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Twelve Orioles thoughts on record-setting 2018 club

Posted on 19 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the 2018 Orioles officially having suffered the most losses in 65 seasons in Baltimore, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. “Inconsistent” is a euphemism frequently used to describe a player or team that’s bad. There’s nothing inconsistent about a club that’s won three or more in a row just three times all season. The 2018 Orioles are as consistent as any team I’ve ever seen.

2. I’d like to think somewhere the 1988 Orioles cracked open skunked beers to celebrate on Tuesday night. Move over, Jay Tibbs and Pete Stanicek.

3. Some say the Orioles could be worse next year, but I doubt it. Ten teams have lost 110 or more in a season since 1900. The Orioles will become the 11th, but the probability of losing that many again is ridiculously small. That said, avoiding triple-digit losses will be difficult.

4. I’m glad common sense prevailed with Adam Jones playing the final six games of the homestand. The few still coming to games know they’re likely watching Jones’ final days as an Oriole and have responded with appropriate ovations. Non-prospect outfielders shouldn’t be starting over him, especially at home.

5. Caleb Joseph’s comments about the state of the Orioles had to be cathartic for both him and fans, but it’d sure be nice to hear something — anything — from ownership along these lines, even if worded more delicately. What about the status of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter? Hello?

6. Dylan Bundy has alleviated some concerns with his last two starts, but a 5.37 ERA in late September says all you need to know about how his last three months have gone. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be much more than a league-average starter at this point.

7. Since raising his average to .180 on Sept. 5, Chris Davis has one hit in his last 30 plate appearances. He is batting .171 and owns a .548 on-base plus slugging percentage. I hope there’s a better plan than hoping for the best when he arrives in Sarasota next February.

8. With Hunter Harvey shut down again, it’s probably time for the organization to write him out of their long-term vision. That’s not to say you give up on him, but the 2013 first-round pick has only 63 2/3 professional innings to his name since his health problems began in 2014.

9. Nearly two months later, I still believe the Orioles sold too low on Jonathan Schoop and especially Kevin Gausman. Wouldn’t those two have been attractive trade chips for a new general manager to use this offseason to start remaking the roster with his own vision?

10. We’re still months away, but I can’t imagine how the organization is going to sell the 2019 team at FanFest this winter. The Orioles at least had the likes of Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis to hype when they were bad a decade ago.

11. If nothing else is accomplished this winter, can the Orioles and MASN at least start offering in-market streaming of games next season? They’re begging fans under the age of 30 to turn their backs on them by continuing this antiquated policy. It’s not 2005 anymore.

12. Sunday marked the four-year anniversary of the Orioles clinching the AL East title. It’s a reminder of how much can change in four years, but this organization will need to make far better decisions in the next four years than it did these last four to get back on top.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering second half of August

Posted on 15 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles wrapping a 1-5 homestand and one loss away from falling 50 games below .500, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The quest to outrun club history isn’t looking promising. The Orioles must go 27-14 the rest of the way just to avoid 100 losses and would need a 20-21 finish to have fewer losses than the 1988 club. At least they appear safe from the 1962 Mets and 2003 Tigers?

2. Dylan Bundy’s regression has made a miserable season in the win-loss department that much worse. He’s allowed five or more earned runs in five of his last seven outings and owns an 8.33 ERA since the start of July. His stuff and command look mediocre and the results even worse.

3. Cedric Mullins needs more time to get comfortable roaming major league ballparks and his arm remains a question, but I like the energy he brings to the plate and teammates and coaches have been impressed with his poise.

4. Adam Jones didn’t have much to say Tuesday when asked about his early impressions of playing right field beyond there being “less running” for him. It’ll be interesting to see what his market looks like this winter, but easing his defensive burden should only help his bat.

5. Trey Mancini was one of several young players to struggle in the first half of the season, but he entered Wednesday sporting a .303/.344/.517 slash line with five home runs and 13 runs batted in since the All-Star break. His surge has been encouraging to see.

6. Paul Fry wasn’t exactly on anyone’s radar after being acquired from Seattle early last season, but the 26-year-old lefty has a solid 3.15 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 20 major league innings. He might be the Orioles’ best reliever at this point, which I know isn’t saying much.

