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Orioles second baseman Schoop doubles, scores run in All-Star debut

Posted on 12 July 2017 by Luke Jones

MIAMI — Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop didn’t wait long to make an impact to help the American League to a 2-1 win in his first All-Star Game on Tuesday night.

After entering the game on defense in the previous half-inning, Schoop picked up the first extra-base hit of the contest with a double down the left-field line in the top of the fifth and scored the game’s first run on a bloop single from Minnesota’s Miguel Sano. The 25-year-old quickly fell behind 0-2 against Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood before fouling off two tough pitches and working the count even.

It was the kind of at-bat that’s become more common for Schoop this season as he’s improved his plate discipline and has led the Orioles in doubles (23) as well as a number of other offensive categories.

“I want to be better every day. I want to be better than I was yesterday,” Schoop said. “I’ve faced [Wood] before, and I know what he’s got. I was just trying to put a good swing on it and hit the ball hard.”

Schoop became the third Oriole to double in an All-Star Game over the last five years, following Adam Jones in 2013 and Manny Machado in 2015. A Miami native, Machado attended the exhibition at Marlins Park and invited Schoop to stay at his home this week.

After watching countless teammates receive invitations to the All-Star Game in his first three major league seasons, Schoop enjoyed his moment in the spotlight.

“It was one of the best moments in my life so far,” Schoop said. “Having fun and playing in front of the crowd. The crowd was good. It was a good display for me.”

The Baltimore second baseman also handled four fielding chances flawlessly, including a quick tag on Colorado’s Nolan Arendo to complete Boston center fielder Mookie Betts’ assist in the bottom of the fourth. Manager Buck Showalter has often spoken about the young fielder’s skill in tagging after being tutored by veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Schoop was replaced in the seventh inning by Robinson Cano, who hit the game-winning home run for the AL in the top of the 10th.

“He hit a ball at the right moment and the right time to get us a win,” said Schoop, who has long admired the Seattle second baseman making his eighth All-Star appearance. “He’s the best for a reason. Not for [just right] now, but for a long time already.”

Former Baltimore reliever Andrew Miller picked up the save for the AL, who has now won five consecutive All-Star Games to even the all-time series with the National League at 43-43-2.

Despite being a low-scoring affair that featured 23 strikeouts and just three extra-base hits, the 88th Midsummer Classic wasn’t without innovation as the FOX telecast included several on-field interviews with players while the action was taking place. The highlight of the night in the novelty department, however, came from ex-Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz, who brought a cell phone to home plate and had his picture taken with veteran umpire Joe West before flying out in the sixth.

“He told me about it,” said Schoop as he laughed about his former teammate’s plan. “I said, ‘You can’t. I bet you can’t do it.’ Then, he did it. It was nice — fun moment.”

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Schoop turning heads as Orioles’ lone All-Star representative

Posted on 10 July 2017 by Luke Jones

MIAMI — While getting on the American League team bus on Monday, Jonathan Schoop sounded like the young rookie that Nelson Cruz had mentored and remembered so fondly in their brief time together.

“We were joking around and he said, ‘I’m going to follow you around everywhere because I don’t know what to do,” said Cruz, a five-time All-Star selection who has spent the last three seasons in Seattle after playing for the Orioles in 2014. “He’s like a son for me. Age makes a difference. Now he has experience. He learned; he wants to learn. He’s always asking questions to get better.

“He’s finally got everything together.”

The quip signified how far the second baseman has come from playing in the shadow of several high-profile teammates over his first few seasons to being the lone Orioles representative at this year’s All-Star game. And while the exclusion of his teammates is viewed by many as a reflection of how difficult the last two months have been for the struggling Orioles, Schoop isn’t just a token inclusion from a club closer to the cellar than first place.

Tied for the team lead in home runs (18) and leading the Orioles in runs batted in (54), Schoop is on pace to shatter his career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. His 1.9 wins above replacement lead all Orioles players while his .370 weighted on-base average — a stat holding significant prominence in the sabermetric community — is second behind only Houston’s Jose Altuve among qualified AL second basemen in 2017.

Schoop hitting for power isn’t surprising as we’ve watched him get stronger every season, but his improved plate discipline has turned heads and led to more consistency at the plate. His 19 walks in 352 plate appearances remain well below the league average, but he’s just two shy of the 21 he piled up in 647 trips to the dish in 2016.

It’s the product of a more confident and selective approach as he’s swinging at fewer pitches both inside and outside the strike zone.

