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Ravens-Chiefs: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 09 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Despite initial reports to the contrary, Joe Flacco is inactive for the fourth straight week as the Ravens attempt to upset Kansas City on Sunday.

After registering his first full practice since early November on Friday, the veteran was considered to serve as the backup quarterback before the Ravens ultimately activated Robert Griffin III again. Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his fourth straight start after leading the Ravens to three straight wins to move into the No. 6 spot in the AFC. Flacco was listed as questionable on the final injury report after making substantial progress this week in his return from a right hip injury.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is active and will play despite missing practice time this week with a groin injury. His presence will be critical as Baltimore attempts to slow Kansas City’s top-ranked scoring offense. As expected, safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) will miss his second straight game, meaning Chuck Clark will once again start in his place.

Offensive lineman James Hurst is active for the first time since Week 6, making his return from a back injury that sidelined him for the last six games. With Alex Lewis out with a lingering shoulder issue after missing practices all week, Hurst or rookie Bradley Bozeman will start at left guard with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. continuing to man the right tackle spot.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) was deactivated for the fifth straight game.

After being listed as questionable on the final injury report, Chiefs safety Eric Berry (heel) will need to wait another week to make his 2018 season debut. Berry and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) were officially deactivated on Sunday morning. Newly-signed wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is also inactive.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Tony Corrente.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Kansas City calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the mid-30s with light and variable winds and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with purple pants while the Chiefs don red jerseys with white pants for Week 14.

Sunday marks the eighth all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Kansas City holding the 4-3 advantage. However, Baltimore is undefeated in three trips to Arrowhead Stadium, which includes a 2010 wild-card playoff victory.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Joe Flacco
WR Jordan Lasley
OLB Tim Williams
S Tony Jefferson
G Alex Lewis
DL/FB Patrick Ricard
DL Zach Sieler

KANSAS CITY
S Eric Berry
OL Kahlil McKenzie
WR Kelvin Benjamin
WR Sammy Watkins
RB Charcandrick West
OL Jimmy Murray
TE Deon Yelder

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Ravens-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The irresistible force meets the immovable object — or something like that.

The Ravens continue to fight the good fight in today’s offense-driven NFL and will test out their top-ranked defense in Kansas City. The 10-2 Chiefs own the league’s No. 1 scoring offense and rank fourth or better in total offense, passing offense, third-down offense, fourth-down offense, and red-zone offense.

After passing an important road test against Atlanta in impressive fashion last week, Baltimore will now see how its reliance on a revamped running game and stingy defense — a formula considered outdated by some — fares against the best team in the AFC. Sunday represents an opportunity for the Ravens to show they can be as dangerous as anyone in January.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the eighth time in the all-time regular-season series. Kansas City holds a 4-3 advantage, but the Ravens have won both regular-season games at Arrowhead Stadium as well as a 2010 wild-card playoff game on the road. The Chiefs won the most recent meeting between these teams in 2015, a 34-14 final in Baltimore.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens defense will intercept its first pass since early October, but pressure in the pocket will be rare. Yes, it’s been more than two months since Tavon Young intercepted a Baker Mayfield pass in the first quarter of the Week 5 loss in Cleveland. However, Patrick Mahomes is facing a disguise-heavy Baltimore defense for the first time in his career and has thrown 10 interceptions, proving he can occasionally be erratic despite his outstanding body of work. The problem will be getting to the young quarterback against an offensive line that’s surrendered only 20 sacks this season.

2. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will catch two touchdowns. Questions about Marlon Humphrey’s health complicate this topic as I believe a full-strength Ravens secondary would be wise to use Jimmy Smith or Humphrey to cover Kelce since he lines up plenty as a slot receiver. Baltimore has given up just 31 pass plays of 20 or more yards and two passes of 40 or more yards all season, so Wink Martindale will do everything he can to prevent the speedy Tyreek Hill from wrecking the game. That will leave the Ravens vulnerable underneath, however, with Kelce doing much of the damage.