7. One of the questions entering the winter will be whether Tim Beckham is tendered a contract. The 28-year-old is under club control through 2020, but he’s making $3.35 million this year and will be in line for another raise in arbitration. His defense at shortstop isn’t cutting it.

8. As time passes, the less I like the Kevin Gausman deal. Seeing what Tampa Bay got for Chris Archer — who’s actually been fairly comparable statistically the last three years — confirms that. Average starters with two more years of control are valuable, but the Orioles were more interested in shedding salary.

9. Chance Sisco has a .217/.301/.337 slash line in 93 plate appearances at Triple-A Norfolk. Buck Showalter said recent reports about his defense have been positive, but the loss of confidence with the bat – his strength entering 2018 — is one of the season’s more undersold disappointments.

10. Many grouped Mullins and DJ Stewart together earlier this summer when discussing which prospects might be the next ones promoted, but the 2015 first-round outfielder is hitting .236 with 12 home runs, a .338 on-base percentage, and a .402 slugging percentage at Norfolk. That’s not exactly screaming for a promotion.

11. Austin Hays playing again for Double-A Bowie is encouraging and he’s had some decent games since returning, but I’d like to see the Orioles refrain from a September call-up. Let him finish out the Baysox season and then send him to the Arizona Fall League before starting fresh next spring.

12. The current version of the 2018 Orioles took the team photo Wednesday, prompting some giggles and press-box discussion. If Manny Machado and others no longer with the organization are ineligible, who is this year’s Most Valuable Oriole? I’d assume Jones wins, but maybe we just sit this year out?

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Orioles go all in on rebuild by trading off Schoop, Gausman

Posted on 31 July 2018 by Luke Jones

Trading pending free agents such as Manny Machado and Zach Britton was a no-brainer task, but the Orioles went all in on their rebuilding effort in the final hour before Tuesday’s trade deadline.

Baltimore sent 2017 All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop to Milwaukee and pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta in separate trades for a total of seven players and international signing bonus slot money. Those deals coupled with the trades of Machado, Britton, and Brad Brach earlier this month have netted the Orioles a total of 15 new players and a reported $2.75 million in international signing bonus slot money.

Schoop was originally in Tuesday’s starting lineup before a deal was struck in the final moments before the 4 p.m. deadline.

The Brewers sent major league infielder Jonathan Villar and Double-A pitcher Luis Ortiz and 18-year-old infielder Jean Carmona to the Orioles. The Braves traded international signing bonus slot money and four minor-league players to Baltimore: pitchers Evan Phillips and Bruce Zimmerman, catcher Brett Cumberland, and infielder Jean Carlos Encarnacion.

The moves were met with surprise as many remained skeptical that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would trade players under club control beyond the 2018 season before the deadline, especially since his contract expires this fall. Schoop will become a free agent after the 2019 season while Gausman won’t hit free agency until after the 2020 campaign. O’Day, out for the remainder of the season after undergoing hamstring surgery, has one year remaining on his current contract and is scheduled to make $9 million next season.

Of the 15 players acquired by the Orioles over the last two weeks, Villar is the only established major leaguer and has played in parts of six major league seasons with Houston and the Brewers. The 27-year-old has a career .256 average and .718 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2,052 major league plate appearances. In 87 games this season, the switch-hitting Villar is batting .261 with 17 extra-base hits, 22 runs batted in, 14 stolen bases, and a .693 OPS.

Villar is currently on the disabled list with a sprained thumb — he’s expected to be activated later this week — and led the majors with 62 stolen bases in 2016.

Ortiz, 22, was ranked as the Brewers’ seventh-best prospect by MLB.com and had pitched to a 3.71 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 68 innings for Double-A Biloxi. The 18-year-old Carmona was ranked the 14th-best Milwaukee prospect by MLB.com and was batting .239 with eight doubles, three triples, four home runs, 24 RBIs, and a .704 OPS in 39 games for rookie-level Helena.

The Braves trade was met with more scrutiny as the inclusion of O’Day’s bulky salary zapped some of the return value for Gausman, who hasn’t yet reached his ceiling as the fourth overall pick of the 2013 draft but is an average major league starter with two more years of club control. However, Atlanta including $2.5 million in international signing bonus slot money positions the Orioles more favorably in their efforts to sign Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa.