“I trust myself more and know that I can do it,” Schoop said. “I work every day and trust what the scouting report [says]. You know what [pitchers] are trying to do. You just have to achieve it and make sure you get the right pitch to hit. That’s part of my game that’s grown up a little bit more. I’m more patient and more selective.

“It’s not necessarily the walks, but just patience. Get the pitch to hit. Don’t chase too many pitches. Don’t swing at a pitcher’s pitch. It’s tough. They’re good. They get paid to strike you out and get you out.”

The 25-year-old has plenty of support this week from both family and teammates — former and current. Manny Machado has opened up his home to his close friend and will attend All-Star festivities as Schoop hopes to have a strong showing in honor of the Miami native who didn’t receive an All-Star invitation in a down season.

Schoop is representing more than just the Orioles and his family this week. He is the fourth Curacao native to appear in an All-Star Game, something in which he takes great pride after playing for the Netherlands in each of the last two editions of the World Baseball Classic. This year’s Midsummer Classic is the first with multiple selections hailing from the Dutch Caribbean island as Schoop is joined by Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on the National League side.

“He’s come a long way,” said Jansen, a two-time All-Star selection who played with Schoop’s older brother. “He was always very talented, one of the most talented guys I ever saw play in Curacao growing up. Now he’s put it all together. He’s going to be a superstar. We could have seen this coming.”

Having stepped out from the shadow of Machado and other former Orioles All-Star selections in previous years, Schoop is finally making the baseball world take notice.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 win over Toronto

Posted on 27 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their third straight game in a 3-1 final over the Toronto Blue Jays, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles jumped ahead early with Mark Trumbo’s two-run double with two outs in the first, but Adam Jones drawing a walk after falling behind 0-2 was the biggest at-bat of the inning. It was an impressive way to finish an eight-pitch battle with Joe Biagini.

2. Kevin Gausman showed good fastball command low in the strike zone as he pitched 5 1/3 innings to collect his first victory since May 31. You’d like to see him get deeper into the game, but he was able to build on encouraging signs from his last outing.

3. His command was shaky early in the game, but double plays in the first and second innings went a long way in allowing Gausman to settle down. He retired eight in a row after the twin killing in the second.

4. Toronto made some loud contact in the fourth, but Gausman dotted a 3-2 fastball at the bottom of the zone to strike out Josh Donaldson looking. That was one of his best pitches of the night.

5. Despite the Blue Jays featuring seven right-handed bats in their starting lineup, Gausman continued to use his split-changeup as his go-to secondary pitch and didn’t throw a single slider, according to Statcast. That’s an interesting development.

6. Thanks to the off-day, Buck Showalter was able to deploy his bullpen earlier than normal as Gausman was pulled after 99 pitches with a one-out jam in the sixth. That’s the kind of bullpen chain the Orioles have too frequently lacked over Zach Britton’s absence.

7. Mychal Givens was wild in the sixth, but he got Kendrys Morales to expand the zone for a strikeout to leave the bases loaded and then calmed down to toss a perfect seventh. His ability to pitch more than one inning as been huge all season for an undermanned bullpen.

8. The last seven weeks of Orioles baseball haven’t been easy, but watching Jonathan Schoop continue to grow as an offensive force has been fun. His two-out hits in the first and third started both of Baltimore’s scoring rallies on Tuesday.

9. I’ll never grow tired of watching encounters between Darren O’Day and Jose Bautista. The veteran reliever came out on top this time and has looked sharp in three scoreless innings since returning from the disabled list Friday night.

10. Brad Brach allowed a two-out home run to Troy Tulowitzki in the ninth, the first run he’d allowed since May 16. Other than his struggles from late April through early May, he’s done a commendable job filling in for Britton.

11. Hyun Soo Kim drew two walks, but he’s only 7-for-31 without an extra-base hit since the Chris Davis injury more than two weeks ago that led to more playing time for the left fielder. His season on-base plus slugging percentage is just .620.

12. The Orioles were one strike away from pitching a shutout four days after tying the major league record for allowing five or more runs in their 20th consecutive game. Baseball’s funny.

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Which Oriole(s?) should receive 2017 All-Star Game nod?

Posted on 27 June 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles haven’t been in this position in some time.

Having sent no fewer than three representatives to each of the last five All-Star Games, Baltimore has struggled to remain relevant in the American League with a number of past selections either injured or performing below career norms. No, the Orioles haven’t reverted all the way to a time when they once sent journeyman Ty Wigginton as their required All-Star selection in 2010, but identifying a clear-cut candidate to represent the club in Miami on July 11 is a complicated task.

