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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-2 win over Colorado

Posted on 26 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 98th game of the 2016 season.

1st Yovani Gallardo continued the run of good work from the starting rotation as he turned in his best performance of the season. Allowing only two runs and five hits while striking out a season-high six over 6 2/3 innings, Gallardo said after the game that he’s trying to be more aggressive in the strike zone and it appears to be working as he’s pitched into the seventh in each of his last two outings. He effectively used the cutter and had good command of all of his pitches, getting eight swinging strikes and walking only two over the course of the night. Gallardo lowered his home ERA to 3.33 in five starts and gave the Orioles a chance to win on a night when they struggled to score against Colorado’s Jorge De La Rosa.

2ndAdam Jones scored the winning run on an error by Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles, but there wouldn’t have been extra innings had it not been for the center fielder driving in the other two Orioles runs. His single to right scored the first run of the game in the second inning while his grounder to short in the seventh plated the tying run. Some might ask why Jones broke home on a comebacker to the mound in the bottom of the 10th inning, but manager Buck Showalter said he did exactly what he was supposed to do. With runners at the corners and one out, the runner at third is instructed to run on any moderately-hit grounder to try to deter the defense from otherwise turning an inning-ending double play. Jones’ second-inning RBI moved him ahead of Rafael Palmeiro and into sole possession of seventh place on the Orioles’ all-time RBI list with 702.

3rdZach Britton made his fifth appearance in the last six days and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the heart of the Rockies lineup, striking out Carlos Gonzalez and Trevor Story in the process. The Orioles closer hasn’t surrendered an earned run over his last 34 appearances dating back to May 5. He lowered his season ERA to a remarkable 0.63 and continues an incredible season.

HomeMychal Givens took over for Gallardo with two outs in the seventh and retired four in a row. Two were left-handed batters, who entered Monday hitting .385 with a 1.080 on-base plus slugging percentage against him this season. … Chaz Roe stranded the potential go-ahead run in scoring position in a scoreless 10th inning and earned his first victory of the season. … The Orioles improved to a season-high 18 games above .500 and increased their lead in the American League East to 2 1/2 games. … Baltimore is now 4-2 in extra-inning games this season. … Jonathan Schoop hit his 28th double of the season and is now just two shy of Manny Machado for the club lead. … Making his return after a six-game absence due to a bruised right foot, Matt Wieters went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. … Playing his second rehab game at Double-A Bowie on Monday night, Hyun Soo Kim went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run and could be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday, the first day he’s eligible to return. … In search of their sixth straight win, the Orioles will send Chris Tillman to the hill on Tuesday night while Colorado hands the ball to right-hander Chad Bettis.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Yankees

Posted on 21 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 94th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman pitched like an ace to close out a rough road trip on a positive note. Needing a strong start as they tried to avoid their fifth consecutive loss and a four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles got seven superb innings from the right-hander, who improved to a sparkling 14-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.18. After allowing five batters to reach over his first two innings, Tillman relied more heavily on his fastball to register four strikeouts in the third and fourth innings and did an excellent job mixing his assortment of pitches the rest of the way. In addition to retiring 16 of the last 17 batters he faced to ultimately tie Chris Sale for the major league lead in wins, Tillman became the first Orioles pitcher since Jim Palmer in 1978 to complete at least seven innings and allow no more than one run in four consecutive starts. Baltimore is now a whopping 18-3 when Tillman takes the mound, the most team wins in any pitcher’s starts this season. Where would the Orioles be without him?

2ndJ.J. Hardy has been one of the few to swing the bat well at the start of the second half, and the shortstop set an improved tone early in Thursday’s game. With the Orioles entering the day just 3-for-33 with men in scoring position since the All-Star break and Mark Trumbo having already popped up with runners on the corners, Hardy delivered a hard single past Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius to plate two runs with two outs. The hit allowed Baltimore to match its run total from the first three games of the series and gave Tillman a lead before he took the hill. Hardy added another single in the fourth.

3rdJonathan Schoop gave the Orioles some much-needed breathing room when he hit a soft liner down the right-field line to score two runs and increase the lead to 4-1 with two outs in the seventh. The two-run double came on an outside off-speed pitch from New York starter CC Sabathia, who was then lifted from the game and suffered his fourth consecutive loss. Schoop also started the scoring rally in the first with a one-out infield single and is now hitting .296 on the year.

