no-decision. Jeremy Guthrie, the anointed ace of the staff coming into the year, has looked like the Guthrie of old in his last two outings. Even Jason Berken, who wallowed through much of the campaign and seemed like a strong candidate for demotion before the injury to Brad “R.O.Y.” Bergesen, has won his last two starts and three of his last five, giving up no more than three earned runs in each outing.

For the most part, these guys are keeping the team in the game. There have been a few hiccups from the bullpen, but they are also showing signs of an emerging confidence and dependability. George Sherrill put up a tremendous year-and-a-half for the Birds, and could have rightfully added an All-Star appearance this year to go along with what should have been an All-Star Game M.V.P. outing last season. But Kam Mickolio has shown a calm under pressure and an ability to throw strikes – something that sounds simple but may end up making him one of the most valuable pieces the Orioles got for Erik Bedard two offseasons ago. Thursday night’s blown save notwithstanding, Jim Johnson has looked like a more than capable replacement for Sherrill in the closer role, with a sinking fastball that can reach the upper-nineties and keep batters from making solid contact. Even Chris Ray, who appeared to some as a lost cause at least twice this season, may have finally gotten his mechanical issues figured out on his last trip down to Norfolk.

“Grow the arms and buy the bats.” That has been the philosophy of Andy MacPhail all along. Maybe he’s been on to something.

OUT NUMBER TWO

Speaking of the Orioles’ bats, who saw this coming from Felix Pie? The baserunning mistakes are still there, painful even for tee ball-playing little leaguers to watch. But he has been lethal at the plate lately. More and more often, Pie has sent rockets out of the Yard, allowing him the freedom to circle the basepaths at his leisure. Sunday’s opposite field blast to open up a 3-0 lead on the Indians was impressive, but perhaps his most jaw-dropping bomb of the year came last week in Minnesota, when he teed off on a Twinkie pitch and sent it soaring beyond the deep center field wall at the Metrodome. Cal Ripken got his 3,000th hit at the Metrodome, and the Orioles have always played well there. But that might have been the most impressive shot I have ever seen at that place. This guy can hit, folks. He’s clearly got a lot of work to do, but maybe he was worth keeping around after all. Hopefully he comes back in the spring with a little more understanding of the subtleties of the game.

OUT NUMBER THREE

Since we’re on the subject of the Metrodome, the Orioles’ win on Wednesday night marked the end of their time in that abomination of a ballpark. Although the Birds generally fared well there and it was, as I mentioned, the site of Cal Ripken’s 3,000th hit, it was a lousy place for a ballgame. Oriole Park has the Warehouse. Wrigley has the Ivy. Fenway has the Green Monster. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome had sandwich bags that had been left in Kirby Puckett’s locker hanging from the rafters in right field. The roof wreaked havoc on fly balls, and ground balls hit on the ultra-fast, ultra-hard artificial surface weren’t much more fun. The Mall of America stands where the Twins’ former home, Metropolitan Stadium, once existed. With its sterile, fluorescent environment and deteriorating amenities (on a recent visit, my parents were shocked to find that the place didn’t even bother to sell Twins hats!), there aren’t many more Un-American ballparks in the Major Leagues. Even Toronto’s SkyDome, with its Hard Rock Cafe, McDonalds, and swanky hotel, is more American than that place. And that’s without even bringing up the swastika that perpetually hovers over the cool, clear Minneapolis sky.

 

—–

That’s all for me today. Happy belated Birthday, Michael.

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Today’s Orioles Lineup

Posted on 12 August 2009 by Chris Bonetti

It’ll be an early 1:35pm first pitch when the Orioles shoot for the series against the Oakland A’s in the rubber-game between the two this afternoon at Camden Yards.

Last night’s O’s 3-2 win ended a nine-game losing streak to Oakland dating back to July 22, 2007.  David Hernandez was exceptional in picking up the win, going 6.2 innings and striking out a career-high six, while allowing A’s hitters to just two runs on two solo homers.

Two rookie right-handers will once again be matched up between the O’s and A’s when it’ll be Jason Berken (2-9, 6.72) going against Oakland’s 21-year old Vin Mazzaro (3-8, 5.70).

The early start will give the Orioles lineup a different look, including Adam Jones batting in the five spot for the first time this season. Also, Nolan Reimold and Melvin Mora are on the bench with Felix Pie and Ty Wigginton taking their places in left and at third respectively.