The latest All-Star voting update showed no Orioles even ranking in the top three at their respective positions — Welington Castillo ranks fourth among AL catchers and Manny Machado fifth among AL third basemen — making it clear that no player from Buck Showalter’s club will be elected as a starter. The All-Star voting concludes Thursday with the teams announced on Sunday night.

Below is a look at the Orioles’ most appealing All-Star candidates:

Who will be the Orioles' 2017 All-Star selection?

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2B Jonathan Schoop
The case for: The 25-year-old is on pace to set new career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, doubles, walks, and runs batted in. Entering Tuesday, Schoop ranks fourth in the AL in doubles and also leads the Orioles in hits, homers, RBIs, and total bases.
The case against: The AL is stacked at second base with MVP candidate Jose Altuve as well as former All-Star picks such as Robinson Cano, Starlin Castro, and Dustin Pedroia having reputations working in their favor. Schoops’s defense drops him to third in wins above replacement among AL second basemen.
Outlook: Even a couple weeks ago, I didn’t like Schoop’s chances in such a crowded position group, but Altuve is the only clear choice ahead of him and the Orioles need a rep, giving him a pretty good chance.

OF/1B Trey Mancini
The case for: If it weren’t for Aaron Judge, Mancini would be receiving plenty of Rookie of the Year hype as he leads the Orioles in batting average, OBP, and slugging and ranks in the top seven among AL hitters with at least 220 plate appearances in average, slugging, and on-base plus slugging percentage.
The case against: It’s difficult for most rookies to receive All-Star acclaim and it doesn’t help that Mancini has split time at first base and in the outfield as well as at designated hitter. He ranks just 15th in WAR among AL outfielders and, like Schoop, is competing with a deep talent pool in the outfield.
Outlook: AL manager Terry Francona could view Mancini as a bit of a wild card capable of playing more than one spot, but his chances appear totally dependent on whether Schoop gets the club’s bid.

RP Brad Brach
The case for: Look no further than the closer spot over the years for any so-so club needing an All-Star representative, and Brach ranks a respectable sixth in the AL in saves. He hasn’t come close to duplicating his amazing 2016 first half, but last year’s All-Star nod likely helps keep him on the radar.
The case against: Being 13-for-16 in save opportunities and a 2.43 ERA are numbers that hardly stand out when trying to put together an All-Star bullpen. Brach filling in as Baltimore’s closer may even hurt his case if we continue seeing more of a recent emphasis on taking a dominant setup man or two.
Outlook: Other than a rough patch from late April through mid-May, Brach has been very good with a club-best 0.87 walks and hits per inning pitched and has some history on his side to help his cause.

SP Dylan Bundy
The case for: Being Baltimore’s best starting pitcher is hardly a high bar, but Bundy is tied for second in the AL in quality starts and tied for fifth in innings, a surprising feat for a 24-year-old in his first full season as a starter. According to Baseball Reference, his value of 2.2 WAR leads all Orioles players.
The case against: Bundy’s 5.93 ERA in June has dropped him to 12th in the AL in that category among qualified pitchers. His 4.76 fielding independent pitching mark also reflects his underwhelming strikeout and home run rates compared to many of the top starting pitchers in the league.
Outlook: The right-hander looked like Baltimore’s most promising choice a month ago, but recent struggles and the Orioles’ desire to back off his workload around the break hurt his chances.

3B Manny Machado
The case for: The 24-year-old is a great case study in the debate over whether the All-Star Game should be a true showcase of the game’s brightest stars or a mere reward for having three good months. Machado’s defense shouldn’t be overlooked as he’s played third base better than anyone in the AL.
The case against: Entering Tuesday with a .228 average and a .299 OBP doesn’t help his cause while other third basemen such as Jose Ramirez and Miguel Sano have been far superior at the plate. His OPS ranks ninth among qualified AL third basemen, showing the overall quality of the position offensively.
Outlook: Little about his 2017 profile says he’s deserving, but he’s a Miami native and still celebrated as one of the game’s greatest stars, meaning I wouldn’t rule out his inclusion entirely.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 15-7 win over St. Louis

Posted on 17 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles scoring a season-high total of runs in a 15-7 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles lineup took out some frustration by scoring nine runs over the first two innings and producing their highest single-game total since Aug. 16, 2015. With Baltimore scoring 10 or more runs twice in the last four games, you hope it’s the start of some extended prosperity.