HomeZach Britton may have been staked to a comfortable three-run lead in the ninth, but the All-Star closer improved to a remarkable 30-for-30 in save opportunities this season by pitching a 1-2-3 frame against the heart of the Yankees order. His 30 saves in as many chances to begin a season is the 10th-best mark in major league history. … Returning to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with flu-like symptoms, Manny Machado went 2-for-4 with a run scored. … Brad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning and has not allowed an earned run in his last 14 appearances covering 16 2/3 innings. … While Machado and Chris Davis returned to the lineup, center fielder Adam Jones missed Thursday’s games after dealing with back spasms the previous night. Catcher Matt Wieters missed his third straight game while resting a bruised foot. … The Orioles return to Camden Yards on Friday to begin a six-game homestand with right-hander Dylan Bundy making his second major league start against Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2-1 defeat to New York

Posted on 19 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 2-1 defeat to the New York Yankees on Monday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 91st game of the 2016 season.

1st — Yankees starter Ivan Nova deserves credit for his six strong innings, but he entered the night with a 5.18 season ERA and the Orioles are still waiting for their bats to wake up in July. They made the right-hander work over the first four innings by driving up his pitch count to 75 through four innings, but Baltimore stranded six runners over those four frames with Jonathan Schoop providing a solo home run in the third for the lone run of the night. Of course, the Orioles’ chances then plummeted against the intimidating trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman. They went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position with Pedro Alvarez leaving the bases loaded and a runner at second in his first two at-bats. The one run was the club’s lowest output since being shut out by Seattle on May 17. Expecting the Orioles to sustain what they did offensively in their historic June would be unfair, but they’re now hitting just .253 and averaging an underwhelming 3.7 runs per game in 13 July contests.

2nd — It may have only been the fourth inning, but Nolan Reimold’s baserunning gaffe short-circuited a promising scoring opportunity for the top of the order. He slipped after rounding second base on Ryan Flaherty’s single inside the third-base bag with one out, but Reimold was way too far off the base anyway on a ball that Yankees third baseman Chase Headley recovered quickly. Instead of having runners at first and second with one out for Adam Jones and then the red-hot Schoop, the miscue left only Flaherty on second with two outs. The bailout was the precursor to Nova retiring the final seven hitters he faced before turning a 2-1 lead over to the back end of the New York bullpen.

3rd — Kevin Gausman turned in a very good outing that lacked proper run support, but the long ball continues to be a problem for the young right-hander as he allowed a solo shot to the struggling Alex Rodriguez in the second inning. It’s hard to fault Gausman too much as he retired 12 of the final 13 hitters he faced and allowed just two runs and six hits in his 6 2/3 innings, but the 25-year-old has now allowed a team-high 16 homers in his 93 1/3 innings this season. Thirteen of those have come in his last 56 2/3 innings — an ugly 2.06 per nine innings over that stretch — after he surrendered only three in his first 36 2/3 innings of 2016. The long ball is the biggest factor holding Gausman back as he’s improved both his strikeout and walk rates from a year ago, but he clearly deserved much better from his offense on Monday night.

Home — It was probably a long shot to throw out the speedy Brett Gardner at the plate, but center fielder Adam Jones’ throw on Brian McCann’s sacrifice fly in the third inning was uncharacteristically poor as it bounced multiple times to the plate and skipped past the cutoff man. … The Orioles have lost each of the last 10 series openers at Yankee Stadium, a stretch dating back to the start of 2013. Their club record of scoring at least two runs in 53 consecutive games was snapped. … Schoop’s homer was his 16th of the season, matching his career high set in 2014. … Manager Buck Showalter told reporters after the game that Matt Wieters would have an X-ray after being hit on his right foot by a Nova pitch in the first inning. The catcher played the entire game. … Chris Davis was unavailable after being hospitalized with a stomach virus on Sunday night while Hyun Soo Kim remained sidelined with a hamstring injury. … Vance Worley will make his first start since April 15 when he takes the ball against Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi on Tuesday night.

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of 2016 first half

Posted on 12 July 2016 by Luke Jones

In the midst of the tightest division race in the majors at the All-Star break, the first-place Orioles have benefited from their fair share of surprise performers in the midst of a 51-36 start.

While there haven’t been any players to seemingly come out of nowhere as we’ve frequently seen in the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era, several have turned in performances few would have predicted at the start of the 2016 season. Their accomplishments are major reasons why Baltimore has been able to exceed expectations in the competitive American League East.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season with the biggest disappointments coming later this week:

Who was the biggest Orioles surprise of the first half?