3. Mark Andrews will continue to show chemistry with Lamar Jackson by catching a touchdown. The rookie tight end’s five catches for 140 yards over the last three games are nothing special at first glance, but that production has come on five targets, meaning Marty Mornhinweg and Jackson would be wise to utilize this connection more frequently. The Chiefs are vulnerable over the middle and have struggled to cover tight ends even more than Baltimore has this season, which should allow the Ravens to find some success through the air in that portion of the field.

4. Jackson will crack 190 passing yards for the first time in his career with underwhelming results. The Ravens will run the ball effectively against another bad rush defense, but a strong ground game isn’t as valuable as a prolific passing attack, making it inevitable that Jackson will need to make plays with his arm, something he was rarely able to do in Atlanta. The Chiefs defense carries one of the NFL’s worst overall statistical profiles, but eight of its 11 interceptions and 21 of its 39 sacks have come in just five home games, which is bad news if Baltimore falls behind.

5. Red-zone efficiency will be the difference as the Chiefs pull away in a 31-16 final. A convincing road win over the Falcons offers hope that the revamped Ravens might be able to upset Kansas City, but Atlanta has been going nowhere fast for much of the season while the Chiefs are on the fast track to the No. 1 seed. Much has been made about a running game that’s rushed for over 700 yards the last three weeks, but the Ravens have netted just five offensive touchdowns in 17 drives reaching the opponent’s 30-yard line. Running the ball and controlling the clock to try to limit scoring opportunities for Mahomes and the Chiefs offense is a sound strategy, but that only works when you’re finishing those long drives with touchdowns, something the Ravens haven’t done consistently enough to like their chances in this one. I’ll take the No. 1 offense over the No. 1 defense every time in today’s NFL, but the Ravens will still battle for large stretches of this one.

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Flacco questionable for Kansas City game after logging full practice

Posted on 07 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was listed as questionable to play in Sunday’s game against Kansas City after logging his first full practice since early November.

Head coach John Harbaugh left open the possibility of Flacco being active and serving in a backup capacity against the Chiefs, but rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson is still expected to make his fourth consecutive start after leading Baltimore to three straight wins. Flacco had yet to be cleared for game action as of early Friday afternoon, but he moved around better in practices this week, which could leave the Ravens with an interesting decision for Week 15 and the remainder of the season.

The 11th-year starter has been sidelined since injuring his right hip in the Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 4, but the Ravens have reeled off three consecutive 200-yard rushing performances with the speedy Jackson at quarterback, leaving many to believe the rookie better fits their newfound identity. Flacco returned to practice on a limited basis prior to the Week 13 win in Atlanta.

“He threw. He handed off. I mean, really, what more do you want me to say?” said Harbaugh about Flacco’s progress. “He played quarterback. He looked good; he looked like he always looks. It didn’t look like there were any ill effects from the hip or anything like that. I think we did the right things. It looks to me like — [from] my amateur eye — it looks like it was the right thing and looks like it was the right thing to give him the rest. We’ll see what the docs say.”

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey was also listed as questionable on the final injury report after returning to practice on a limited basis on Friday. Harbaugh said he expects Humphrey to play after a groin injury kept him out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday. The 2017 first-round pick’s availability and effectiveness will be critical going up against the Chiefs’ third-ranked passing attack.

Offensive lineman James Hurst (back) is expected to make his return after a six-game absence. Hurst practiced fully on Friday and could be in line to start at left guard with Alex Lewis missing practices all week and being listed as questionable with a lingering shoulder injury. Baltimore’s right tackle through the first six weeks of the season, Hurst started primarily at left guard last season.

“He did well. I think he looks good, has a legit chance to go and play,” Harbaugh said. “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t ready. Barring a setback, he should be ready to go.”

Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) was listed as doubtful and is expected to miss his second straight game after not practicing all week. Second-year safety Chuck Clark will start in his place.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs listed wide receiver Sammy Watkins as doubtful after he suffered a setback with the foot injury that’s kept him out of two of their last three games. Kansas City signed veteran wideout Kelvin Benjamin on Friday, but the former first-round pick is unlikely to be active on Sunday.

The Chiefs hope to welcome back five-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, who has yet to play this season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in the 2017 opener and dealing with setbacks in his recovery. Berry practiced on a limited basis all week and was listed as questionable on the final injury report.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Kansas City calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the high 30s with winds light and variable.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: S Tony Jefferson (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), LB Tim Williams (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)

KANSAS CITY
DOUBTFUL: WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: S Eric Berry (heel), TE Demetrius Harris (knee/illness)

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Ravens defense facing biggest challenge yet in Kansas City

Posted on 06 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith compared Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to a young Brett Favre.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said the second-year quarterback reminds him of Joe Montana and called Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill “the fastest human being I’ve ever seen wear a helmet.” The coach also noted how you don’t stop Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce as much as you merely try to limit his big plays.

You’d say the top-ranked Ravens defense is buttering up its opponent until you dive into the numbers for an offense averaging 37.0 points and 437.2 yards per game. With a quarter of the regular season to go, Mahomes has already thrown 41 touchdowns while Hill and Kelce have each eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards with a combined 20 touchdown catches.

Even after holding Atlanta to just nine offensive points in last week’s victory, the Ravens understand what awaits at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s a road challenge unlike any they’ve encountered this season.

“We know we have to go out and play great to have a chance to win this game, let alone stop them,” safety Eric Weddle said. “In reality, holding this team to what we did [against the Falcons last week] is probably not going to happen. But we can make things tough on them. We can create turnovers. We can hold them in the red zone.”

Those prospects don’t sound as encouraging when you consider Baltimore is tied for 30th in the NFL with just nine takeaways and hasn’t intercepted a pass since Week 5. The Ravens have surrendered a league-best 17.8 points per game, but their red-zone defense is an underwhelming 25th with opponents maximizing their opportunities inside the 20, rare as they might be.

Those red-zone issues largely stem from problems covering tight ends, which is even more concerning against a unique talent like Kelce. Despite ranking second in passing yards allowed per game, the Ravens have allowed a touchdown reception to a tight end in five of the last six games and rank 25th in the NFL against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric.

Kelce has caught 79 passes for 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns this season and lines up all over the field, making him a matchup nightmare for even the best defenses. According to ESPN, he ranks second in the league in receiving yards from the slot and first in yards after the catch from the slot, meaning Kelce should be treated more like a receiver than a tight end typically covered by a linebacker or safety.

Might the Ravens be better served using one of their big cornerbacks like Smith or Marlon Humphrey to travel with Kelce when he lines up away from the tackle box?

“It’s interesting. I didn’t think about that,” said Smith as he smiled when presented with the possibility. “I don’t know, maybe our coaches might think of something like that. That would be something for them to look at.”

The Ravens will need to vary their fronts and coverages — one of their biggest strengths — to try to keep the Chiefs guessing. As Martindale said, “If they know what you’re in, they will slaughter you.”

Home cooking for Chiefs defense?

Many have cited the Ravens’ need to continue to run the ball effectively to control the clock and limit Kansas City’s possessions, but assumptions that they’ll be able to score plenty might be premature.

Kansas City ranks 31st in total defense, 22nd in rush defense, 32nd in pass defense, and 27th in points allowed per game, but the splits suggest a more formidable defense playing at home. The Ravens should take comfort in the Chiefs allowing an ugly 5.3 yards per carry at home, but they’ve surrendered just 17.6 points per game at Arrowhead Stadium, which is less than the 18.7 points per game allowed by Baltimore on the road this year.