Orioles

Brian Roberts – 2B
Felix Pie – LF
Nick Markakis – RF
Aubrey Huff – 1B
Adam Jones – CF
Luke Scott- DH
Matt Wieters – C
Ty Wigginton – 3B
Cesar Izturis – SS

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Tonight's Orioles - Blue Jays Lineups

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Tonight’s Orioles – Blue Jays Lineups

Posted on 07 August 2009 by Chris Bonetti

The Orioles current six-game roadtrip begins its second leg tonight with the opening game of three between themselves and the Toronto Blue Jays, starting at 7:05pm at the Rogers Centre.

For the second consecutive game we’ll see a pair of rookies going head-to-head on the mound; tonight it’ll be Orioles righty Jason Berken squaring off with the Blue Jays’ Rick Romero.

Berken has been the less effective of the two, and by a good amount.  Since winning his major league debut start back on May 25th, Berken’s record has been 0-9… not good.  His last outing came Sunday where the Red Sox pummeled the young pitcher with six runs and in the process chased him after just 1.1 innings.  On the year, Berken’s ERA has swollen to 6.93.

On the other hand, Romero has been mostly phenomenal in his first full season in the bigs and has put himself in the discussion for the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award.  In his last nine starts the 24-year old lefty has gotten the win on seven occasions and has parleyed the hot streak into a 10-4 record and 3.53 ERA.

As for the lineups:

Orioles

Brian Roberts – 2B
Adam Jones – CF
Nick Markakis – RF
Aubrey Huff – DH
Nolan Reimold – LF
Melvin Mora – 3B
Ty Wigginton – 1B
Matt Wieters – C
Cesar Izturis – SS

Blue Jays

Marco Scutaro – SS
Aaron Hill – 2B
Adam Lind – DH
Lyle Overbay – 1B
Vernon Wells – CF
Alex Rios – RF
Edwin Encarnacion – 3B
Rod Barajas – C
Joe Inglett – LF

In his last start Jason Berken allowed 9 of the 13 Red Sox batters he faced to reach base. (Courtesy: Gene Sweeney Jr.)

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Matusz's debut provides some much needed excitement in yet another miserable baseball summer

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Matusz’s debut provides some much needed excitement in yet another miserable baseball summer

Posted on 04 August 2009 by Marco Romanell

 It is hard to be excited about a team that is 44-61 and again in last place, especially with football season right around the corner. But, unlike the previous 11 summers, this Orioles team is providing me with some excitement this August. The reason for that excitement is that another “piece” toward contending in the future – Brian Matusz – has been called up to make the start tonight against the Tigers. Things are finally starting to look up for the Orioles; even if their win loss record doesn’t show it.

Matusz is the 5th pitcher called up from the Minor Leagues this season, leaving Jeremy Guthrie as the only starter from the original rotation on Opening Day. A rotation of Guthrie, Tillman, Berken, Hernandez and Matusz makes me more excited then the dismal Guthrie, Koji, Eaton, Hendrickson, Hill and Simon rotation that the Orioles sported for the beginning of the season. Once Bergesen gets off the DL, the Orioles rotation will start to take shape in a better direction, and I can’t help but get excited about this.

I have always been one who believes in the adage that pitchers need to get seasoning in the Minor leagues. Given the Orioles dismal state this year, I have no problem if the starting staff consisted of nothing but young pitchers who were called up from the minors. Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz have shown they can get Minor League hitters out, so it’s senseless to keep them down there. Since wins and losses don’t matter, it is better to get them some experience this season, hopefully earning them a starting spot in the rotation next spring training. I have never believed that calling a player up too early- and them not succeeding- can ruin their mindset. If you are good, you’re good, if you’re not then you’re not, simple as that. The difference between Chris Tillman and Jason Berken isn’t their mind set when they struggle, it’s their talent. Tillman looks to have it and Berken looks like he doesn’t.

Whether Matusz comes in and struggles or not, I believe he is the Orioles ace of the future and will anchor what could be one of the best rotations in all of baseball. This is the right time for Matusz to come up. Obviously fans would like to see him succeed for this season but if he doesn’t I am not worried. Seeing Brian Matusz give up seven runs a game is far more exciting then watching Rich Hill give up seven runs.