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Honorable mention: Joey Rickard

5. Jonathan Schoop

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised about the 24-year-old’s first half after he hit .279 with 14 home runs and a .788 on-base plus slugging percentage in 321 plate appearances last season, but to see the second baseman take that production to the next level has been impressive.

In addition to being one of only two Baltimore players to play in all 87 games before the All-Star break — a year removed from a knee injury that cost him almost three months last season — Schoop is hitting .304 with 14 homers, 23 doubles, and 52 RBIs. His .847 OPS ranks third on the club among qualified players, which is quite a leap after he produced a .598 mark as a rookie just two years ago.

Schoop has likely benefited from some good fortune with his .348 batting average on balls in play, but he’s also shown some modest improvement in his free-swinging ways with a 3.8 percent walk rate that remains well below average but represents improvement from his 2.8 percent career mark entering the 2016 season. He hit safely in 20 of his 21 games before the break, posting a .414 average and 1.112 OPS over that stretch.

4. Dylan Bundy

One could argue that Bundy would be pitching in the minor leagues in a perfect world, but perhaps he’d be the ace of the Orioles rotation by now if such a sphere existed. Either way, the 23-year-old has overcome an array of injuries over the last few years to contribute meaningful innings out of the bullpen.

Instead of serving as a pseudo Rule 5 pick who’s only in the majors because he’s out of minor-league options, Bundy is rapidly becoming an intriguing candidate to start in the second half despite the Orioles’ plans of trying to keep him healthy while massaging his development in a relief role. Since Showalter began regularly giving him at least three days of rest between outings, Bundy has pitched to a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings of work.

Bundy’s 3.08 season ERA is even more impressive when noting how opponents have a .371 BABIP against him, an average likely to normalize in the second half. His velocity has also spiked since receiving more regular rest as his average fastball velocity is 94.6 mph since May 31 and was just 93.2 before that.

It remains to be seen what Bundy’s role will look like in the second half, but his continued health and reemergence as an important part of the club’s future are wonderful developments.

3. Brad Brach

How many would have believed that Darren O’Day would miss nearly six weeks of action and the Orioles would still rank second in the AL and fourth in the majors with a 3.12 bullpen ERA at the break?

With no disrespect intended to phenomenal All-Star closer Zach Britton, Brach is the biggest reason why as he’s built upon his first two good seasons in Baltimore with his own All-Star campaign that includes a microscopic 0.91 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings over 49 1/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed just one of 19 inherited runners to score and has held lefty bats to a .238 average and a .644 OPS, an important feat given the lack of a lefty specialist in the Baltimore bullpen.

Right-handers are batting .080 with a .326 OPS against Brach in 97 plate appearances as he’s provided occasional length as well as serving as a strong replacement for O’Day, who hasn’t pitched since June 1. The 30-year-old ranks third in strikeouts (58) and second in innings pitched among AL relievers.

According to Baseball Reference, Brach ranks third on the club with 2.6 wins above replacement, an illustration of how critical he’s been to the first-place Orioles.

2. Mark Trumbo

Expecting Trumbo to help fill a void in the heart of the order that wasn’t addressed after the post-2014 departure of Nelson Cruz was realistic, but the right-handed slugger has instead been one of the best offensive players in the AL in 2016.

Trumbo leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than he hit in 170 more plate appearances a season ago and only six shy of his career-high 34 in 2013. His 68 RBIs rank fourth in the majors, and his .288 average and .923 OPS would easily be career bests for the 30-year-old outfielder.

While his strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career marks, Trumbo has swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and has shown more consistency than his streaky track record preceding his time in Baltimore. It would be unfair to expect him to hit 50 home runs, but Trumbo has done more than his expected share for one of the best lineups in baseball.

And his offseason acquisition is arguably the best trade pulled off by Duquette during his time in Baltimore.

1. Hyun Soo Kim

Just over three months ago, the Orioles were convinced that Kim wasn’t worthy of being in the big leagues, a reminder that we shouldn’t take spring training performance as gospel.

Whether the organization was foolishly mistaken, he simply improved and adjusted to the majors, or it was a combination of both, the 28-year-old South Korean outfielder took advantage of sparse opportunities early and eventually earned a regular role against right-handed starters by late May. His .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead the club among those with at least 170 plate appearances.