The Chiefs have registered eight of their 11 interceptions and 21 of their 39 sacks in their five home games, a profile that doesn’t bode well for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a passing game that’s been inconsistent at best over these last three weeks. The Ravens have rushed for over 200 yards in each of their last three games, but they’ve managed just five offensive touchdowns and have gone 5-for-10 inside the red zone over that stretch.

They’ll need to do better than that to have a good chance on Sunday, and the Kansas City defense may not be as cooperative as many are assuming at first glance.

Suggs on L.T.’s heels

Following the win in Atlanta, Martindale received a call from his son informing him 16th-year linebacker Terrell Suggs was now only one sack away from passing Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor on the all-time list.

“I won’t tell you what I told my son because I’m going to keep it clean up here, but I said, ‘Wow!’” Martindale said. “You don’t think about that because we see ‘Sizz’ all the time, every day.”

Suggs recorded the 132nd sack of his career against the Falcons in Week 13, just a half shy of the New York Giants legend’s total. It’s fair noting Taylor accumulated his 132 1/2 in 13 seasons, but Suggs moving into 13th place on the all-time list with his next quarterback takedown will only strengthen his case for Canton one day.

The 36-year-old needs 3 1/2 sacks in the final four games to record the eighth double-digit sack campaign of his career.

Injury report

Humphrey missed his second straight practice with a groin injury, heightening concerns about his availability for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) and left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) also missed Thursday’s session.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) was a limited participant once again and is moving around better in practices than he did last week, but it remains unclear whether he’ll be cleared to be active for Week 14. Offensive lineman James Hurst (back) continues to be limited after both he and head coach John Harbaugh expressed hope earlier this week for his potential return after a six-game absence.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

KANSAS CITY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Demetrius Harris (illness/knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Eric Berry (heel), WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Anthony Hitchens (quadriceps/rib)

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Humphrey misses practice as Ravens brace for Kansas City offense

Posted on 05 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to play the highest-scoring offense in the NFL is challenging enough, but the Ravens did so without top cornerback Marlon Humphrey on Wednesday.

The 2017 first-round pick was absent from practice with what was listed as a groin issue on the official injury report. Humphrey played 48 of 53 defensive snaps in Sunday’s 26-16 win over Atlanta, but he appeared to pull up gingerly on the failed 2-point conversion try with under five minutes remaining, which was Atlanta’s final offensive play of the game.

Since returning from a thigh injury that cost him two games in late October, Humphrey has emerged as one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL, ranking 10th at his position in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. He finished with two pass breakups in a defensive effort that limited Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to a paltry 131 passing yards in Week 13.

Marlon just works hard. He’s talented,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday. “He’s a very serious guy as you all know, and he takes his technique very seriously. He chases perfection in everything that he does. He works at it, and he wants to be good.”

Humphrey’s potential absence would spell trouble in the effort to slow Kansas City’s third-ranked passing attack. The 22-year-old missed the New Orleans and Carolina games — both losses — in which the Ravens surrendered a total of 60 points, their worst two-game stretch of the season.

Sunday will mark the second time this season in which the Ravens enter a week as the top scoring defense going up against the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense.

“When we played New Orleans, it was the same type of thing, and we kick ourselves in the butt about that game still,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the 24-23 defeat in Week 7 that started a three-game losing streak. “I think [we’re] just going for it. It’s December; it’s playoffs. When you go against a team like this, it’s a real test to see if you can beat them in the playoffs. They’re looking like they’re a team that’s going to go, so it’s going to be that type of challenge.”

Veteran quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) was back at practice after missing his third straight game and was once again a limited participant like he was last Thursday and Friday. Harbaugh reiterated the 33-year-old’s activity level would be ramped up from last week, but it appears likely that rookie Lamar Jackson will make his fourth consecutive start on Sunday against the Chiefs as Flacco had yet to be cleared for game action at the start of the week.

Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle), left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), slot cornerback Tavon Young (groin), and defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) also missed Wednesday’s practice for injury-related reasons. The latter three played against the Falcons despite dealing with their respective ailments, but Jefferson appears in danger of missing his second straight game, which would mean another start for second-year safety Chuck Clark.