2. Jonathan Schoop continues to be one of the club’s best players as he homered twice and tied a career high with four hits. He’s struggled defensively as an error led to a run in the first, but his .888 on-base plus slugging percentage is easily a career high thus far.

3. Even with 15 runs, Buck Showalter was forced to use his best two active relievers to record the final 10 outs after St. Louis had cut the deficit to five and loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth. The current state of this bullpen is frightening.

4. Mychal Givens cleaned up the mess created by others and calmed down a suddenly-uncomfortable situation with a strikeout of Eric Fryer to end the top of the sixth. He would throw a career-high 42 pitches in completing 2 1/3 scoreless innings. That was critical work.

5. Wade Miley would have liked to have been more productive after being staked to a 9-1 lead, but the standard is so low with this rotation right now that he received a standing ovation after 5 2/3 frames. At least his outing wasn’t as awful as others we’ve seen recently?

6. Manny Machado sent a 113.2 mph missile into the Orioles bullpen for a two-run homer in the second and made a fantastic defensive play to end the top of the eighth. Yes, he has struggled in 2017, but he’s still special to watch.

7. J.J. Hardy delivered a two-run double to begin the scoring in a seven-run second and later added another RBI double. Any offense you get from the 34-year-old shortstop is a rarity at this point, but he had a strong day.

8. Alec Asher was moved back into a relief role this weekend in an effort to help solidify the bullpen, but he couldn’t record an out in the process of giving up a home run and two singles in the sixth inning. Yikes.

9. Adam Wainwright has now allowed nine earned runs in two of his last three starts. I suppose it’s comforting to know Orioles starters aren’t the only ones putting ugly numbers on the scoreboard recently.

10. Had you ever heard of Paul DeJong before? The No. 9 hitter extraordinaire has looked like Babe Ruth against Baltimore pitching this weekend as he homered for the second straight game.

11. How often do you see a line drive just past a lunging shortstop go all the way to the left-center wall? Trey Mancini absolutely smoked that ball with a 108.7 mph exit velocity in the second inning.

12. Even in victory, the Orioles allowed at least five runs for the 14th consecutive game, which is a franchise record. The 1924 Philadelphia Phillies hold the major league record at 20 games, according to Baseball Reference play index data going back to 1913.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 loss to White Sox

Posted on 15 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles losing another series in a 5-2 defeat to the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Chris Tillman persevered through five solid innings before things unraveled for him in the sixth, but the Orioles lineup scoring one measly run until the ninth inning won’t cut it, especially with a pitching staff struggling to even be competitive most nights.

2. We haven’t discussed it much since the Orioles have rarely even been in games over the last week, but it’s alarming how undermanned the bullpen is with both Zach Britton and Darren O’Day on the disabled list. I could understand Buck Showalter trying to push Tillman longer in the sixth.

3. Even the best clubs go through periods when they struggle to pitch or hit, but botching a bunt coverage in a tie game in the sixth is the stuff of bad teams. Tillman took responsibility for it, but that cannot happen when the opposition is giving you an out.

4. Jimmy Yacabonis pitched well enough at Triple-A Norfolk to receive a promotion, but his performance Thursday should probably send him back in the minors. Allowing hits is one thing, but walking three out of the four hitters you face is unacceptable.

5. Jonathan Schoop’s drive in the sixth looked like the go-ahead three-run home run off the bat, but Melky Cabrera caught the ball in front of the left-field wall. It was one of many opportunities in which the Orioles failed to capitalize as they went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

6. There was no doubt about the fourth-inning homer off the bat of Matt Davidson, who hit a long ball in all four games of the series. He’s just the latest hitter to wear out the Orioles in recent weeks.

7. The unflattering result shouldn’t entirely dismiss some encouraging signs from Tillman, who showed solid fastball velocity and threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 28 batters he faced. The struggling veteran entered the day throwing first-pitch strikes only 44.4 percent of the time in 2017.

8. Tillman is still struggling to put away hitters as was the case in an 11-pitch at-bat with Kevan Smith in the second. Despite quickly getting ahead 0-2 on a catcher sporting a .637 on-base plus slugging percentage, Tillman couldn’t finish him off as Smith eventually singled.

9. I understood Showalter not wanting to remove Joey Rickard against right-hander Anthony Swarzak in a key spot in the fifth because of his short bench, but Hyun Soo Kim should have been used as a pinch hitter for Rickard against closer David Robertson in the ninth.

