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Allen’s benching a head-scratcher in lost season for Ravens

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens’ performance on Sunday matched their new uniform pants.


Of course, we’re used to this by now as the 4-10 Ravens clinched just the fifth campaign of double-digit losses in franchise history with the 34-14 defeat against Kansas City. For the second straight week, it was a Buck Allen fumble in the first half transforming a close game into a lopsided affair.

This time, however, head coach John Harbaugh had seen enough and benched the rookie fourth-round pick for the remainder of the game after Chiefs safety Tyvon Branch returned the fumble 73 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter.

“You play the best players. At running back, the best players don’t fumble,” said Harbaugh, who added that the benching “probably” won’t continue next week. “Fumbling — it is what it is. You have to hold on to the football. He knows that. I have a lot of love and respect for Buck. No way is Buck going to be banished by any stretch. He has done a lot for us. He has a great future for us.”

Allen took the demotion in stride and said himself that fumbling is unacceptable, but what is really accomplished by benching him for the rest of the game, especially when you’re 4-9 and in evaluation mode for the rest of 2015? If you’re still in playoff contention and are afraid of him putting the ball on the turf again, then, fine, go in a different direction if you have a better option.

But what did Harbaugh hope to gain by keeping Allen out for the remainder of the game with just two weeks remaining in a lost season?

Benching him for the rest of the first half and using Terrance West — a former third-round pick with his upside of his own — as the No. 1 option would have been a reasonable punishment, but making the rookie sit for nearly 48 minutes of action and giving former practice-squad member Terrence Magee his playing time only created a bigger headline and more embarrassment for the lone bright spot of a disappointing rookie draft class in 2015.

Ball security is of the utmost importance — no one is saying it isn’t. But even the best running backs fumble sometimes as the great Adrian Peterson has seven this year. Allen has fumbled twice all season, hardly making this an epidemic despite one in each of the last two weeks.

“You have to hold on to the football,” Harbaugh said. “That football belongs to everybody in the organization, every fan, everybody that cares about the Ravens, and it’s a precious commodity. You don’t win football games when you turn the ball over.”

The eighth-year coach is correct, but you don’t win when players commit foolish penalties, either.

That begs the question why second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan wasn’t disciplined in a harsher manner for an inexcusable late hit on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on a third-and-11 play that extended Kansas City’s opening drive. Instead of punting from their own territory, the Chiefs scored on a 38-yard run by Charcandrick West three plays later to give them a 7-0 lead.

In Week 2, Jernigan committed a senseless roughing-the-passer penalty on Oakland’s game-winning touchdown drive with less than two minutes to go, proving his talent has been overshadowed by a lack of discipline on more than one occasion. He was also flagged for unnecessary roughness in last week’s loss to Seattle.

“I took him out for a play and put him back in,” said Harbaugh when asked about Jernigan’s penalty after he had just explained Allen’s benching. “I don’t need to justify that. Timmy Jernigan is a guy that I’ve talked to about that. He understands where we’re at. I made the decision to keep him in the game.”

But has the 2014 second-round pick gotten the message?

It didn’t sound that way after the game.

“If he’s going to run along the sideline, I’m going to hit him every time,” Jernigan said. “I’m not going to apologize for that one any time. I was running to the ball, and I saw the quarterback running along the sideline.

“To me, it doesn’t look like the guy is noticeably slowing down and running out of bounds. If you’re along the sideline, I’m going to hit you. I don’t care who you are unless you make it obvious that you’re going out of bounds. If you’re running along the sideline, and you don’t go out, I’m going to have cameras in my face asking me why I didn’t hit you. And then the quarterback runs for an 80-yard touchdown. I feel like I’m just doing what I can to help the team.”

You’d really like to give Jernigan the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t see a replay of his obvious infraction before talking to reporters. But if he did see it and failed to recognize that Smith was obviously out of bounds when he hit him, it just reinforces the lack of discipline the Ravens have shown all season as they entered Week 15 ranked 25th in penalties and 29th in penalty yards.