As he did all last week, veteran offensive lineman James Hurst (back) practiced on a limited basis and remains hopeful of making his return after a six-game absence. His return coupled with Lewis’ ongoing physical challenges would leave offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris with the option of shifting Hurst to left guard, the position he played last season. Rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. has started the last six games at right tackle.

The Chiefs continue to deal with the on-field and off-field fallout of Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt’s release late last week, but every member of their current 53-man roster was practicing, which included five-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry (heel) and starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot). Berry is aiming to make his season debut while Watkins has missed two of Kansas City’s last three games — with a bye week included in that stretch — because of a foot injury.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury), CB Tavon Young (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Tim Williams (ankle)

KANSAS CITY
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Eric Berry (heel), WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Demetrius Harris (knee), LB Anthony Hitchens (quadriceps/rib)

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Chapter 6: Baseball punched me a ticket to see The World

Posted on 16 August 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

(Originally posted as a prelude to the “Free The Birds” walkout in Sept. 2006, this is Part 6 of a 19 Chapter Series on How Baseball and the Orioles berthed WNST.net.)

One day my Pop came home from work in the Spring of 1983 and during dinner announced that we should go on a vacation in the upcoming summer.

Other than Venezuela in 1972, when we took my lone airplane ride, and Disney World in 1978 when we took Amtrak, I had never been much past Ocean City (I had only been there a handful of times because my Uncle Omar had a joint on 28th Street Bayside behind the Jolly Roger amusement park).

We usually just went “home” to South Carolina to visit my Mom’s family and chilled while she visited all her old neighbors and friends. My Pop and I would spend those summer days almost entirely at the Abbeville Civic Center. It wasn’t at all like OUR Baltimore Civic Center with seats and stuff. It was just a little gym with a lobby and my Pop and I would shoot baskets for hours in that hotbox gym. There wasn’t anything else to do in the tiny little South Carolina town. All of my relatives were older than my Mom and she’s now 87. So every one of them was well into their 70’s then and have since passed away.

My Aunt Earline made eggs and bacon and biscuits in the morning and fried chicken in the afternoon. Her sister, my Aunt Edna — she was a cool old lady, she took me to the NWA wrestling matches in Greenwood, S.C. one night! — made the world’s best chocolate fudge (I recently found the recipe!) and fresh peach ice cream in a churn for dessert on alternating days. We picked pecans off the tree in the back yard on Ellis Street and tossed them into a batch of that incredible fudge. And I would throw a super-sized Superball (they were bigger than the normal ones and very rock solid) against the siding of my Aunt Eleanor’s house up the street, pretending I was Nolan Ryan when I wasn’t in that hot gym.

That was vacation for me. There were no other kids, and the black/white thing in Abbeville, S.C., even then in the late 1970’s, was kind of in the backdrop as well. I ran around, dreamed and chased these weird, techni-color grasshoppers they had all over the place.

Kind of Napoleon Dynamite pathetic, huh?

But it’s really true, as I look back upon it.

I was bored as hell (except when my Aunt Edna was involved) and all I really wanted to do was stay at home in Colgate and play baseball on the church lot with my friends, anyway. But I did get to eat some great food in South Carolina. And, one time, a pretty Southern girl painted an orange Clemson paw print on my face at a park called Hickory Knob State Park!

So, when my Pop announced a chance at a trip, he looked to me. I was 14, it was the summer of 1983 and where would I want to go or what would I want to do?
Clearly, it had to involve baseball. And if involved baseball in 1983, it definitely 

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 11-6 win over Kansas City

Posted on 11 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning just their third series of the season in an 11-6 win over Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles won two straight for the first time in over a month and the second time all season. The 11 runs scored marked a season high as they went 6-for-7 with runners in scoring position. It took six weeks, but Baltimore finally cracked double-digit wins. It hasn’t been fun.