Encarnacion, 20, is regarded by some as the most attractive player returning to the Orioles from Atlanta as he batted .288 with 23 doubles, five triples, 10 homers, 57 RBIs, and a .777 OPS in 97 games for Single-A Rome. He was ranked as the Braves’ 14th-best prospect by MLB.com and will report to Single-A Delmarva.

The 23-year-old Cumberland was batting .228 with 15 doubles, 11 homers, 39 RBIs, and a .746 OPS in 87 games between Single-A Florida and Double-A Mississippi. Atlanta’s 30th-best prospect in MLB.com’s rankings, Cumberland will report to Double-A Bowie.

The right-handed Phillips, 23, posted a 1.99 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett this season and made his major league debut earlier this month.

A 23-year-old lefty, Zimmerman has gone a combined 9-4 with a 2.86 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings split between Rome and Mississippi.

According to MLB.com’s updated Orioles top 30 prospect list, Ortiz ranks seventh, Carmona 14th, Encarnacion 15th, and Cumberland 30th in the system.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts at non-waiver trade deadline

Posted on 30 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the non-waiver trade deadline upon as and three pending free agents having already been dealt, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Adam Jones has earned the right to refuse any trade and decide what’s best for him and his family, regardless of what anyone else thinks. He doesn’t owe the Orioles or fans anything after representing the organization and city with great pride for a decade. It’s that simple.

2. On the flip side, the Orioles aren’t obligated to re-sign Jones if they don’t feel he fits with a youth movement that does have several outfielders in the pipeline. The organization just needs to express that in a respectful way to a man who’s been so important to the franchise.

3. Any perceived tension between Jones and Dan Duquette isn’t necessary. Whatever middling prospect the Orioles might receive for Jones isn’t making or breaking the rebuild, and keeping the veteran outfielder for two more months isn’t going to ruin Cedric Mullins’ development. A bitter breakup would be a shame.

4. I do wonder if Jones might reconsider as the remainder of his $17.33 million salary makes him a good candidate to clear waivers for a trade in August. Passing on going to a contender is a missed opportunity from a baseball standpoint, but other factors are understandably important to him.

5. Understanding Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach should have been dealt months or even years ago, Duquette still received good value for rental commodities and has surprisingly done an effective job voicing the franchise’s new direction, but it would mean more if he were under contract beyond this season.

6. It’s a new day when the Orioles are the ones acquiring international signing bonus slots and the stated intentions are encouraging, but let’s see them sign Victor Victor Mesa and increase resources and international scouting in the coming months before offering too much praise. Organizational malpractice shouldn’t be easily forgiven.

7. Brach ultimately being nothing more than a salary dump should be a cautionary tale when the organization expresses reluctance in dealing Mychal Givens — or any other reliever for that matter. Of course, the 28-year-old’s 4.78 ERA doesn’t make him a sell-high candidate at the moment.

8. Jonathan Schoop is hitting .360 with nine home runs, seven doubles, and a 1.056 on-base plus slugging percentage in July, raising his average from .197 to .244. It would have been interesting to see what his trade value would have been if he’d started that hitting surge a month sooner.

9. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy both have underwhelming ERAs hovering around 4.50 this season, but the Orioles are absolutely right to have a high asking price for two young, controllable starting pitchers, even if they’ve mostly been league-average types so far in their careers.

10. Short of signing a contract extension, Schoop shouldn’t be reporting to spring training in Sarasota next February if the Orioles have truly learned their lesson and are serious about rebuilding the right way. Waiting until this offseason to trade him is fine, but it needs to be done then.

11. I don’t think it’s impossible for the likes of Danny Valencia, Mark Trumbo, and Andrew Cashner to be on the move in August, especially with some cash accompanying the latter two. I could see Cashner drawing some interest from a contender trying to shore up the back of its rotation.

12. With trade talk about to calm, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Orioles play a little better the final two months as they’ll be adding youth. Of course, that’s an incredibly low bar as they need to go 31-25 just to avoid 100 losses. I said a little better.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on approaching trade deadline

Posted on 10 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the non-waiver trade deadline just three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Manny Machado wasn’t pleased being asked by New York media about the Yankees’ reported trade interest after Monday’s doubleheader, but I don’t blame him after he’d answered multiple questions about his future earlier in the day. He’s handled the endless trade questions very well all season.