Kim has provided a steady ability to get on base in a lineup known for its power and free-swinging ways. His 12.7 percent strikeout rate is the lowest on the club among regulars, and his 10.4 percent walk rate has been a helpful addition in the No. 2 spot in the order ahead of the likes of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Trumbo.

His .370 BABIP suggests Kim will have a difficult time sustaining his current level of production, but he’s done more than enough to suggest he’s worthy of being a major leaguer and that the thoughts of sending him back to the Korean Baseball Organization in the spring were grossly premature.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2016 first half

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ first half of 2016 that has resulted in a 51-36 start and a first-place standing in the American League East at the All-Star break?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the first 87 games of the 2016 season.

1st Manny Machado broke out as one of the game’s best all-around players last year, but many wondered throughout the winter if he could soar even higher in 2016. The 24-year-old has done exactly that, hitting .318 with 19 home runs, 29 doubles, 53 RBIs, and a .944 on-base plus slugging percentage as the club’s best offensive player. Already a two-time Glove Glove winner at third base, Machado filled in admirably at shortstop in place of the injured J.J. Hardy for seven weeks and has been worth a combined eight defensive runs saved and 1.2 defensive wins above replacement so far this season. His 4.2 WAR (Baseball Reference) at the All-Star break ranks fifth in the AL and is easily tops on the Orioles. After serving in the leadoff role out of necessity last season, Machado has now settled into the No. 3 spot in the order and is the first Oriole to bat third in the AL All-Star starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996. 

2ndMark Trumbo was expected to be a solid power addition to the Baltimore lineup after being acquired from Seattle in exchange for reserve catcher Steve Clevenger in December, but the 30-year-old has instead put on a great 2014 Nelson Cruz impression. The right-handed slugger leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than the total he had last year in 170 fewer plate appearances and just six shy of his career high. His .288 average, .923 OPS, and 68 RBIs reflect his consistency, which was even more important with lineup mainstays such as Adam Jones and Chris Davis struggling early on. His defense in the outfield isn’t pretty, but Trumbo has played a major part in turning a good lineup into a great one.

3rdChris Tillman has been the shining star in a starting rotation that ranks 14th in the AL and 28th in the majors in ERA for a first-place club. The Opening Day starter not only leads the rotation with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, 98 strikeouts, and 12 wins, but he has a chance to become Baltimore’s first 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984. His strikeout rate of 7.8 per nine innings is his best since 2013, and he can largely credit an improved slider for his career-best swinging-strike percentage. According to Baseball Reference, Tillman’s 3.2 WAR is second only to Machado on the 2016 Orioles.

HomeBrad Brach and Zach Britton both earned All-Star Game invitations with ERAs below 1.00 and combining for an impressive 4.7 WAR pitching out of the bullpen. Brach has been outstanding filling in for the injured Darren O’Day and leading all Baltimore relievers with 49 1/3 innings pitched while Britton has set a club record by going 27-for-27 in save opportunities to begin the season. … The Orioles’ 137 home runs lead the majors and are the club’s most ever at the All-Star break, surpassing the 134 hit in 1996. … Jonathan Schoop is rapidly emerging as one of the Orioles’ best players, ranking second behind Machado with 23 doubles and fifth in home runs. … Hyun Soo Kim began the season as a player the Orioles were convinced they didn’t want on the major league roster, but the South Korean outfielder’s .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead Baltimore hitters with at least 170 plate appearances. … Despite making a combined $22 million in 2016, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo have combined to post a 6.84 ERA in 125 innings this season. … Adam Jones wasn’t a conventional choice as a leadoff hitter, but he’s batted .308 with 12 homers and a .345 OBP since being moved to the top spot by manager Buck Showalter on May 27. … Baltimore’s 33 home victories and .702 home winning percentage lead the major leagues. The Orioles have three seven-game winning streaks in 2016 after posting none that long from 2006-2015.

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Home runs, winning streaks defining 2016 Orioles so far

Posted on 30 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Crab cakes and football might be what Maryland does, but home runs and winning streaks are what the Orioles have been all about this season.

The combination has propelled them into first place in the American League East with their best start after 77 games since 1997. And despite many forecasting the Orioles to finish in last place and very few giving them even a decent chance to win the division, 47 wins in the bank mean they only need to play one game over .500 the rest of the way to reach the 90-win plateau.

Of course, that’s not the ultimate goal, but it does illustrate the good shape the Orioles are in mathematically despite the well-documented concerns regarding the starting pitching.