Either way, benching Allen for the remainder of the game was excessive, especially after Jernigan came away with what amounted to barely a slap on the wrist. It’s not as though the latter is an established veteran or multi-time Pro Bowl selection beyond reproach.

The Ravens repeatedly hurting themselves on Sunday was nothing new in this disappointing season.

But Harbaugh abruptly sending a rookie to the doghouse was a head-scratcher.

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Ravens-Chiefs: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen are both active, but mystery still surrounds the quarterback position for the Ravens as they host the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs.

After missing last week’s loss to Seattle with a chest ailment, the 34-year-old Schaub practiced all week and was listed as probable on the final injury report. However, head coach John Harbaugh left himself wiggle room earlier in the week when he complimented Clausen’s play against the Seahawks and expressed belief that he had two good options at quarterback.

Based on pre-game work, Clausen appeared to be preparing to make his second straight start as he was far more active and taking the starting reps over Schaub, but the Ravens did not make an official announcement regarding a change to the projected starting lineup.

That uncertainty at quarterback wasn’t even considering the signing of Ryan Mallett, who was deactivated for Sunday’s game but is already signed for next season. The former Houston Texan would appear to be a decent bet to see the field before the 2015 season concludes.

Despite being listed as questionable with a calf injury, No. 2 running back Terrance West is active. The newly-promoted Terrence Magee is also active as the third-string back behind starter Buck Allen.

Young cornerbacks Tray Walker and Jumal Rolle are active along with defensive lineman Carl Davis after Harbaugh pledged earlier in the week that they all would receive more opportunities over the final three weeks of the season.

As expected, linebacker Albert McClellan (ankle), wide receiver Marlon Brown (back), and cornerback Kyle Arrington (back) were all deactivated after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs will not only be without Pro Bowl outside linebacker Justin Houston (knee), but they will be without starting left guard Jeff Allen (ankle). Houston was ruled out on Friday while Allen had been listed as questionable.

The Ravens and Chiefs will be meeting for the seventh time in the regular season with the teams splitting the first six. However, Baltimore has won the last four overall meetings against Kansas City, which includes a 30-7 win at Arrowhead Stadium in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.

Sunday’s forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies with a high of 43 degrees and winds up to six miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Jeff Triplette.

For the first time in franchise history, the Ravens will be wearing gold pants to go along with their purple jerseys, and the reaction on social media wasn’t favorable. Kansas City will don its white tops with white pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

QB Ryan Mallett
WR Marlon Brown
CB Kyle Arrington
LB Albert McClellan
TE Crockett Gillmore
TE Richard Gordon
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore

QB Aaron Murray
WR De’Anthony Thomas
S Husain Abdullah
LB Justin Houston
G Jeff Allen
DL David King
DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches

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Ravens-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 December 2015 by Luke Jones

The questions run rampant for the Ravens’ Week 15 meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Who’s starting at quarterback?

What will the secondary look like?

Does Sunday represent the Ravens’ last best chance to win another game before the most disappointing season in franchise history mercifully comes to an end?

Meanwhile, Kansas City comes to town having won seven in a row to erase a 1-5 start and enter Sunday holding the first of two wild-card spots in the AFC. Simply put, the Chiefs are exactly what the Ravens wanted to be after the worst start in franchise history, but it simply hasn’t happened for the latter.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Kansas City for the seventh time in their regular-season history with the series tied 3-3. Baltimore has lost three of the four meetings between the teams at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Ravens won the last of those home contests back in 2009. Counting the postseason, the Ravens have won their last four meetings with the Chiefs.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to avoid the first five-loss home schedule in the 20-year history of the franchise …

1. The Chiefs will hold a plus-two turnover advantage in a microcosm of the season for both teams. Though their list of injuries isn’t quite as extensive, the Chiefs lost star running back Jamaal Charles for the season in October and has been without All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston since late November. Andy Reid’s team has kept ticking by forcing turnovers on defense and committing few with an efficient offense. Meanwhile, the Ravens rank 30th in takeaways (11) and 24th in giveaways (23). Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith won’t wow you with ability, but he’s thrown just four interceptions all year. Baltimore will be turning to Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen, who both struggle to protect the football. If both teams follow their 2015 scripts, the Chiefs will capitalize on the Ravens’ mistakes.