My birthday is August 7th and for the past 12 years the only present I have wanted from the Orioles was competitive baseball. Once again they aren’t providing me with competitive baseball but they are providing with some excitement and a small amount of hope in the pitching. Maybe one year soon I will get that present that I have longed for.

Brian Matusz is yet another piece in Andy MacPhail’s puzzle and with him, the puzzle is almost complete. Matusz’s debut could not come at a better time for Orioles fans who just watched Red Sox Nation take over Camden Yards like it was their own stadium. While that sour taste will stay in my mouth for a long time, Brian Matusz has at least helped lessen it.

After 11 straight losing seasons’ and en route to a 12th, Brian Matusz has provided me with a reason to get a little excited in August. At this point, that is really all any Orioles fan can ask for.

Now please don’t let him be the next Rocky Coppinger, Matt Riley or Rick Krivda !!!

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Melvin Mora vs. The Karma Train …..

Posted on 03 August 2009 by Rex Snider

So, Melvin Mora is feeling “disrespected.” Indeed, life has such pitfalls, huh?

I heard about Mora’s clubhouse meltdown, a few moments after it happened, yesterday afternoon. That’s right, before Jason Berken threw batting practice to the Boston Red Sox, in front of 40,000+ chowdaheadz, the Orioles suffered an offensive assault in the confines of their own clubhouse.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the details. The veteran was dejected at the reality of sitting on the bench for the 3rd time in 4 games. And, his frustration was aimed directly at Dave Trembley.

To hear Mora’s comments, an out-of-towner might suspect the 3rd baseman is enjoying a respectable season, of say a .300 batting average and 15 homers. Add 44 points and 12 dingers and this would be Mora’s season stats. Yep, he’s struggling …..

Yet, he thinks it’s a sign of disrespect to be “riding the pine.”

“I don’t appreciate the disrespect, because I’ve been playing hurt for a guy who won’t respect you. I don’t deserve it.” “I need to have my respect. This is not a guy who just came to the Orioles. This is a guy who’s been here for nine years,” Mora said.

Fair enough.

Mora has indeed been here 9 years and he’s been paid handsomely for his contributions. In fact, for his decade of service and a couple All Star appearances, the Orioles have paid Melvin Mora nearly $40 million dollars, including $9 million, this season.

The Orioles have awarded Mora a raise in salary, every season. And, they’ve obliged his desires and negotiated right to remain in the 410 area code. The Orioles have made Melvin Mora a very wealthy man. I call that RESPECT.

Yet, as we sit here on August 2nd, and after 104 games, Mora has hit just 3 homeruns and accumulated a measly 27 rbi’s. That’s an average of a homer every 6 weeks. At this rate, he’ll be lucky if he doesn’t get released.

I don’t think Melvin Mora’s benching is directly rooted in poor production and/or management “disrespecting” his contributions. As I’ve mentioned in the blog’s title, I suspect we’re dealing with a typical case of KARMA.

Uh huh, we know all about the “what comes around, goes around” tales of everyday life, right? It sounds like the Karma Train has pulled up to Mora’s locker and dragged him, kicking and screaming, onboard.

Think about it …..

Melvin Mora is leading us to believe he really wants to win and he pretty much conceded these desires during yesterday’s rant. “I need to sit down in my house, see what team (is) thinking to win,” Mora said. “I know here they’re rebuilding and they bring a lot of young guys here, good players. I know it’s time for me to move on.”

Really …..

Does Melvin Mora really wanna win?

If so, I’d like to know how many times Andy MacPhail OR Mike Flanagan OR Jim Beattie approached the embattled 3rd baseman with an opportunity to “join a contender” in past seasons. In fact, I wonder if he was given such a choice, over the last few weeks.

Hey, he wants to play for winner – he said it, yesterday. Yet, I’d be willing to bet he’s rejected opportunities to join winning organizations during past trade deadlines. If so, the desire to win can’t be too strong.

Thus, I’d suggest we really look at this situation for what it is …..

Melvin Mora knows he’s struggling. He’s well aware that he’s hit 3 stinkin’ homeruns in the course of 4 months time. He’s truly underachieved and he looks like a guy sliding down that slope known as the “backside” of his career.