2. The victory doesn’t mask the hard truth about Chris Tillman, who failed to get out of the second inning for the second straight start and owns a 10.46 season ERA. Whether he simply can’t do it physically anymore or the organization has no idea how to “fix” him, it’s over.

3. Tillman has now allowed four earned runs or more in 17 of his 26 starts since the start of last season. You can’t keep pointing to outliers like his seven shutout innings against Detroit last month while ignoring an 8.79 ERA in 114 2/3 innings over the last calendar year.

4. I have no idea whether the likes of David Hess or Tim Melville will succeed at the next level, but their numbers at Triple-A Norfolk warrant an opportunity. With this club already out of contention in mid-May, there’s no point continuing to go down this road with Tillman.

5. If it’s not someone from Norfolk, Miguel Castro stated his case for a starting opportunity with 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Royals, lowering his season ERA to 3.55. He threw 65 pitches and could slide into Tillman’s turn in the rotation if you want to take that route.

6. Trey Mancini hit his fourth homer of 2018 and tied career highs with three hits and three runs. He’s had a tough time at the plate since hurting his knee last month, so it was encouraging to see him break out with two extra-base hits to the opposite field.

7. Adam Jones is now 9-for-21 with two homers since moving into the No. 2 spot in the order during the West Coast trip. The veteran center fielder is still hitting just .258, but you much prefer seeing him in the second spot over Jace Peterson or Craig Gentry.

8. Both Mancini and Jones being a triple away from becoming the fifth Oriole to hit for the cycle made me wonder what Felix Pie is up to these days. He batted .286 in the Mexican Pacific Winter League this past offseason.

9. Manny Machado continues to rake as he clubbed his 10th long ball of the season and reached base three other times. He’s now batting .350 with a .439 on-base percentage. He continues to do his part in keeping his trade value as high as possible.

10. Jonathan Schoop dropped a throw at second on a potential double play for the second straight night in the second inning, but the Royals inexplicably dropped a sacrifice bunt right after that. Giving a struggling starting pitcher an out in that situation was baffling.

11. Tanner Scott was terrific over two innings, striking out four and getting eight swinging strikes on 31 pitches. He averaged 97.1 miles per hour on his fastball with a very good slider. The Orioles need a fresh bullpen arm, but he deserves to stay in Baltimore for the time being.

12. Darren O’Day said he hyperextended his elbow when someone accidentally collided with him as he stretched in the bullpen. The injury isn’t considered serious, but it reiterates how bizarre this season has been in addition to being terrible. It’s his fourth trip to the disabled list in three seasons.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts ahead of West Coast road trip

Posted on 30 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles coming off just their second series win of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dan Duquette said Friday it was a little early” to be talking selling, which is fine considering potential contenders are still evaluating their own rosters. But what’s the Angelos family’s plan? Will Duquette — with his expiring contract — orchestrate trades? Brady Anderson? A new hire? The clock is ticking loudly now.

2. Manny Machado entered Monday leading the majors with a .361 average and his home run, walk, and strikeout rates are career highs thus far. An MVP-caliber start helps his trade value, but failing to re-sign him or secure the optimal return value has been organizational malpractice.

3. Many expected the final two or three years of the Chris Davis deal to be ugly, but Buck Showalter’s comments on Sunday spoke volumes about this nightmare. For context, he’ll remain under contract as long as the just-drafted Lamar Jackson — assuming the Ravens exercise his fifth-year option.

4. Pedro Alvarez being pushed into last-second duty Sunday and hitting two homers was impressive on Sunday. He leads the club in both homer rate (8.6 percent of plate appearances) and walk rate (15.7 percent). Give him credit after playing most of last season at Triple-A Norfolk.

5. Mark Trumbo’s activation in Anaheim will give the Orioles a fifth player on the roster — Davis, Alvarez, Trey Mancini, and Danny Valencia the others — whose best role would be as the designated hitter or first baseman. Trumbo playing right field certainly isn’t going to help a below-average defense.