2. Elvis Dumervil will exploit former teammate Jah Reid for two quarterback sacks. As bizarre as it was to read that Reid received a three-year contract extension earlier this week, Pro Football Focus has graded the former Raven 73rd of 77 offensive tackles in the NFL this season. On top of that, the first overall pick of the 2013 draft, left tackle Eric Fisher, has graded only 37th overall, according to PFF. This should help Dumervil, who has been limited to just six sacks without a viable edge rusher playing on the opposite side. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to run some stunts to take advantage of an offensive line that’s allowed 41 sacks, fourth worst in the NFL. The Ravens defense ranks 20th in the league with only 28 sacks, but Dumervil will turn in a 2014-like performance on Sunday.

3. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will catch a touchdown pass and collect over 80 receiving yards. Kansas City sports the league’s 27th-ranked passing game, but Smith has effectively used his tight end to the tune of 59 catches for 749 yards and four touchdowns this season. Whether trying to use linebackers or safeties, Baltimore has struggled to cover tight ends and Kelce will effectively move the chains to continue drives for the Chiefs. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens try to cover Kelce as inside linebacker Daryl Smith has been replaced more and more by Zach Orr in the nickel in recent weeks. And with Lardarius Webb now factoring into the rotation at safety, you wonder if even more communication issues are inevitable. Kelce will be ready to take advantage on Sunday.

4. The Baltimore secondary will offer new looks, but Alex Smith will throw for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that it was time for young defensive backs such as 2015 fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker, second-year safety Terrence Brooks, and former Houston Texans cornerback Jumal Rolle to receive more opportunities. While it will be important to evaluate the aforementioned players in the final three weeks of the season, the results probably won’t be pretty for a defense that has repeatedly failed to be on the same page even with veterans on the field. Smith carries the dreaded “game manager” label, but he will take advantage of Baltimore mistakes to find Kelce and top receiver Jeremy Maclin for several big plays on Sunday.

5. The Ravens will rebound cosmetically from the Week 14 blowout loss, but Kansas City won’t provide enough help in a 23-14 defeat. Even while carrying a louder tone of resignation this week following an embarrassing loss to Seattle, Baltimore will return to its pattern of competing more like it did in the first 12 games of the season that were all decided by one possession. However, the injury-ravaged Ravens aren’t talented enough to beat a quality team without substantial help from the opposition. The Chiefs won’t figure to provide that assistance as they’ve committed just 12 turnovers all season, third fewest in the NFL. Either Jimmy Clausen or Matt Schaub will facilitate a couple scoring drives against the NFL’s 15th-ranked pass defense, but a couple Ravens mistakes will be the difference.

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Schaub probable, but Harbaugh mum on starter for Sunday

Posted on 18 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked if he could settle a bet among reporters about whether he’d name his starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against Kansas City, Ravens coach John Harbaugh answered in predictable fashion on Friday.

“There are probably high odds in one direction,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “I’m probably not going to name a quarterback today. That’s probably all I have to say on the matter.”

After practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, veteran Matt Schaub was listed as probable on the final injury report of the week, but it remains to be seen whether he will resume starting duties. Harbaugh stated earlier in the week that he felt the Ravens had two good options in Schaub and Week 14 starter Jimmy Clausen.

The latter took at least half of the starter reps on Wednesday and Thursday, according to offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. Though Schaub appeared to be laboring at a couple different points during the viewing portions of practices this week, the “probable” designation makes it clear that Harbaugh’s decision over who starts will be more about performance than health for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.

“He looked good,” Harbaugh said. “I won’t say he’s 100 percent, but by Sunday he has a chance to be 100 percent. He looked good. He’s a tough guy. He worked hard this week.”