10. Manny Machado swung at three pitches outside the zone for a fourth-inning strikeout. After making great strides to improve his plate discipline over the last few years, the third baseman has walked only six times over his last 131 plate appearances. That’s very telling of his approach.

11. Seth Smith (back) and Mike Wright (shoulder) were both unavailable on Thursday. The Orioles’ health continues to plummet almost as rapidly as their record.

12. Baltimore has now allowed five or more runs in 12 consecutive games. I’d be curious to know what the major league record is, but it was sobering enough watching the 1-7 road trip as it was.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 07 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles rallying late to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 6-5 final in 10 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jonathan Schoop was the hero with two home runs, including a 423-foot bomb deep into the right-center bleachers to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. With others in the Baltimore lineup struggling to find consistency, Schoop is leading the way with a .525 slugging percentage.

2. Mark Trumbo provided his third walk-off hit of 2017, but it wouldn’t have been possible had Adam Jones not wisely tagged up on Manny Machado’s fly ball to the left-field wall. It’s the kind of play that more players should make, but that makes you appreciate Jones that much more.

3. Chris Davis not only started the comeback with a solo homer to start the bottom of the seventh, but his single to right-center after being down 0-2 to begin the ninth prompted Schoop to walk to the plate as the tying run. Don’t forget Davis’ contributions in the unlikely win.

4. Kevin Gausman settled in after the second inning, but it’s difficult to recover statistically from a three-run frame. Neither David Freese nor Josh Bell hit their singles hard to start the second, but Gausman allowed run-scoring hits by Andrew McCutchen and John Jaso after being ahead 0-2 on each.

5. Watching Gausman pitch with a lead is bordering on painful now. It was only a 1-0 advantage after one, but you wonder how much his recent track record of failing to protect advantages is wearing on him mentally at this point.

6. Gausman was receiving much of the blame from fans, but the Orioles offense looked like it was on its way to another lifeless night before the late innings. Baltimore entered Tuesday ranked 20th in the majors in runs scored per game. That must get better.

7. Watching Ivan Nova pitch on Tuesday makes you wish the Orioles could steal away Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage for a while. He has done wonders with the former Yankee as well as other reclamation projects like J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano in recent years.

8. Donnie Hart isn’t inspiring any confidence on the mound since his recent return from Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles need the left-hander to find the kind of groove he enjoyed late last year and in the first few weeks of 2017.

9. Seeing Mychal Givens touch 98 and 99 mph on the radar gun was impressive enough in a scoreless eighth, but lefties are now hitting .152 against him after they feasted a year ago to the tune of a 1.025 on-base plus slugging percentage.

10. Darren O’Day was scored upon for just the second time since May 8, but he’d be the first to tell you that walking Adam Frazier after being ahead 0-2 with two outs in the ninth was a bad omen.

11. J.J. Hardy is now slugging .295 and owns a .536 OPS. He still plays good defense and there isn’t a logical alternative beyond moving Manny Machado over to shortstop and opening a new hole at third base, but his offense is becoming a major concern.

12. With the Orioles losing a number of winnable games over the last few weeks, seeing them prevail in a game they didn’t have much business having was encouraging.

 

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-2 win over Yankees

Posted on 29 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles snapping their seven-game losing streak to beat the New York Yankees in a 3-2 final on Memorial Day, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dylan Bundy was the stopper, which is exactly what the club needed after dropping 13 of the previous 16 games. The 24-year-old registered his 10th quality start in 11 outings this season and did it against one of the best offenses in baseball. Where would the Orioles be without him?

2. The results over seven innings were paramount, but Bundy showed some of his best fastball velocity of the season, sitting comfortably around 93 mph over his final five innings and touching 95. For what it’s worth, this was about the point last year when his velocity began climbing.

3. Perhaps that velocity was the reason why Bundy relied so much on his fastball, throwing his four-seamer and two-seamer a combined 53 times against the powerful Yankees. We hear it over and over, but fastball command makes pitching so much easier and allows you to stay in attack mode.

4. Pitch efficiency allowed Bundy to complete seven innings for the fifth time this season as he had thrown only 72 pitches through six frames. A lengthy seventh prevented him from setting a new career-long outing, but he did quite a job staying out of trouble.