6. The suggestion of Richard Bleier closing out Sunday’s win would have been crazy even at the beginning of the season, but the fact that some were clamoring for him reflects how terrific he’s been. He’s second on the club behind Machado in wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

7. Orioles catchers have struck out in 36.7 percent of their plate appearances so far this season. I support Chance Sisco playing over Caleb Joseph at this point, but he’s striking out two out of every five times at the plate. That must improve sooner than later.

8. Zach Britton is moving closer to potentially returning in early June, a remarkable recovery from his torn Achilles tendon. Perhaps that’ll be enough time for the former All-Star closer to build enough trade value, but a two-year deal this winter could have made a lot of sense for both sides.

9. This was the first home series win since last August. The Orioles have gone 15-42 since then and are 61-97 since their 22-10 start last season. To recover enough to win 85 games, they’d have to play like a 93-win team the rest of the way. Cue Lloyd Christmas.

10. The Orioles and Kansas City are both in the basement of their respective divisions less than four years after meeting in the American League Championship Series. That feels like a really long time ago, but at least the Royals can take solace in having won a World Series.

11. I’m not sure how many were preparing to stay up late to watch a last-place team on the West Coast this week, but I was disappointed to see Shohei Ohtani’s scheduled Tuesday start pushed back to the weekend after last week’s ankle sprain. His story is incredible.

12. Sunday was the 30th anniversary of the Orioles snapping their historic 0-21 start to begin the 1988 season. I recommend this look back as well as this MLB Network package chronicling that incomprehensible record. The 2018 Orioles are five games better than that club through 28 games.

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What has happened to Kevin Gausman?

Posted on 15 May 2017 by Luke Jones

There’s been plenty to dislike during the Orioles’ season-worst four-game losing streak, but the latest poor outing from Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman tops the list.

Seemingly poised to become a top-of-the-rotation starter after a superb final two months of 2016, the 26-year-old has instead been one of the worst pitchers in baseball to begin the new season.

The fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft entered Monday last among qualified American League starters with a 7.19 ERA over his first nine starts and is better than only the 43-year-old Bartolo Colon in the major leagues. In blowing a 5-0 lead in Sunday’s 9-8 loss to Kansas City, Gausman surrendered at least five earned runs for the fourth time in his last six starts, an alarming stretch considering he entered the season with a total of 12 outings of five or more earned runs allowed in his entire career. Forgetting any visions of Gausman becoming an ace, where’s the solid pitcher who posted a combined 3.77 ERA over the previous three seasons to serve as a middle-of-the-rotation starter?

That’s what makes his horrendous start so troubling. Contrary to the many frustrated fans comparing him to Jake Arrieta — though his sudden fourth-inning collapse against the Royals on Sunday was quite “Arrietian” in nature — and Brian Matusz, Gausman has had much more success than either of those two ever did as starters in Baltimore. The right-hander hasn’t struggled to this degree since early in his rookie season when he was a year removed from being drafted and hadn’t pitched above Double-A Bowie.

So, what’s wrong with the talented young pitcher?

A career-low 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a career-high 4.6 walks per nine are red flags that beg to question whether Gausman is healthy, but his average fastball velocity is nearly identical to what it was last year and is in line with where it sat when he was exceptional over the final two months of 2016, according to PITCHf/x data. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t still be hiding an injury as diminished command can be an early sign of an ailment, but manager Buck Showalter has volunteered more than once that Gausman is in a good place physically after dealing with bouts of shoulder tendinitis in 2015 and early in 2016.

Gausman has spoken more than once about his mechanics being out of sync as the novice can see how frequently his fastball has leaked to his arm side this season. Even his biggest critics over the last few years acknowledge that he never had a problem with issuing free passes after walking just 2.5 per nine frames over his first four seasons. If his delivery is out of whack and causing his poor command, what is new pitching coach Roger McDowell doing to help matters?