We knew they’d hit home runs this year as that’s been one of their calling cards under manager Buck Showalter, but the power surge in June has taken them to another level. After hitting a robust 69 homers in their first 50 games in April and May combined, the Orioles have tied the 1996 Oakland Athletics for the major league record with 55 in the month of June.

They would tie the major league mark for long balls in any month — currently shared by the 1987 Orioles and the 1999 Seattle Mariners — with three in the series opener against Seattle on Thursday night. Even playing at the spacious Safeco Field, that would hardly be a rare feat for these Orioles, who have already clubbed three or more homers in a game 18 times this season.

Leading the majors with 124 home runs in 77 games, Baltimore is currently on a pace just shy of 261 homers, which puts them within striking distance of the 1997 Mariners’ single-season record of 264.

Whether it’s merely an extended hot streak, the arrival of warm weather, or a combination of both, the Orioles are concluding a historic month in which they’ve also gone 19-8 to open up a 5 1/2 game division lead entering the final day of June.

Five Orioles hitters — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Jonathan Schoop — each have 13 or more home runs before the midway point of the season. Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez are both only one blast shy of the pace for a 20-homer season.

To be clear, the prosperity isn’t only because of the long ball as the Orioles have shown improved plate discipline by ranking second in the AL in on-base percentage as well as ranking second in the league in runs score and doubles entering Wednesday. That offense has been complemented nicely by one of the best bullpens in baseball as well as a strong infield defense.

What might be even more encouraging about the Orioles has been their ability to extend the good times and minimize their rough patches. After failing to record a single seven-game winning streak from 2006-2015, Baltimore now has three of them in 2016 alone, including the 7-0 start to the season and the current seven-game stretch.

The Orioles have also posted a five-game winning streak as well as two other three-game streaks.

In contrast, their longest losing streak is just four games and they’ve only lost three in a row two other times. We know tough stretches are inevitable over the course of 162 games, but the best teams are able to minimize the damage.

On their way to a 96-win season and a division title, the 2014 Orioles lost a season-worst four games in a row three times and had only two other three-game losing streaks. In contrast, last year’s 81-81 club had two different six game losing streaks in a 13-game period, three five-game losing streaks, and two four-game losing streaks.

Consistently winning series and extending the good times while climbing out of those valleys quickly will put you in prime position to contend.

Just like most of us never saw this kind of start coming, we don’t know how the next three months will go for the Orioles, especially if their starting pitching doesn’t improve.

But home runs and winning streaks have them sitting pretty with the All-Star break right around the corner.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 12-6 win over San Diego

Posted on 29 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 12-6 win over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 77th game of the 2016 season.

1stMark Trumbo hit his 23rd home run of the year to regain sole possession of the major league lead after Cincinnati’s Adam Duvall had hit his 22nd earlier in the day. The two-run shot to left capped off a four-run fourth inning after the Orioles hadn’t collected as much as a baserunner in their first three frames against San Diego lefty Christian Friedrich. Trumbo added a two-run double in the top of the ninth to help eliminate any lingering doubt that Baltimore would win its seventh straight game. Trumbo has eclipsed his 2015 total for home runs in 217 fewer plate appearances than he had a year ago.

2ndManny Machado drove in three runs and hit his 29th double of the season as he continues to play at an MVP-caliber level just shy of his 24th birthday. His RBI single in the fourth gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead, and he would aggressively advance to second on a pitch in the dirt before scoring on Trumbo’s long ball. Machado would later plate two with an automatic double in the ninth that provided more breathing room after the Padres had cut a 7-0 deficit to 7-3.

3rdJonathan Schoop extended his hitting streak to 11 in a row and doubled home the first run of the game in the top of the fourth. The young second baseman would add another double and a single in addition to crossing the plate three times in the victory. Schoop improved his average to .301 and is now sporting an .848 on-base plus slugging percentage.

HomeYovani Gallardo carried a one-hit shutout into the sixth inning before running into trouble and giving up a three-run homer to Brett Wallace. However, he arguably showed his best stuff of the season and touched 92 miles per hour with his fastball in the sixth while also collecting two hits on the day. … Baltimore has scored 11 or more runs in three straight games. … The Orioles tied the major league record for home runs in the month of June when Trumbo hit their 55th to tie the 1996 Oakland Athletics. Baltimore is three shy of the record for homers in any month, an honor shared by the 1987 Orioles (May) and the 1999 Seattle Mariners (May). … Adam Jones reached bases three times and extended his hitting streak to a season-best 10 in a row. … The Orioles secured their third seven-game winning streak of the season after not having a single stretch of victories lasting that long from 2006-2015. … Beginning a four-game set in Seattle on Thursday night, Chris Tillman takes the hill against Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 11-7 win over Padres

Posted on 29 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 11-7 win over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 76th game of the 2016 season.