5. Jonathan Schoop delivered the key two-run double in the third after the Orioles had squandered some other opportunities early in the game. The second baseman added a nifty double play in the sixth inning with Bundy facing the heart of the New York order for the third time.

6. Bundy appeared to have struck him out on a questionable check-swing call earlier in the at-bat, but Aaron Judge showed off his monster power with a 429-foot home run to the bleachers on a 3-2 pitch in the seventh. He’s impressive to watch.

7. The Orioles made Jordan Montgomery throw a whopping 56 pitches over the first two innings, but they managed only one run. Give them credit for battling the lefty, but that’s the kind of result occurring far too often lately.

8. Buck Showalter would gladly take a young pitcher like Montgomery in his rotation, but his 100 pitches over 4 1/3 innings on Monday would fit right in with what we’ve been seeing in Baltimore. That’s not fun to watch.

9. The Orioles defense was trying to do too much early as Mark Trumbo cut in front of Joey Rickard on a fly ball — allowing Starlin Castro to advance to second — and Chris Davis deflected a Didi Gregorius grounder going right to Schoop. Those plays cost Bundy a run.

10. Darren O’Day is quietly looking like his old self again as he registered his fourth straight 1-2-3 inning and sixth consecutive scoreless appearance. He’s missing bats again, which the Orioles really needed.

11. That was as good as Brad Brach has looked all season as he struck out Judge and Gregorius to end the game. It isn’t coincidental that he and O’Day look much better when not having to pitch five times per week. Of course, the Orioles need to find middle ground.

12. Manny Machado struck out to lead off the bottom of the third and slammed his bat down at home plate, leaving the bat boy to go fetch it in the middle of an inning. His .216 average is concerning enough, but that wasn’t a good look at all.

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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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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-3 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 24 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering a three-game sweep in a 4-3 loss to Minnesota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A team is never as bad as it looks in the midst of a losing streak, which is reassuring considering how ugly it’s been for the Orioles over this 3-10 stretch. I didn’t believe they were as good as their 22-10 start, but I’m not pushing the panic button, either.

2. Chris Tillman is typically a slow starter in his outings, but a 36-pitch first inning in which he allowed three runs was the last thing the Orioles needed. Similar to his first start of 2017, Tillman was consistently missing to his arm side early, and it cost him.

3. Tillman was eventually able to settle in and complete five innings after Jayson Aquino was warming up in both the first and second innings. The slider was particularly useful as he got five of his six swinging strikes with it. Still, the Orioles need better from him.

4. The pitching receives more attention, but the Orioles scored only five runs over the final 25 innings of the Twins series. With the current state of the pitching staff, it’s going to be very difficult to win if this offense can’t score at least five runs per game most nights.

5. J.J. Hardy’s third-inning home run broke a stretch of 21 consecutive Orioles hitters being retired dating back to the fifth inning of Tuesday’s 2-0 loss. The Twins pitched very well over the final two games, but there were far too many listless at-bats over that stretch.

6. After being aggressive early in the game, Chris Davis looked at three straight strikes with the tying run on second in the eighth. I’ve rarely harped on Davis’ strikeouts, but he’s now gone down looking a whopping 31 times this year, which is many more than anyone in the majors.

7. Jonathan Schoop hit his first home run since April 24 to make it a 4-3 game, but that came after he struck out with the bases loaded in the fourth. As Buck Showalter noted after the game, it’s home run or bust with this offense at the moment.

8. Jose Berrios gave up three solo shots over his 6 1/3 innings, but you can see why the Twins are so excited about the 22-year-old. That curveball was filthy while his two-seam fastball had sharp downward movement.

9. Despite doing a respectable job in the outfield so far, Trey Mancini looked the part of someone who’s never played there on Wednesday as he threw to the wrong base at one point and later misplayed a single into an extra base in the fifth. He’s still learning.

10. Alec Asher continued to draw praise from Showalter after two more scoreless innings, but you wonder if that outing took him out of play to start in place of Ubaldo Jimenez on Sunday. Besides Dylan Bundy, Asher has been Baltimore’s best pitching story so far.

11. I’m very reluctant to question a player’s concentration level or effort, but it was tough to watch Manny Machado’s play and body language over the last few days and not think that his slump at the plate is really wearing on him.

12. Even before Wednesday’s loss, Showalter complimented the Twins’ makeup as they continue to lead the AL Central. I still expect Cleveland to eventually take off to win that division, but let’s not forget the youthful Twins were 83-79 in 2015 before last year’s disastrous start from which they never recovered.

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