To no surprise, starting tight end Crockett Gillmore (back) was officially ruled out for Sunday’s game after Harbaugh said he wouldn’t be able to play this week and could be lost for the rest of the season. Linebacker Albert McClellan (ankle), cornerback Kyle Arrington (back), and wide receiver Marlon Brown (back) were all listed as doubtful to play after missing all three practices this week.

After being limited by a calf injury on Thursday, running back Terrance West missed Friday’s workout and is questionable to play. The Ravens added rookie Terrence Magee to the 53-man roster earlier this week, and he would serve as the No. 2 running back behind Buck Allen if West cannot play.

Four-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda is probable to play despite missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle issue. He was a full participant in the final workout of the week.

With Schaub listed as probable, it would seem highly unlikely that the newly-signed Ryan Mallett would receive any playing time on Sunday, but he has made a good first impression with the organization, according to his offensive coordinator.

“He’s taking this very seriously,” Trestman said on Thursday. “He has been here 24-7 the last three days doing everything he can to soak up as much of the offense as he can, and what has impressed me most — and we all see his assets, his physical ability — but he has football intelligence. He has picked up some verbiage very quickly. We’ve thrown him in there in practice the first days he was here; we put him in there. He has had six to 12 plays working with the guys.”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs officially ruled out All-Pro outside linebacker Justin Houston (knee), but fellow Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) is probable to play.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Jeff Triplette.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-40s and winds up to five miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

OUT: TE Crockett Gillmore (back)
DOUBTFUL: CB Kyle Arrington (back), WR Marlon Brown (back), LB Albert McClellan (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Terrance West (calf)
PROBABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), QB Matt Schaub (chest), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (ankle)

OUT: S Husain Abdullah (concussion), LB Justin Houston (knee), WR De’Anthony Thomas (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: OL Jeff Allen (ankle), RB Spencer Ware (rib)
PROBABLE: QB Chase Daniel (toe), DE Mike DeVito (concussion/shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (knee), TE Travis Kelce (groin/quad)

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Kansas City’s turnaround reflects bizarro season for Ravens

Posted on 18 December 2015 by Luke Jones

It wasn’t long ago that the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs were in the same spot as the Ravens.

Having completed a stretch of four of their first six on the road and lost star running back Jamaal Charles to a season-ending knee injury a week earlier, Andy Reid’s team was 1-5 after a 16-10 loss at Minnesota on Oct. 18. It was the same day Baltimore fell to San Francisco to drop to 1-5, the worst start in the 20-year history of the Ravens.

Two months later, Kansas City is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and is in line to become the first NFL team since the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals to rebound from a 1-5 start to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ravens need to win one more game just to avoid tying the worst record in team history.

It’s only fitting that the Ravens meet a bizarro version of themselves in this difficult 2015 season.

“We’re playing the hottest team in football coming in here, coached by a great coach,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They have a bunch of great players. They’re plus-12 [in] turnovers. I don’t think they ever turn the ball over. They’re doing the things they need to do to win football games. They’re doing what we hoped to do after a slow start.”

When 12 of your 13 games have been decided by a single possession like the Ravens have experienced this season, you need to be good at protecting the football and limiting your opponents’ scoring chances to win those tight contests. Of course, 4-9 Baltimore hasn’t done that in ranking 31st in turnover ratio (minus-12), 30th in takeaways (11), and 24th in giveaways (23).

Kansas City ranks second in the league in turnover ratio in addition to having a top 10 defense and rushing attack.

The Chiefs are everything the Ravens want to be right now.

“Giving them away and not taking them away. That has been the story that has not helped us and [has] helped other teams,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “If I can pinpoint something, I would say defensively, it’s turnovers and big plays. That’s a huge part — interceptions and fumbles and forced fumbles, turnovers in general, being a stingy defense, taking that ball away.

“Giving our offense more opportunities [and] cutting other offenses’ opportunities short. That would have gone a long way this season for us.”