1st Hyun Soo Kim hit his second major league homer and turned in the first multi-RBI game of his career to help blow the game open in the middle innings. The lefty batter’s two-run shot came in the fifth when he ambushed a first-pitch fastball from Padres starter Erik Johnson to make it a 4-1 lead. His RBI double in the top of the sixth concluded an eight-pitch battle with reliever Carlos Villanueva as he flicked an outside pitch down the left-field line. Kim added two walks for good measure on his career night, elevating his on-base percentage to .431.

2nd Chris Davis put the Orioles ahead for good in the fourth with a sacrifice fly, but it was his contributions in the seven-run sixth that turned this game into a laugher for Baltimore. The first baseman led off the big inning with his 19th long ball of the season to center and later hit a double to right-center that would have scored a run had the ball not gotten stuck in the base of the wall. Davis added his third hit of the evening with a single to center in the eighth.

3rd Jonathan Schoop continued to swing a hot bat as he collected three hits, which included a two-run double in the sixth as well as another two-base hit in the fourth. The young second baseman scored twice and is now hitting .298 on the season after a red-hot June. He added a leaping catch on a line drive off the bat of Melvin Upton in the bottom of the ninth inning.

HomeManny Machado had three hits and drove in two runs with a broken-bat single up the middle in the sixth. The third baseman finished the night sporting a .330 batting average for the season. … Adam Jones led off a game with a home run for the first time in his career as he sent one out to right-center, his third career blast at Petco Park in his native San Diego. … The Orioles’ three homers leave them one shy of the major league record for long balls in the month of June set by Oakland (55) in 1996. The major league mark for team homers in any month is 58. … Ubaldo Jimenez allowed one earned run and three hits over five solid innings to record the win despite issuing four walks. He was lifted for a pinch hitter in the midst of the Orioles’ big sixth inning. … Baltimore has now recorded its third winning streak of at least six games this season and improved to a season-high 16 games above .500. The Orioles’ 46-30 mark is their best after 76 games since the 1997 season when they started 50-26. … Yovani Gallardo goes to the hill on Wednesday afternoon while left-hander Christian Friedrich will start for the Padres.

 

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Which Orioles should receive 2016 All-Star Game nod?

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado continues to lead the way at his position as Major League Baseball released the final 2016 American League All-Star voting update on Monday.

The 23-year-old leads Toronto’s Josh Donaldson by more than 600,000 votes with the voting period set to conclude on Thursday night. The All-Star Game starters, pitchers, and reserves will be announced on July 5.

Slugger Mark Trumbo is the only other Baltimore player with a realistic chance to win a starting spot via the fan vote as he ranks fifth among AL outfielders and trails Boston right fielder Mookie Betts by just over 100,000 votes for the final starting spot. Matt Wieters ranks second among AL catchers, but he trails Salvador Perez of Kansas City by more than 2.7 million votes.

Chris Davis ranks a distant third behind Eric Hosmer and Miguel Cabrera among AL first basemen and Adam Jones is 13th among AL outfielders.

With the Orioles off to an impressive 45-30 start and in first place in the AL East, a number of their players have reasonable claims to make the trip to San Diego on July 12.

Below is a look at each of the Orioles’ All-Star candidates:

3B Manny Machado
The case for: In addition to leading the voting at his position, the two-time Gold Glover ranks fourth among AL position players in wins above replacement and entered Monday fourth in average, seventh in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, and tied for seventh in home runs in the league.
The case against: If Machado loses the fan vote, maybe Kansas City manager Ned Yost decide to hold a grudge because of his altercation with Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in early June?
The prediction: As a starter or not, Machado is a slam-dunk choice to make his third All-Star team.

C Matt Wieters
The case for: The 30-year-old entered Monday ranked first among AL catchers in RBIs and homers and is second behind Perez in on-base plus slugging percentage among catchers with 175 at-bats.
The case against: Wieters has a strong argument behind Perez, but you never know if another team needing a representative could squeeze him out in favor of someone like Oakland’s Stephen Vogt.
The prediction: As a three-time All-Star selection, Wieters has a good reputation around the league and should return to the Midsummer Classic next month.