And, he most surely knows his only shot at proving any worth to a potential 2010 suitor is to GET HOT and start producing. As Drew said in his Sunday blog, Mora won’t be in Baltimore, next year. So, if he wants to play, he needs to impress other teams.

That won’t happen on the bench.

For the Orioles part, they have no obligation beyond paying Melvin Mora. He has no obligation to playing time and we’re approaching that stretch of the season where “rebuilding teams” (as Melvin eloquently put it) put young, unproven players in the lineup, at the expense of veterans.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a greater purpose with Mora’s benching, as well …..

Alas, I truly suspect he’s been that DARK CLOUD that rained down on more than a couple potential deadline deals, aimed at improving the long term picture of the franchise, in the July’s of 2006, 2007, 2008 and this season.

I have no problem believing Mora has exercised his no-trade clause on more than one occasion. Hey, he negotiated this privilege and the Orioles foolishly granted it. But, I also have no problem believing they feel no urgency to help him pad next year’s resume’.

It’s just business.

In fact, this might benefit the Orioles in their prospective relationship with Mora. Who succeeds him, in 2010? Ty Wigginton? Josh Bell? Not yet. So, perhaps, Melvin Mora was on the scope for a 1-year deal, and the Orioles just want to ensure they won’t contend with much competition.

As recently as a week ago, Mora publicly disclosed that he wanted to play 4 more seasons. That’s a real stretch. But, I could’ve seen a season or two. And, if he was humbled by the opportunity to keep his family in Harford County, the Orioles might’ve considered him part of bridge to the future.

But, these meltdowns are not helping his cause. Maybe, he’s just a guy who needs a different environment. Or, he might just be one of those guys who needs to answer for all the roadblocks he’s created over the past few years.

In my 42 years, I’ve grown to embrace and appreciate the reality of what comes around, really does go around.

Call it what it is ……

The KARMA TRAIN awaits Melvin Mora and he doesn’t like it.

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Today's Orioles - Yankees Lineups

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Today’s Orioles – Yankees Lineups

Posted on 22 July 2009 by Chris Bonetti

The Orioles and Yankees will be back on the field early with this afternoon’s 1:05pm first pitch at the new Yankee Stadium.  With a motor-coach full of WNST listeners and the Nasty one himself in attendance, the O’s will attempt to avoid the series sweep and improve upon their 1-13 record against A.L. East opponents away from Baltimore.  After the game they’ll leave New York City to continue and conclude their current 9-game roadtrip with three against the Red Sox at Fenway over the weekend.

A pair of righty’s will take the mound as the O’s will send out Jason Berken, and his 1-7 record and 6.44 ERA,  to counter the Yankees’ A.J. Burnett, who owns an 8-1 record in ten career starts against the Orioles.

Here are the day’s starting lineups:

Orioles

Brian Roberts – 2B
Adam Jones – CF
Nick Markakis – RF
Aubrey Huff – 1B
Ty Wigginton – 3B
Luke Scott – DH
Gregg Zaun – C
Felix Pie – LF
Robert Andino – SS

Yankees

Derek Jeter – SS
Johnny Damon – LF
Mark Teixeira – 1B
Alex Rodriguez – 3B
Hideki Matsui – DH
Jorge Posada – C
Robinson Cano – 2B
Nick Swisher – RF
Brett Gardner – CF

In last night's 6-4 loss, Rich Hill's outing ended after surrendering this Robinson Cano 2-run shot in the fourth (Courtesy: AP).

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1st half thoughts

Posted on 15 July 2009 by Marco Romanell

The 1st half of the season is now in the books and as usual the Orioles find themselves in the AL East cellar. The Orioles have been on a roller coaster ride following up win streaks with detrimental losing streaks, leaving the fans pulling their hair out.

Here are some thoughts I have on the 1st half of the Orioles season:

88 games into the season, we still don’t know about the rotation:

Coming into the season the Orioles knew two things about the starting rotation: Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara were going to be in it. 88 games later, the Orioles seem to have more questions then answers about how the rotation will pan out. Guthrie has struggled, Koji is out for basically the rest of the season and the Rich Hill “experiment” seems to be over. The rotation is left with Brad Bergesen as the only “sure thing”.