If it weren’t enough to look around the league and see Michael Oher starting at left tackle for the undefeated Carolina Panthers and Tyrod Taylor shining in Buffalo — two players often maligned to varying degrees by Ravens fans — Thursday may have brought an even better example of this bizarre world. Heavily criticized as a third-round bust in his four years with the Ravens, Jah Reid signed a three-year extension with the Chiefs on Thursday as he’s held down the starting right tackle job.

Strange times, indeed.

High school reunion

Sunday will be a proud day for Colton High School in California as not only will Ravens cornerbacks and high school teammates Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright play their ninth game together, but they’ll look to the opposing sideline and see another familiar face from those days — Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen.

“It’s pretty cool. Danny Sorensen, he was a young kid when I was at Colton — me and Shareece,” Smith said. “He was our safety. He comes from a long line of talented football players. His brother, actually, is Brad Sorensen, who was my high school quarterback, and he was the backup for San Diego a few weeks ago [when we played]. It’s kind of a cool thing.”

Daniel Sorensen was signed by Kansas City as a rookie free agent out of Brigham Young last year.

Pitta named Ed Block winner

After suffering two serious right hip injuries in a 14-month period, tight end Dennis Pitta was named the Ravens’ recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award this season.

The 30-year-old returned to the practice field in late October, but he was not cleared to return to live-game action and has remained on the physically unable to perform list. While his football future remains in doubt, Pitta has continued to serve as a mentor and an additional coach to a young group of tight ends throughout the 2015 season.

Thursday’s injury report

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Kyle Arrington (back), WR Marlon Brown (back), TE Crockett Gillmore (back), Albert McClellan (ankle), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), QB Matt Schaub (chest)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Husain Abdullah (concussion), LB Justin Houston (knee), WR De’Anthony Thomas (concussion), RB Spencer Ware (rib)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Mike DeVito (concussion/shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (knee), TE Travis Kelce (groin/quad)

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Schaub returns to practice, Clausen takes most reps

Posted on 16 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — An ever-changing quarterback situation is likely to remain a mystery all week as the Ravens continue preparations for their Week 15 contest against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Veteran Matt Schaub (chest) returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday while Week 14 starter Jimmy Clausen continued to take most of the first-team reps, according to head coach John Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the newly-signed Ryan Mallett will spend the week working with the scout team while he’s brought up to speed in learning the Baltimore offense.

“He was in meetings pretty much all day yesterday with [quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg] and then studying on his own trying to learn our offense and learn this game plan to be ready in case he’s needed,” said Harbaugh, who added that there was “absolutely a chance” that Mallett could play before the 2015 season is over. “I think that’s where we’re at for the rest of the year. Obviously, he’s a guy that has had a certain amount of success in the NFL, has a lot of talent.”

The Ravens were missing a number of players from Wednesday’s practice including guard Marshal Yanda (knee), linebackers Elvis Dumervil (non-injury) and Albert McClellan (ankle), cornerback Kyle Arrington (back), wide receiver Marlon Brown (back), and tight end Crockett Gillmore (back). Harbaugh has already ruled out Gillmore for Sunday’s game.

Dumervil and McClellan were both shaken up at different points during Sunday’s loss to Seattle before returning to action.

Promoted from the practice squad on Tuesday, running back Terrence Magee and cornerback Jumal Rolle were also present and working as official members of the 53-man roster. With return specialist Raheem Mostert no longer on the roster, Magee as well as punt returner Kaelin Clay could receive opportunities to return kickoffs against the Chiefs.

“Both those guys work back there. You see it in practice,” Harbaugh said prior to Wednesday’s practice. “Those are both possibilities, and the way the roster goes, Raheem is going to be back here [on the practice squad] practicing unless something happens unexpected. He could be out there Sunday as well.”

The “unexpected” did happen with Mostert, however, as the Cleveland Browns claimed the rookie running back and returner off waivers on Wednesday afternoon. This came just two days after Cleveland was awarded former Ravens offensive lineman Kaleb Johnson off waivers.