1B Chris Davis
The case for: Davis leads all qualified AL first basemen in WAR and home runs, ranks second in RBIs, and is third in OPS in addition to playing really good defense this season.
The case against: Hosmer and Cabrera both have strong cases for spots and own far superior averages, and Joe Mauer could factor in as the potential lone representative of the Minnesota Twins.
The prediction: Even with his low batting average, Davis would be a sound choice as a reserve first baseman on the AL squad and will receive the second invitation to the All-Star Game of his career.

2B Jonathan Schoop
The case for: The 24-year-old entered Monday tied for third among AL second basemen in home runs and is fourth in RBIs and OPS.
The case against: Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano are legitimate AL MVP candidates so far this season and Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia are well-known veterans also sporting worthy profiles.
The prediction: Schoop has a .978 OPS in June and is deserving of recognition in a perfect world, but there’s too much strong veteran competition here to expect him to grab a reserve spot this year.

RF Mark Trumbo
The case for: The powerful right-hander entered Monday leading the majors in home runs, ranking third in the AL in RBIs, and sitting sixth among AL outfielders in OPS.
The case against: As terrific as Trumbo has been in the power department, his defense hurts his overall value while other outfielders such as Ian Desmond and George Springer are well-rounded players.
The prediction: Sabermetricians will look at an underwhelming 1.2 WAR and argue others are more deserving, but being at or near the top in traditional categories will earn Trumbo an All-Star invitation.

SP Chris Tillman
The case for: The right-hander entered Monday second in the AL with 10 wins and is tied for seventh among AL pitchers in WAR.
The case against: After back-to-back poor starts, Tillman has fallen to 15th in ERA in the AL among qualified pitchers and is tied for 12th in the league in strikeouts.
The prediction: A brilliant performance in his next start to lower his ERA from 3.52 would help his case, but he’ll be on the outside looking in with pitcher wins no longer celebrated like they once were.

RP Zach Britton
The case for: The lefty closer leads the AL with 23 saves in as many tries and is tied for first in the league among pitchers with at least 30 innings with an incredible 0.83 ERA.
The case against: Barring a dramatic collapse over the next week or closers no longer being selected, there is no reasonable case to be made against Britton being on the team for a second straight year.
The prediction: This might be the easiest call of them all to make, and that’s saying something on a club that includes one of the five best players in baseball in Machado.

RP Brad Brach
The case for: The right-handed setup man is tops among AL relievers in WAR and is 13th overall in WAR among all AL pitchers with his 1.05 ERA in 42 2/3 innings.
The case against: Non-closer relievers are beginning to receive notoriety as we saw with Darren O’Day last year, but Brach isn’t as well known as the likes of Andrew Miller and Kelvin Herrera.
The prediction: The 30-year-old has arguably been the Orioles’ most valuable reliever — maybe even more than Britton — but he’ll unfortunately be overlooked in favor of more established names in the AL.

CF Adam Jones
The case for: A five-time All-Star selection and one of baseball’s more marketable players, Jones has rebounded from a rough start to rank seventh among AL outfielders in homers and eighth in RBIs.
The case against: Even with his impressive resurgence in June, Jones ranks 14th in OPS and 17th in batting average among qualified AL outfielders.
The prediction: His popularity and the fact that he’s from San Diego make him a reasonable candidate to be included among the “Final Vote” candidates, but he’ll fall short of an outright All-Star invitation.

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Unorthodox as they might be, Orioles won’t apologize for success

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to warn against overlooking an orchid when in search of a rose.

A mantra repeated often over the last several years in Baltimore, perhaps it’s never been more appropriate than now as the Orioles take a 45-30 record and a multi-game division lead out west for a nine-game road trip.

We know the starting pitching is a substantial weakness. Everyone beyond the Oriole Bird and his mom will remind you of that. It’s become the required caveat to attach when trying to compliment a club that began the 2016 season with seven straight wins and has rarely stumbled, remaining in first or second place in the AL East all season.

Perhaps our not-so-lofty preseason expectations — from media and many fans alike — have conditioned us to dwell on the negative while anticipating the fall that simply hasn’t happened despite a 4.96 starter ERA that ranked 12th in the AL entering Monday. But that mindset shouldn’t diminish the many ways in which the imperfect Orioles have been special this season.

Unorthodox as it might be, it’s working.