2. Machado has repeatedly stated his desire to stay at shortstop, but that’s a bigger issue for free agency than a contender needing a third baseman for 2 1/2 months. He was a pro deferring to J.J. Hardy for years, so this shouldn’t be any different, especially having a chance to win.

3. Any serious objection to trading Machado to the Yankees is based only on emotion. If theirs is the best offer, the Orioles would be foolish not to accept. Refusing to trade him to the Yankees won’t prevent him from signing in the Bronx if that’s where he wants to be.

4. The idea that the Orioles will deliberately keep Machado until after the All-Star Game in Washington was only a theory presented by another baseball executive to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, but that even being a possibility speaks to the negative perception of the organization. That must change.

5. Zach Britton has averaged a season-best 95.8 miles per hour on his sinker in each of his last two outings. That’s an encouraging sign and should ease some concerns about his poor performance and underwhelming velocity over his first eight outings of the season.

6. Meanwhile, Brad Brach’s trade value has been torpedoed by a 4.63 season ERA and a 7.50 mark since June 7. At this point, I’m not sure he’ll fetch much more than what the Orioles got for Tommy Hunter in 2015, a deal that brought only “Quad-A” outfielder Junior Lake.

7. In this era in which minor-league prospects are valued more than ever, packaging Machado and Britton together seems like a sound approach to land the two or three talents you really covet from another organization. Contenders can never have enough bullpen help, making that a formidable rental duo.

8. It’s hardly shocking there hasn’t been more out there about Adam Jones as marquee talents like Machado dominate headlines, but he remains a solid trade piece. His defense in center is a big topic of discussion, but don’t forget the remainder of his $17.33 million salary owed for 2018.

9. With that in mind, you’d like to see the Orioles be willing to eat some money in an effort to sweeten the pot of prospects coming their way. Including some cash could really improve a deal with a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold.

10. Time will tell what talent the Orioles secure in trades, but it’s encouraging seeing them target a number of prospects at the Single- and Double-A levels. The worst thing they could do is insist on major-league ready talent — with a lower ceiling — in an effort to be competitive in 2019.

11. His defensive struggles and a $13.5 million salary for 2019 are major obstacles, but Mark Trumbo is doing what he can to present himself as a long-shot trade piece. He entered Tuesday second on the Orioles with 12 homers and owns an .803 on-base plus slugging percentage. It’s still doubtful.

12. When you’re 40-plus games under .500 in July, all trade possibilities should be on the table, including players with years of club control remaining. Are the Orioles really going to be back in contention by the time Kevin Gausman (post-2020), Dylan Bundy (post-2021), and Mychal Givens (post-2021) hit free agency?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following Memorial Day checkpoint

Posted on 29 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With one-third of the Orioles’ 2018 season officially in the books after the 6-0 loss to Washington on Monday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles reached the much-discussed Memorial Day checkpoint sitting at 20 games below .500 and 20 games out of first place in the American League East. I’d say an extension to Flag Day probably isn’t necessary to determine how this organization needs to proceed.

2. Since plating 17 runs on Mother’s Day, the Baltimore lineup has scored three or fewer in 11 of 13 games. Pitching woes and bad defense haven’t surprised me, but I never expected the offense to be this consistently bad, ranking last in the AL in runs scored per game (3.83).

3. I’m unsure how good the likes of Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, and Austin Hays will be in the majors, but watching some of the outfield combinations used by Buck Showalter in recent weeks is tiresome. I suppose a 111-loss pace reflects the amount of dead weight on the current roster.

4. Continuing to bat Chris Davis fifth or sixth is even worse.

5. Alex Cobb turned in his longest start of the season Monday, but he was plagued by a 42-pitch third inning that didn’t feature a single swing and miss. He has the worst swinging-strike percentage among pitchers completing 40 innings. His split-changeup still hasn’t returned since Tommy John surgery.