Meanwhile, Kansas City’s impact push rushers were missing from Wednesday’s workout as outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston both sat out with knee injuries. The pair have combined to collect 14 sacks this season.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Kyle Arrington (back), WR Marlon Brown (back), LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury), TE Crockett Gillmore (back), Albert McClellan (ankle), G Marshal Yanda (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Kelechi Osemele (knee), QB Matt Schaub (chest)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Tamba Hali (knee), S Husain Abdullah (concussion), LB Justin Houston (knee), WR De’Anthony Thomas (concussion), RB Spencer Ware (rib)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OL Jeff Allen (ankle), DE Mike DeVito (concussion/shoulder), TE Travis Kelce (groin/quad)

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Gillmore could be next Ravens player to go to injured reserve

Posted on 16 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the few offensive bright spots for the Ravens in 2015 has been the development of Crockett Gillmore, but the second-year tight end could be the latest player to move to injured reserve.

Still dealing with a back issue that surfaced during the Week 13 loss to Miami, Gillmore will not play in Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

“It’s not working out. His back flared up again,” Harbaugh said. “He’s also got the shoulder [issue]. It’s not looking good for Crockett right now.”

Currently fourth on the team in receptions (33) and third in receiving yards (412), Gillmore missed two games earlier in the season with a calf injury and has been banged up in recent weeks. The Ravens are hurting at the tight end position with Gillmore injured and rookie Nick Boyle being suspended four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy.

Harbaugh indicated that Gillmore could be placed on IR where 18 players currently reside, and that’s not even counting veteran tight end Dennis Pitta, who has spent the entire season on the reserve physically unable to perform list.

“Potentially. We’ll see,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe he’ll come back tomorrow and I’ll hear, ‘Crockett’s feeling great, and he’ll be out there Sunday.’ I’m just being more honest than I usually am, probably, with an injury. Maybe I’m as frustrated as everybody, I guess, right now.

“I’m sure [Chiefs head coach Andy Reid] is appreciative of that, too.”

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Orioles shouldn’t overlook defense entering critical offseason

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Improving the starting pitching, re-signing Chris Davis, and upgrading corner outfield production top the consensus list of priorities as the Orioles’ offseason needs.

Though maddeningly inconsistent during the 2015 season following the free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the Baltimore lineup still produced eight more runs than it did a year ago. A bullpen that didn’t retain postseason standout Andrew Miller finished third in the American League with a 3.21 ERA, only slightly worse than its 3.10 mark in 2014.

But an Orioles starting rotation that finished fifth in the AL with a 3.61 ERA in 2014 was almost a full run worse with a 4.53 mark that ranked 14th out of 15 AL clubs this past season.

That explains much of the Orioles’ drop-off in a nutshell, right?

Not exactly, even if the starting rotation clearly needs to be upgraded this winter.

Below is a look at a mystery team compared to the Orioles in just a few categories with their 2015 AL rankings included in parentheses:

  Mystery team      Orioles
Runs scored       724 (6th)   713 (7th)
Starter ERA   4.34 (12th)   4.53 (14th)
Starter FIP   4.32 (12th)   4.47 (14th)
Quality starts   71 (14th)   72 (11th)
Bullpen ERA   2.72 (1st)   3.21 (3rd)
Bullpen FIP   3.56 (4th)   3.48 (3rd)
Team ERA   3.73 (3rd)   4.05 (8th)
Team FIP   4.04 (6th)   4.11 (10th)


Though you’d conclude that the mystery team was better than the Orioles in 2015 — by 14 wins, in fact — the comparison shows two clubs sharing a similar profile in terms of runs scored and a reliance on a strong bullpen to overcome below-average starting pitching. But the smaller gap between these clubs in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) compared to the difference in ERA helps illustrate arguably the biggest difference between the Orioles and the World Series champion Kansas City Royals in 2015.