It does the Orioles no good to trot Rich Hill and Jason Berken out to the mound every fifth day while Chris Tillman and Troy Patton are tearing it up in the Minor Leagues. I have a hunch we may see both them sometime in early August. This likely spells the end for Hill and Berken. The rotation has already under gone a major face lift and should continue to change throughout the summer.

One thing is certain; outside of Brad Bergesen, the Orioles rotation will continue to be an enigma.

Dave Trembley needs to change his managerial “style”:

When he became the manager a little over two seasons ago, Dave Trembley had a fire about him that exhibited a no nonsense style of managing. Fast forward to 2009; Dave Trembley is surly, mean and fiery, but to the media only and not his players. Although I don’t watch every other major league team regularly, I can’t imagine that they make as many fundamental mistakes as the Orioles. Fundamental baseball is one thing I believe the manager can control but Trembley seems to be more worried about attacking the media then fixing his team’s mistakes.

Personally, I don’t care if its Adam Jones or Felix Pie, if someone makes a bonehead mistake repeatedly then they need to be sitting on the bench next to Dave Trembley. Different players respond to the manager in different ways, but benching them is a universal way to get the message across. Something needs to change and that something to me is Dave Trembley.

The Orioles are interesting enough to keep me watching:

Just when the season looked to be over after a five game losing streak to start June, the Orioles turn around and win five straight, including a three game sweep in Philadelphia. One night they have the greatest comeback in team history then the next game they blow a 4 run lead in the 9th inning. If there is one word you can use to describe the 2009 Orioles its “interesting”.

It is now mid July and the Orioles still have me interested. Even with Ravens training camp two weeks away, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of Tillman and Patton and looking forward to see this team improve in the last 2+ months of the season.

The Orioles have been inconsistent but have shown enough in spurts to keep me entertained. These Birds are interesting and after 11 straight losing seasons, interesting is about as good as it gets.

The Orioles are eight games under .500 which is pretty much where I expected them to be. Luke Scott and Adam Jones had career 1st halves, while Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters look to be the real deal.

With the trade deadline looming there could be some fireworks. Any trade Andy MacPhail makes is likely to improve the Orioles for the present and future.

While they may not hit the “unattainable” .500 mark, they are making strides towards it. I believe they will be a better team on the last day of the season then they were on Opening Day. This to me should excite everyone.

For once it looks like it could be a fun summer in Birdland, something I haven’t experienced since I was 13!!

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King Shame

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5 W’s and 1 H

Posted on 12 July 2009 by Luke Jones

The first half is in the books, and the Orioles are right where most of us thought they would be—last place and out of contention.

While it’s certainly been frustrating watching the Orioles’ inconsistent play, the club has also provided some excitement with the greatest comeback in club history—against the Red Sox, no less—and the unveiling of rookies Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, Nolan Reimold, and the much-hyped Matt Wieters.

The 40-48 record and last-place standing does not reflect the positive strides made in the first half of the season.  Yes, there’s still a long way to go before we’re talking about the Orioles contending with the three heavyweights in the AL East, but as more youngsters join the fold, it’s easy to see this organization is in much better shape than it’s been at any point since 1997.

Will it be enough to put the Orioles back in the playoffs in the next few years?

Only time—and the willingness to acquire missing pieces via trades and free agency—will answer that question.

It will be interesting to see how active general manager Andy MacPhail will be as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline approaches.  Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Danys Baez, Jeremy Guthrie, and George Sherrill would all figure to have value for contending clubs.  However, MacPhail’s patient approach is not conducive to making deadline trades.

Of course, the club does not HAVE to trade any of these players—though they would be foolish to keep Baez around—but the rest of July figures to be a busy time for MacPhail and his cell phone.

Here are the 5 W’s and 1 H for the week:

1.  Who is your biggest surprise and biggest disappointment for the Orioles in the first half?

If I posed this question in mid-May, the easy choice for biggest surprise would have been center fielder Adam Jones.  The Orioles’ lone All-Star representative is having a good year (.303, 12 home runs, 47 runs batted in) but has really cooled off after a blistering start.

The most pleasant surprise—if not an absolute lifesaver—has to be rookie starting pitcher Brad Bergesen.  The 23-year-old righty has shown great poise in leading the rotation with six wins (tied with Jeremy Guthrie) and a 3.54 ERA.