6. Davis’ performance has helped mask the struggles of Jonathan Schoop, who owns a .667 on-base plus slugging percentage and a walk rate on par with his first two seasons. The oblique strain didn’t help, but this isn’t ideal for someone needing to be re-signed or traded in the near future.

7. Many were pointing to Richard Bleier as a possible candidate to represent the Orioles at the All-Star Game if Manny Machado were to be traded before then. A 5.23 ERA in May and opponents batting .438 against him this month have certainly cooled that possibility.

8. Trey Mancini is batting .203 with a .632 OPS since banging his knee against the brick wall on April 20. He hasn’t used the knee as an excuse, but he’s hitting too many balls on the ground and his defense has taken a substantial step back from last year.

9. Concerns about Andrew Cashner being able to miss bats have been quelled by him averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but his previously-stellar ground-ball rate has plummeted to a career-worst 37.8 percent and he’s allowed 11 homers in 60 1/3 innings. That hasn’t been a good trade-off.

10. How big has the long-ball problem been for the rotation? Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Cashner, and Cobb all rank among the top 30 for worst homer rates in the majors among those completing at least 40 innings. Chris Tillman would also be on that list if he had enough innings.

11. This past weekend marked the six-year anniversary of Adam Jones inking his $85.5 million contract that was a winner for both sides. It represented happier times when a competitive window was just opening and the Orioles had the vision and urgency to lock up a 26-year-old entering his prime.

12. I’m unmoved about in-season firings in what’s already a lost year, but how refreshing would it be for a member of the Angelos family to speak about this being unacceptable, to vow changes, and to lay out some semblance of a vision? Is that really too much to ask?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts ahead of nine-game homestand

Posted on 08 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles limping home with an appalling 8-26 record after a winless trip to the West Coast, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore needs to play like a 92-win club the rest of the way to finish at .500 and like a 97-win team just to get to 85 wins. Even the obligatory Dumb and Dumber reference rings hollow at this point.

2. If you’re seeking any semblance of a silver lining, there shouldn’t be any danger of the organization having delusions of a chance at the trade deadline as it did in 2015 and 2017. Hovering a few games below .500 in late July and not selling would be worse than this.

3. Firing anyone at this point isn’t saving the season and isn’t going to prompt more fans to come to the ballpark. At the same time, nothing should be off the table when an organization is in this kind of a position and there’s so much blame to pass around.

4. As has been discussed by numerous outlets for months, the Orioles communicating and executing a short-term and long-term direction would mean more than firing or trading any individual. Chris Davis remaining the biggest example of long-term stability speaks volumes.

5. Part of that direction is determining how dramatically to rebuild. Trading pending free agents is easy, but will fetch mostly-underwhelming returns. Dealing Kevin Gausman or even Dylan Bundy would be painful, but they’d fetch more talent. Are the Orioles going to contend again before either hits free agency?

6. The organization should be open to trading Manny Machado at any moment, but I’m not convinced the best offers automatically come now rather than a little later. Teams’ needs and their level of urgency aren’t in a vacuum — even if it would be smart to maximize the rental.

7. Jonathan Schoop returning from the disabled list is a welcome sight. The Orioles would be wise to put on the full press to try to extend him over the next two months. If unsuccessful, trading him at the deadline should be a major priority. They shouldn’t repeat the Machado saga.

8. How to proceed with Adam Jones is complicated on various levels, especially since he has a full no-trade clause. However, he’s not going to have any trade value if he continues to sport a .674 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has two walks in 144 plate appearances.

9. The numbers back up how awful the Orioles defense has been as they entered Tuesday ranked dead last in the majors at minus-28 defensive runs saved. Trey Mancini is at a club-worst minus-10 defensive runs saved while Jones sits at minus-seven.

10. Alex Cobb looking much more like Alex Cobb over his last two starts has been encouraging. As was feared a few weeks ago, however, it already appears too late to make a meaningful difference in 2018.

11. No matter who runs the organization in 2019, persuading the Angelos family to reconsider its long-held position on sitting out the international market is a must if the Orioles ever want to build a strong farm system.