Regardless of how hard he’s been hit overall, Gausman simply isn’t throwing as many strikes — a career-low 60.6 percent of his pitches have been strikes compared to 64.4 percent over the previous two years — and that’s clearly a problem.

There have been some changes to Gausman’s pitch usage early in 2017 that could either help explain or merely reflect his overall problems.

The development of an effective breaking ball has been a well-documented obstacle throughout his professional career, but he revealed in the spring that he was going back to his slider after leaning more on a curveball the previous two years. Gausman is throwing the slider more frequently than ever — with the occasional curve mixed in — and his average slider velocity of 84.3 mph is much faster than he’s ever thrown it, but the results still haven’t been there.

Making matters worse has been the regression of his split-changeup, which had easily been his best secondary pitch over his first four major league seasons. According to Brooks Baseball, Gausman is throwing his split a career-low 14.8 percent of the time, and the sharp break and consistent command of the pitch just haven’t been there. Though that pitch has been more effective against left-handed batters and he did face some righty-heavy lineups early in April, a 1.5-percent decrease in lefty hitters faced from a year ago is hardly meaningful enough to justify such a decrease in his usage of the split.

Has his spring focus and increased velocity on the slider somehow compromised the reliability of the fastball-split combination that had made him consistently competitive in the majors over the last few years?

Only Gausman can know this for sure, but could at least part of the problem be mental?

Despite looking every bit the part of an ace over the final two months of 2016, Gausman had to hear about the increased expectations throughout the offseason, especially with veteran Chris Tillman sidelined throughout the spring and over the first month of the season. Has the emergence of Dylan Bundy prompted Gausman to put more pressure on himself to be great since the 24-year-old has spent a fraction of the time in the majors compared to him?

After Gausman received little run support a year ago, no one can complain about the lineup’s contributions as he’s received the best run support of his career so far in 2017. Staked to a 9-1 lead at Yankee Stadium last month, Gausman gave up five earned runs and was chased in the seventh inning of a game the Orioles inexplicably lost in extra innings. On Sunday, it took him only minutes to squander a 5-0 lead as MASN broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer questioned his concentration level during the telecast.

Whatever the explanation, the Orioles need Gausman to rediscover himself quickly. With Tillman not pitching at full strength and Bundy still in his first full season as a major league starter, Gausman is too important to the fate of the 2017 club to continue performing like this. His track record as a reliable middle-of-the-rotation arm for the better part of the previous three seasons makes him deserving of at least a few more starts to get back on track and start showing consistent improvement, but he can’t continue holding a rotation spot as one of the worst pitchers in baseball for the long term — even with the lack of viable alternatives.

Those offseason thoughts of Gausman finally becoming a No. 1 starter may look foolish at the moment, but, at this point, the Orioles would take him being the solid pitcher he’s been for most of his career.

Aside from a start or two, even that guy is nowhere to be found in 2017.

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Machado receives four-game suspension, will appeal

Posted on 09 June 2016 by Luke Jones

The punishment is in for Orioles infielder Manny Machado for his role in Tuesday’s brawl with the Kansas City Royals.

The 23-year-old will receive a four-game suspension and $2,500 fine for charging the mound and punching Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura, who was suspended nine games and fined for hitting Machado in the ribs with a 99 mph fastball in the fifth inning and had twice thrown inside to the shortstop in the previous at-bat. Both benches emptied before order was restored and both Machado and Ventura were ejected from the game.

Machado will appeal the suspension and was in Thursday’s lineup as the Orioles began a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Veteran center fielder Adam Jones said after Tuesday’s game that he intended to pay Machado’s fine, a clear show of support for his teammate’s actions.

It’s not the first time that Machado has been disciplined by Major League Baseball as he was suspended five games for throwing a bat two years ago in a weekend-long conflict with the Oakland Athletics. Unlike that incident, however, Machado’s actions on Tuesday have generally been viewed with more understanding while Ventura has been perceived as the main culprit.

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