Bergesen doesn’t dazzle you with a blazing fastball or a devastating breaking pitch, but his heavy sinker induces ground balls—crucial for pitching at Camden Yards—and his command is comparable to a grizzled veteran.  It will be interesting to see if he can maintain the same level of effectiveness as teams become more familiar with the rookie in the second half.

The biggest disappointment has to be Guthrie.  The Orioles’ Opening Day starter hasn’t been right since spring training when he pitched in the World Baseball Classic.  Whether he’s been completely healthy is debatable, but there’s no question that Guthrie simply hasn’t made quality pitches to finish off hitters.

Guthrie is 6-8 with a 5.35 ERA and has surrendered 20 home runs in 18 starts.  If he can right himself after the All-Star Break, he would be an attractive option for a contending club.  At the very least, Guthrie rebounding would help stabilize a starting rotation that has struggled mightily outside of Bergesen.

2.  What are your thoughts on UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar?

I’ll admit to not being much of an MMA fan, but I’ve followed Lesnar going back to his days as a professional wrestler in the WWE.

Lesnar dominated Frank Mir—the only man to beat Lesnar—to retain his title at UFC 100 on Saturday night.  Perhaps more interesting than the encounter itself was Lesnar’s behavior following the match, which included a refusal to shake Mir’s hand and some lewd comments.

Though Lesnar apologized for his conduct, Vince McMahon had to be smirking when he learned of his former star’s behavior.  Lesnar has cemented his status as the most hated man in the sport, but it’s a good thing for UFC.  Fans love to hate a champion more than they love to cheer a champion.  To steal a page from pro wrestling, people will tune in just to watch the heel lose.

3.  Where would you most like to watch the Ravens play a road game?

After watching the Ravens lose to the Steelers in Pittsburgh last January—and being pelted with an ice ball by a Pittsburgh moron fan as I left Heinz Field—I’ll pass on a return to western Pennsylvania for at least a couple years.

I’m excited to go on the WNST Fenway and Football Trip the first weekend in October to watch the Ravens take on the Patriots in Foxboro.  It should be a great time watching Ray Lewis and the defense matching up against Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and the New England offense.

The trip to Green Bay in December is very tempting, but a Monday night in DECEMBER at Lambeau Field feels frigid just thinking about it.

4.  When will we see another Orioles pitcher throw a no-hitter?

San Francisco Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez hurled the first no-hitter of the MLB season on Friday night, and it caused me to think about the long drought the Orioles have endured in that department.

Other than a combined no-hitter by Bob Milacki, Mark Williamson, Mike Flanagan, and Gregg Olson in 1991, the last Orioles’ no-hitter was pitched by Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in 1969.  In the last 15 years, Mike Mussina and Daniel Cabrera flirted with no-hitters a few times, but neither was able to complete it.

Pitching a no-hitter involves a great deal of luck, and it is by no means an indicator of a team’s—or pitcher’s—overall success.  Sanchez was struggling and had even been removed from the starting rotation before Giants pitcher Randy Johnson went on the disabled list.  You just never know.  If you need proof, take a look at Don Larsen.  The only man to pitch a perfect game in the World Series had a career 81-91 record.

The New York Mets have won two World Series titles in their 47-year history but have never enjoyed a no-hitter.

5.  Why can’t LeBron James and Nike have a sense of humor?

Seriously.  It’s great that James and Nike hold a camp for young players to rub elbows with the NBA star, but when it was reported that Nike confiscated all recordings of Xavier’s Jordan Crawford dunking over James in a pickup game, I couldn’t help but shake my head.

Would it have really been THAT damaging to James’ reputation to allow the video to pop up on YouTube?  I’m sure the clever minds at Nike could have concocted a clever ad around it.

For now, we’ll have to settle for this:
King Shame

6.  How much longer do the Orioles go with Jason Berken and Rich Hill with Chris Tillman and others waiting in the wings at Norfolk?

Though both pitched well over the weekend, it’s hard to imagine the club continuing to go with either pitcher in the starting rotation if they stay at their current pace.  Even with the solid work in their last starts, Hill still has a 6.92 ERA and Berken isn’t much better at 5.87.

Tillman started for the USA in today’s Futures Game and appears close to being ready for the big leagues.  Despite giving up two runs in his only inning of work in St. Louis, the 21-year-old righty has a 7-5 record, a 2.50 ERA, and 88 strikeouts at Triple-A Norfolk this season.