Now, traditional fielding statistics — that don’t take into account factors such as range, arm strength, and an ability to make the more difficult plays — would suggest the Orioles were the best defensive team in the league in 2015 as they committed the fewest errors of any AL club and owned the highest fielding percentage. Meanwhile, the Royals committed 11 more errors and ranked only sixth in fielding percentage.

But a deeper look indicates the Royals were vastly superior to Baltimore in the field, leading the AL with 52 defensive runs saved (numbers constructed by Baseball Info Solutions) while the Orioles finished 11th at minus-9. On their way to its first AL East title in 17 years, Buck Showalter’s club led the league with 50 defensive runs saved a year ago.

This sterling defense in 2014 helped make an average Baltimore starting rotation that owned the 14th-worst FIP (4.18) in the AL one of the league’s best in terms of ERA with a 3.61 mark that ranked fifth. In other words, superb defense helped compensate for starting pitchers who still finished in the bottom third of the AL in strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed.

So, what happened to the defense in 2015?

Using defensive runs saved — only one metric, but viewed by many as a reliable one — below is a position-by-position look at how the Orioles performed in 2014 compared to 2015:

Position    2014    2015    Difference
C    -1    4    +5
1B    15    1    -14
2B    8   -7    -15
3B    6    10    +4
SS    5    -2    -7
LF    7    4    -3
CF    6   -1    -7
RF    5   -8    -13
P   -1   -10    -9


According to defensive runs saved, the Orioles improved at only two positions in 2015: catcher and third base. Caleb Joseph starting the majority of the games led to the overall improvement at catcher as he finished second on the club with 12 defensive runs saved in 2015. The overall improvement at the hot corner should come as no surprise with a healthy Manny Machado starting all but six games at third base and leading the club with 13 defensive runs saved overall in 2015.

Based on defensive runs saved, the largest drop-offs occurred at first base, second base, and right field. At first base, the 2015 defense wasn’t atrocious, but it was only average after both Chris Davis and Steve Pearce played superb defense there a year earlier. In 2015, Davis was still better than average (+4), but other options such as Pearce, Ryan Flaherty, and Chris Parmelee were either average or slightly below average at the position. Whether Davis ultimately returns or the Orioles are looking at other options for the position in 2016, they’d clearly prefer a return to 2014 defensive levels at first base.

The dramatic drop-off at second base can mostly be attributed to the long-term knee injury suffered by Jonathan Schoop, who finished with an impressive 10 defensive runs saved as a rookie in 2014. Virtually everyone who played the position this past season — including Schoop (-1) — was either average or below average. Fortunately for the Orioles, it’s reasonable to expect Schoop’s defense to bounce back with a full winter to strengthen his knee, but that will be something worth monitoring early next season.

Of course, right field was manned by the unspectacular but very steady Nick Markakis in 2014, but other options such as Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce also played solid defense in limited opportunities in right. The Orioles’ revolving door at right field in 2015 was nearly as painful in the field as it was at the plate with no one playing good defense including the two-time Gold Glove winner Gerardo Parra (minus-7 defensive runs saved) after he was acquired at the trade deadline. The Orioles simply must find a better all-around option in right field than the ones they ran out there in 2015.

Other positions with drop-off can primarily be attributed to starters missing time due to injuries. At shortstop, J.J. Hardy saw his defensive runs saved dip from 10 to four, but the Orioles will only hope the injuries he’s battled the last couple seasons won’t zap his defense as dramatically as his offense.

Despite the Orioles’ overall decrease in center field in 2015, Adam Jones slightly improved in defensive runs saved from a year ago, but his replacements did not play well in the field. Though turning 30 this past year, Jones has a track record of durability that doesn’t make this position much of a concern after a variety of ailments limited him to just 137 games in 2015.

As for defense on the mound, it’s apparent that pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti will need to make improving defense a point of emphasis during spring training. However, it’s worth noting that the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez was the biggest pitching culprit at minus-4 runs saved in 2015 as he is very poor at holding runners on base.