12. Nick Markakis owns a .977 OPS and has struck out 13 times compared to 20 walks in the final season of his deal with Atlanta. The 34-year-old hasn’t been great the entire time, but the Orioles could have used his dependability and .362 on-base percentage over these last few years.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2-1 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 23 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles’ misery continuing in a 2-1 loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore is scoring 3.17 runs per game — worst in the majors — and has plated one or zero runs in five of 10 games at Camden Yards and three or fewer in nine of those. Seven of the 11 Orioles players to bat Monday are hitting .200 or worse. Uncle.

2. Upon intentionally walking Manny Machado in the third, Carlos Carrasco needed 22 pitches to retire the next eight batters before walking Machado in the sixth. That’s one more pitch than the 21 Brandon Belt saw in one at-bat Sunday to set a major league record. Is there even a plan?

3. Speaking of that Machado intentional walk, the Orioles should expect much more of that if the lineup is going to continue being a one-man band.

4. It’s a shame a strong start from Kevin Gausman was wasted as he made one mistake on a two-run homer by Yonder Alonso in the second. The Indians had some other hard contact, but Gausman recorded his third straight quality start and gave his team a good chance to win.

5. Gausman retired 21 of the 23 final batters he faced, finishing his night by striking out Jason Kipnis on a 96.4 mph fastball to end the top of the eighth. Did I mention he deserved better?

6. An “immaculate” inning occurs when a pitcher strikes out the side on the minimum nine pitches. Gausman accomplished that impressive feat in the seventh. According to statistician Ryan Spaeder, he was the first Oriole to do that since B.J. Ryan in 1999.

7. Gausman’s average fastball velocity of 93.9 mph was easily his best of the season as he repeatedly hit 95 and 96 and even touched 97. That should quell concerns about him lacking his typical fastball early this season.

8. In contrast to Gausman’s “immaculate” inning, Danny Valencia struck out three times on a total of nine pitches, swinging and missing three straight times on the first one and looking at three straight in his next at-bat. He did mix in a double in the seventh inning.

9. Adam Jones’ frustration was apparent after he grounded out to end a threat in the eighth inning, throwing his bat, helmet, batting gloves, and shin guard. The center fielder is hitting just .240 with a .396 slugging percentage.

10. Chance Sisco struck out three times, but he delivered the only Orioles run of the night with an RBI single in the second. Monitoring his development is one of the few interesting aspects of this last-place club right now.

11. Trey Mancini coming off the bench to face Andrew Miller certainly wasn’t the easiest matchup, but it bodes well for his potential return to the starting lineup on Tuesday. He took batting practice and was feeling optimistic about his knee prior to Monday’s game.

12. Tim Beckham could be replacing Mancini on the sideline after he left the game with a groin issue and has also been dealing with a sore Achilles. Beckham is batting just .179, but the Orioles were already lacking the infield depth to handle the absence of Jonathan Schoop. What’s next?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 loss at Detroit

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their fifth straight defeat in a 6-5 walk-off final at Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Yes, it’s early, but the Orioles must play like a 90-win team the rest of the way just to get to 85 victories. To get to 90, they have to play like a 96-win team. Any realistic path to the postseason is already circling the drain because of this start.

2. Darren O’Day hadn’t pitched in a week, but he’s now given up a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later in two of his last three appearances. Not including the superb four-game set at Yankee Stadium, the Baltimore bullpen has a 5.32 ERA in 45 2/3 innings.

3. No, I wouldn’t have used Pedro Araujo for the bottom of the ninth inning, but the club’s most reliable reliever over the last seven years had just blown a two-run lead in the previous inning. Who exactly do you really trust that was still available?

4. My bigger problem with Showalter’s bullpen usage was not sticking with Richard Bleier longer after he needed only six pitches to record the last two outs of the seventh inning. The lefty has been the Orioles’ top reliever and owns a 0.71 ERA this season.

5. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Orioles managed to score more than three runs for just the second time in eight games. They even played some effective small ball in the eighth with Craig Gentry’s bunt and Adam Jones’ sacrifice fly.

6. Entering the day with four career homers and a .568 career on-base plus slugging percentage, Luis Sardinas hitting a pinch-hit homer to tie the game in the ninth would have been a pretty special moment had the Orioles won. Instead, it was quickly forgotten.

7. Speaking of nondescript defensive-minded infielders, Engelb Vielma made one heck of an over-the-shoulder catch in the seventh inning to help keep the Orioles’ deficit to one run.