Unless the club decides to give Hill another chance in the rotation, Tillman could easily be in Baltimore by the end of July.  After Tillman, David Pauley (7-6, 3.67 ERA) would probably be the next arm in line, though he isn’t considered to be a long-term answer in the rotation.

*****

Shameless Plug Alert:  I’ll be joining Glenn Clark on the Comcast Morning Show on Monday morning from 6 to 10 a.m.

To be totally honest, I can’t remember the last time I was up that early, but it should be fun.

Have a good Monday.

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Orioles’ future on display Sunday

Posted on 11 July 2009 by Luke Jones

The Orioles may be approaching the All-Star Break in a familiar position—out of contention—but their promising future will be on display Sunday afternoon, both in Baltimore and St. Louis.

Rookie right-hander Brad Bergesen—the Orioles’ biggest surprise of the first half—will take the hill in the Orioles’ final game before the break, but two other young pitching prospects will highlight their talents before a national television audience in St. Louis.

We’ve heard the numerous reports about the Orioles’ “Big Three” of Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta, but how many fans have actually seen them pitch?

Probably not too many.

We’ll get the chance to see Tillman and Matusz on Sunday, as the two prospects will take part in the Futures Game at 2 p.m. on ESPN2.  Arrieta participated in last year’s game.  The annual contest features some of the most promising minor leaguers in baseball.

The 21-year-old Tillman—one of the key pieces acquired in the Erik Bedard trade—appears to be the next in line for a promotion to Baltimore, pitching to a 7-5 record and a 2.50 ERA with Norfolk.  The Triple-A prospect was recently rated as Baseball America’s eighth-best overall prospect in its midseason report.

Tillman, 6-foot-5,  is averaging more than a strikeout per inning and has added an improved changeup to a repertoire already including a mid-90s fastball and a sharp curveball.  Club officials are excited about his vast success at such a young age but are trying to balance this enthusiasm with a fear of rushing the young pitcher, a dilemma becoming more difficult with the struggles of starters Rich Hill and Jason Berken in Baltimore.

Even more impressive than Tillman is the progress of Matusz in his first year of professional baseball.  The club’s first-round pick in 2008, Matusz did not sign a contract in time to play with a full-season team last year.

After going 4-2 with a 2.16 ERA in only 11 starts at Single-A Frederick to begin the season, the southpaw was promoted to Double-A Bowie last month.  In his four starts with the Baysox, the 22-year-old has posted unbelievable numbers, including a 4-0 record, a 0.34 ERA, and 32 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings.

His most recent start was an eight-inning, one-hit effort against the Harrisburg Senators in which Matusz struck out 11 batters.  Matusz has allowed only one earned run since being promoted from Frederick.

Matusz was just one spot behind Tillman on Baseball America’s midseason list at No. 9, but the organization figures to handle Matusz similarly to Matt Wieters by allowing him to play an entire season in the minor leagues before promoting him early next season.

Of course, skeptics will argue that plenty of former Baltimore prospects have played in the Futures Game and flopped in Baltimore—and they would be correct with Matt Riley, Radhames Liz, and Garrett Olson as three examples—but a number of current Orioles have participated in the Futures Game including Nolan Reimold, Danys Baez, Felix Pie, and Lou Montanez.

The Futures Game, first staged in 1999, holds an impressive list of past participants who are now thriving at the big-league level.  Past selections include Lance Berkman, Ryan Braun, Adam Dunn, Josh Hamilton, Hanley Ramirez, CC Sabathia, Grady Sizemore, and Chase Utley.

There are no guarantees—after all, the young pitchers are still only hurling against Double-A and Triple-A talent—but it’s easy to get excited when considering Matusz, Tillman, and Arrieta are all rated higher than Bergesen was on the Orioles’ list of pitching prospects.

For the sake of Orioles fans suffering through another summer of meaningless baseball—at least in terms of the AL East standings—Sunday should be a nice reprieve and, hopefully, a promise of what’s to come.

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Orioles’ July will be pivotal on different levels

Posted on 02 July 2009 by Luke Jones

Any baseball fan will tell you the 162-game schedule is filled with peaks and valleys.  You’re never as good as your highest point—such as a nine-run comeback win—or as terrible as your lowest moment—like a five-run blown lead in the ninth inning.