These defensive numbers aren’t to suggest that the Orioles don’t need to improve their starting pitching or go all out to sign Davis or another impact bat or two this winter, but much of their success over the last few seasons can be attributed to exceptional defense, something Showalter’s club did not play in 2015. And given the organization’s track record for not spending big money on free agents, improving the defense at a few positions is probably a more realistic task than overhauling the starting rotation or even re-signing Davis at this point.

Would that alone be enough to make the Orioles a contender?

No, but playing underwhelming defense in 2015 went a long way in exposing a mediocre starting rotation and ultimately leaving the Orioles on the outside looking in for the postseason.

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And Toto, the fountains are blue, the midwest is lovely and it's baseball in a perfect environment...

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 2 Kansas City Royals

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Kansas City – I defy you to go to Kansas City and not fall in love with the Midwest and baseball on a summer night. History. Tradition. Pride. Fountains spewing. Great food stands. A big parking lot full of energy. This is certainly a far different experience than anything you would’ve seen in those 29 years when the Royals were, well, not so Royal in the American League standings. Winning changes everything. And there goes your proof in Kansas City. It’s the best pure stadium every designed for watching a baseball game. All of the seats point to second base. Now, all of the All Star Game fans vote blue. It’s standing room only most nights. The atmosphere has finally caught up the natural beauty and charm of Kaufman Stadium. This is a fantastic place to watch a baseball game. Go see for yourself.

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Predicting the Orioles’ All-Star selections

Posted on 30 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The latest American League All-Star voting update made it clear that no Orioles players will be elected as starters, but that doesn’t mean Buck Showalter’s club won’t be well-represented in Cincinnati.

Starters voted by the fans will be announced on Sunday night while the All-Star reserves and pitchers will be revealed on Monday evening.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s top candidates to be invited to baseball’s All-Star Game on July 14:

The most deserving: 3B Manny Machado
Skinny: The Orioles and their fans still pray that the 22-year-old’s knee problems are finally behind him, but there’s no disputing that Machado has blossomed into a superstar this year. Leading the club in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, stolen bases, and runs, Machado has already set a career high in home runs and will surpass his career mark in walks before the All-Star break. The 2010 first-round pick has played Gold Glove defense at third base from his first day in the majors, but Machado is rapidly developing the kind of bat that could make him an MVP candidate in the years to come. He ranks fourth among AL position players in wins above replacement — according to the rankings from Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and ESPN — making him a lock as an AL All-Star reserve.

The first-time selection: LHP Zach Britton
Skinny: Instead of again spelling out why Britton should become the 10th Orioles closer to make an All-Star Game since 1979, I ask you to check out the piece I wrote over the weekend explaining why.

The mainstay: CF Adam Jones
Skinny: Despite the fact that he’s already missed more than twice as many games in 2015 (11) than he had in his previous three seasons combined (five), Jones still makes a strong case for an invitation to Cincinnati as he entered Tuesday sporting a career-high batting average and on-base percentage. Already a four-time Gold Glove winner in center field, Jones might be having the best defensive season of his career, which is high praise for an outfielder already possessing that kind of a track record. Already a four-time All-Star selection in his career, Jones will likely be given a boost by his league-wide reputation and still ranks third among Orioles players in homers and RBIs despite missing close to two weeks of combined action.

The deep sleeper: RHP Darren O’Day
Skinny: Considering Kansas City manager Ned Yost is managing the AL and loves using a bullpen, I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see him give a nod to O’Day. The submarine hurler has struck out a career-high 12.1 batters per nine innings and sports a career-best 1.21 ERA, which ranks seventh in the majors among relief pitchers. Because the game determines home-field advantage for the World Series, Yost could see the National League’s unfamiliarity with O’Day as enough reason to add him to the roster.

My All-Star picks: In order of most confident to least, I’ll go with Machado, Britton, and Jones to make it, but a deep list of outfield candidates could squeeze the 29-year-old center fielder out, especially with injuries stunting his numbers a bit and because he wasn’t voted in this year for the first time since 2012.

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