The Orioles have followed a blueprint echoed in every team sport by thriving at home and trying to hold their own on the road. Their 31-13 record at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is sensational, but they now begin a stretch of 16 of their next 19 on the road where they have been an underwhelming — but hardly disastrous — 14-17.

Having already stacked 45 wins in their first 75 games, merely playing .500 ball on the road is an acceptable outcome in terms of playoff aspirations. Going just three games above .500 overall the rest of the way is the simple formula for 90 wins, which puts into perspective how good the Orioles have been to this point despite their starting pitching.

Baltimore begins the week ranked second in the AL in runs, first in home runs, second in doubles, fourth in hits, third in batting average, and first in slugging percentage.

Impressive for sure, but what about that on-base percentage for all these free-swinging sluggers who lack plate discipline?

The Orioles rank second in the AL with a .332 OBP and are a respectable seventh in walks, significant improvement from each of the last three years when they ranked 13th or 14th in the AL in free passes. The additions of a few more patient hitters such as Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, and Pedro Alvarez have certainly helped, but the movement goes beyond that.

Unconventional leadoff hitter Adam Jones has already drawn 20 walks, four shy of his total from last year and more than he drew in all of 2014 when the Orioles ran away with the division. Jonathan Schoop, more of a free swinger than Jones, has two more walks than he had last year in 29 fewer plate appearances. Incremental improvement is still improvement.

That’s fine, but they still don’t play “small ball” and are too homer-happy, aren’t they?

“I don’t want them to apologize for being strong,” Showalter said. “It’s the product of a good approach and a good swing and a good process that that’s the endgame — that [the ball] goes a little further than maybe some of them do. I love how some guy scratches out a walk and maybe they bunt him over and he gets over to third and some guy hits a sac fly and it’s 1-0. Then, the [opponent’s] first two guys strike out, a guy walks, and a big hairy guy hits it in the bleachers and it’s 2-1. Boy, you worked real hard for that one run. That’s good.

“But there’s a time and place. We try to play to our team’s strength.”

The home run is unquestionably a strength as the Orioles have four hitters — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Jones — on pace for 30 or more home runs. Schoop is currently on track for 28 and two others — Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez — aren’t far off the pace to hit 20.

With three games remaining in June, the Orioles are seven shy of the major league record for homers in a single month — the 1987 Orioles and the 1999 Seattle Mariners each hit 58 in May — and are on pace to hit 259 this season, only five shy of the major league record held by the 1997 Mariners.

But the explanation for the prosperity goes beyond the powerful offense as the Orioles displayed over the weekend by turning double plays and making sparkling defensive plays throughout the four-game sweep over Tampa Bay. A superb infield defense can go a long way in helping your questionable-at-best starting pitching to survive just long enough to turn the ball over to the bullpen.

The Orioles rank second in the majors with a 2.91 bullpen ERA, and they’ve done that without Darren O’Day for almost a month. Closer Zach Britton is 23-for-23 in save opportunities and sports a 0.83 ERA while setup man Brad Brach owns a 1.05 ERA that should also draw All-Star consideration.

The bullpen’s 253 1/3 innings rank 10th in the majors, but Showalter is better at handling a bullpen than any manager in baseball and will do whatever he can to preserve his best arms, even if that means living to fight another day during the occasional close games in which his best relievers need rest.

Kansas City won the World Series last year despite sporting a starting rotation that pitched fewer innings than any other AL club in the regular season. It’s not that great starting pitching is any less valuable these days, but teams are finding success using a collection of high-impact bullpen arms in lieu of pushing the envelope with non-elite starters going through a lineup a third or fourth time in a game. Of course, there’s a critical balance between game strategy on any given night and maintenance of your pitching health over a 162-game schedule that Showalter seems to understand better than anyone.

To be clear, the Royals’ reliance on their bullpen is not a blueprint to proudly follow as much as it’s proof that you can survive — even thrive — without having strong starting pitching.

You just have to be exceptional in other areas of the game.

And the Orioles are doing that.

Yes, they’d really like to improve their rotation and should try to over the next several weeks leading up to the trade deadline, but the Orioles have been so good in other ways that it’s becoming more difficult to doubt their ability to remain in contention, especially with their divisional rivals having their own flaws.

It may go against conventional wisdom, but the Orioles won’t apologize as they keep winning.

The starting pitching may not be a rose, but the rest is blooming like an orchid as we approach the halfway point of the season.

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