This year’s World Series champion is bound to undergo at least a five- or six-game losing streak, and even the worst team in the majors—I’m talking to you, Washington—will manage to win five or six games in a row at some point this season.

The difference between the good teams and the not-so-good teams in Major League Baseball is an ability to heighten the peaks while shortening the dark valleys.

The Orioles’ last two games are a perfect example of how exhilarating—and sobering—the game can be in less than 24 hours.  After completing the greatest comeback in franchise history Tuesday night, the club collapsed in the ninth inning on Wednesday, blowing a 5-1 lead in an eventual 6-5 loss in 11 innings.

How will the Orioles respond to these two polarizing contests?  If we look at the club’s body of work this season, the west coast trip—and the month of July—will not be pretty.

From the pleasant 6-3 start that was squashed in a four-game sweep at Fenway Park in April to the late-May sweep of Toronto and the electricity of Matt Wieters’ debut that fizzled into an offensive famine of historic proportions, the Orioles have lacked the consistency to show they are anywhere close to contention.

We’ve seen this club play well at times—creating optimism that it’s on the verge of turning the corner toward respectability—only to fall on its face completely thereafter.

The next month will tell whether the Orioles are capable of playing near-.500 baseball or that another summer swoon toward 90 or more losses is underway.

When looking at the schedule, avoiding the latter will be a daunting task.  Starting with a four-game series against the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels tonight, the Orioles’ next 19 games will come against teams with winning records.  All but three will be on the road where the club has struggled with an 11-23 record.

Brace yourselves; it could get ugly.

The next month will play a huge part in determining manager Dave Trembley’s fate beyond this season.  In his second full season as the skipper, Trembley has come under fire for his—at best—questionable management of the pitching staff and the club’s horrendous baserunning.  Whether Trembley is the man to lead the young talent into the future is in doubt.

A disastrous July could spell the end of Trembley’s stay in Baltimore, but it may not be prudent to fire another manager in the middle of the season, as the organization did with Lee Mazzilli in 2005 and Sam Perlozzo in 2007.

In both cases, the organization ended up retaining the interim manager instead of completing a more thorough search in the offseason when the chances of finding a more qualified candidate are heightened.

In addition to the manager’s future, the next few weeks will likely determine the fate of every pitcher not named Brad Bergesen in the starting rotation.  With Chris Tillman, Troy Patton, and Jake Arrieta waiting in the wings at Triple-A Norfolk, the pressure will be on the current staff to perform against rigorous competition.

Rich Hill (7.08 ERA) and Jason Berken (6.44 ERA) may only receive another start or two to prove themselves before the organization will be forced to look elsewhere for starting pitching.  Neither has shown the ability to put together a string of good starts and have been downright brutal at times.

With Koji Uehara likely out for the next two months, right-hander David Hernandez (4.19 ERA in three starts) will get an extended look against some of the best teams in the American League.  Hernandez has shown a lively arm, but it will need to translate to getting out big league hitters consistently.  With a run of strong starts this month, the 23-year-old could establish himself as a fixture behind Bergesen in the rotation.

Veteran Jeremy Guthrie will be the most intriguing pitcher to watch over the next few weeks as the July 31st trading deadline approaches.  Guthrie has failed to pitch with the same consistency he showed in his first two seasons in Baltimore when he was the club’s best pitcher.  His 5.11 ERA is a product of surrendering 17 home runs and failing to make quality pitches to finish off batters when ahead in the count.

If Guthrie can pitch well over the next few weeks, his value could possibly fetch a young corner infield prospect that the organization sorely needs.

Much like Guthrie, other veterans could be on the move depending on their performance in July.  Impending free agent Aubrey Huff would appeal to a contender looking for a power bat that can play both corner infield positions.  The streaky Ty Wigginton might be attractive to a National League club, but it’s unlikely he’d attract anything of significant value in return.

Regardless of whether the club rebounds from Wednesday’s deflating loss or tailspins into another July collapse, it will probably look quite different a month from now.

The club is focused on developing its young talent, as it should be, but a strong July performance might keep people somewhat interested in the second half.  Fans want to get excited about this team’s future, but the next month will be crucial in holding their attention.

If there’s another July collapse, it will be another crawl to the finish with nobody watching.

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