8. Kevin Gausman made mistakes to Jeimer Candelario and Miguel Cabrera for solo homers, but he was very solid over his six innings. His velocity improved as the game progressed as he started to consistently hit 94 miles per hour and was touching 95 and 96. He deserved better.

9. Gausman’s slider was also one of the better ones I’ve seen him throw. He only recorded three swinging strikes out of the 21 times he threw it, but he was able to induce quite a bit of harmless contact with it.

10. Caleb Joseph is now batting .081 with a .240 OPS. It’s time for Chance Sisco to start receiving more extensive playing time.

11. The players, Showalter, the coaches, the front office, and ownership all deserve significant blame for this 5-13 start threatening to ruin the season. That said, I’m not sure what the immediate answer is that isn’t just based in emotion. The trade deadline is more than three months away.

12. I couldn’t have been the only one thinking Machado hitting a walk-off homer is something the Orioles should probably get used to being on the wrong side of sooner than later anyway. Yeah, that was a low blow, but watching bad baseball on a daily basis is getting to me.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following Toronto series

Posted on 12 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles enjoying a day off after a series loss against Toronto, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles lineup scoring five runs in Wednesday’s win hardly qualifies as an offensive explosion, but that came after plating only seven runs in the first five games at Camden Yards and opponents twice taking no-hitters into the eighth inning. The bats have been colder than the weather.

2. Thirteen games isn’t a big sample, so how much can the offensive struggles be attributed to tough luck? The Orioles rank 23rd in batting average on balls in play (.280), but they lead the majors in strikeouts, are 25th in hard-contact percentage, and rank 27th in line-drive percentage. Discouraging signs.

3. Chris Davis collecting two hits on Wednesday was encouraging, but the thought of him trying to bunt on a 1-2 pitch in the eighth inning of a one-run game like he did Monday night would have been lunacy a few years ago. He looks so lost at the plate.

4. Coming off a career season, Jonathan Schoop figured to break out eventually, but his start had been brutal aside from a 7-for-13 series against Houston. Before his two-hit performance on Wednesday, Schoop had gone 3-for-40 with no extra-base hits against non-Astros opponents.

5. It’s a shame Dylan Bundy has received such poor run support early. From his sparkling 1.35 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings to a .283 opposing BABIP that’s actually higher than last year’s, everything about the start of his season beyond the empty win column has been Cy Young-like.

6. Kevin Gausman turned in a solid performance against Toronto, but his average fastball velocity this season is 92.3 miles per hour, virtually identical to Bundy’s (92.2). For someone who’s consistently averaged 95 mph and frequently reached the high 90s, that’s a potential red flag.

7. The bullpen pitched to an impressive 2.42 ERA over 26 innings in the New York series, but the group sports a 6.21 ERA against everyone else. Wednesday marked the first game in which the bullpen didn’t allow a run, but no one said it would be easy without Zach Britton.

8. Mark Trumbo’s setback that Buck Showalter wouldn’t call a setback isn’t good news, but Pedro Alvarez is currently sporting a .462 on-base percentage. Alvarez isn’t known for his consistency, but the Orioles could have an eventual problem since you don’t want either slugger playing defense regularly.

9. Chance Sisco has had trouble hitting breaking balls, but his throwing has been solid and he’s shown ability to drive the ball the other way. I expect Caleb Joseph to pick it up offensively, but Sisco will push for more playing time sooner than later if he keeps this up.

10. Andrew Cashner has posted a 2.50 ERA, his strikeout rate is up, and he’s missing more bats than he has in a couple years. A few young pitchers have also gravitated to him in the clubhouse, which is a perk as long as he’s getting the job done on the mound.

11. Acknowledging the circumstances that left the bullpen in poor shape at the start of the week, I still didn’t like the Orioles disrupting the start of Hunter Harvey’s season at Double-A Bowie. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed about him not making an appearance this week.

12. The offense has been poor, the defense isn’t what it used to be, the bullpen has been inconsistent, and the starting rotation remains a sustantial concern despite having more upside than recent seasons. Beyond singling out Bundy or Manny Machado, what exactly is this club’s strength?

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