Tag Archive | "manny machado"

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Showalter still considering options in leadoff spot for Orioles

Posted on 28 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With Nick Markakis in the midst of his return to Baltimore, the Orioles trotted out their fourth different leadoff hitter in the last five games for Tuesday’s contest against the Atlanta Braves.

After manager Buck Showalter moved Manny Machado down to third over the weekend, the All-Star third baseman returned to the top spot, the place in the lineup he’s now occupied 73 times during the 2015 season. Of course, the thinking with moving Machado down in the order was to create more run-producing opportunities for the 23-year-old, but the lack of an ideal option to replace him in the top spot is the bigger long-term problem.

Jimmy Paredes, David Lough, and Nolan Reimold received opportunities in the top spot while Machado hit lower in the order. Showalter has used six different players in the leadoff spot this year with two of them — Alejandro De Aza and Everth Cabrera — no longer with the organization.

“If you hit Manny first, who hits third?” Showalter said on Monday. “If you hit him third, who hits first? You take one away and then you’re trying to replace it. We put out there what we think is best. Guys know that we’re having some challenges there.”

Despite Reimold going 2-for-4 with a double and a walk in the No. 1 spot in Monday’s 2-1 win, Machado struggled in the third spot in the order, going 2-for-15 with four strikeouts and a walk. One certainly shouldn’t draw strong or permanent conclusions from that sample size, but it might have been the level of anxiousness Machado displayed in two at-bats on Monday that reinforced the idea that maybe it’s unwise to mess with a good thing.

Machado came to the plate with two runners on base in the eighth and 10th innings of Monday’s game and struck out each time, swinging at several pitches outside the strike zone. One of the biggest factors in the young infielder’s leap at the plate this season has been his improved plate disciplined with a career-high 42 walks in 423 plate appearances entering Tuesday’s game.

Did the move to the No. 3 spot alter Machado’s mindset?

“I actually asked him about that today. ‘Do you feel any different mentality there? Are you getting bigger?'” Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game.  “He said, ‘No, it’s just a [slump].’ Since he’s been here — up until the last two or three games — that’s as long as I’ve seen him engaged with a good approach where he was not letting them get him out other than [on] stuff within the zone. He was walking.

“You always think it’s a day away. It’s like he said today, ‘I’ve got to get back to what I was doing. It’s got nothing to do with where I’m hitting him in the order.’ Of course, what’s he going to say?”

Machado looks the part of a hitter who will eventually settle into the No. 3 spot for a long time, but it would be wise to leave him in the role where he’s thrived in 2015, especially with few other options inspiring confidence in the leadoff spot right now.

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It’s time for Orioles to start looking toward future

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The 2015 season isn’t over, but it’s time for the Orioles to look in the mirror and acknowledge what they’ve seen for almost four months.

A mediocre club.

No, Baltimore isn’t as bad as a 5-12 record in July would indicate, but we can’t be fooled again into thinking a run of 18 wins in 23 games last month is the real indication of who the 2015 club is when the Orioles have just one other winning streak of even three games outside that lone extended stretch of prosperity. They were bound to level off after their hot June in which they briefly climbed atop the American League East, but losing 14 of 19 is an unacceptable way for a streaking club to cool off — if not freeze entirely — if it wants to be taken seriously as a contender.

Trailing the New York Yankees by a season-worst seven games after being swept in the Bronx this week, the Orioles should not be in full-blown fire-sale mode with more than 60 games to go, but trying to be buyers with so few assets in their farm system would be irresponsible at this point. The truth is that with seven notable players set to become free agents this fall, the Orioles need to have more than just an eye toward the future with this year’s outlook not looking promising anymore.

For fans remembering the dark days of 14 consecutive losing seasons, this situation shouldn’t resemble the purge of 2000 that netted only Melvin Mora and what amounted to several bags of cheap fertilizer for the likes of B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, Will Clark, and Mike Timlin in a series of lousy trades. Baseball’s new qualifying offer system makes it clear that the Orioles shouldn’t trade Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen, or Chris Davis for anything short of a return markedly exceeding the value of the draft pick they would receive for any of their departures as free agents.

In other words, this isn’t an endorsement to sell just because of frustration and a desire for change.

But executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should look to move pending free agents for returns that could help position the Orioles nicely as early as next year. With a core of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton in place and secured beyond next season, the Orioles aren’t in a position where they need to completely rebuild, especially when remembering how much money will come off the payroll in the offseason.

Some forward thinking would help that cause, however, and the Orioles cannot have a repeat of the unimaginative and poor offseason that included problems beyond the obvious free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller last winter.

If a club is desperate for an All-Star reliever like Darren O’Day and is willing to part with major league talent or prospects close to being ready for the big leagues — remember what the Orioles gave up for Andrew Miller last July? — Duquette should pull the trigger, especially if he isn’t willing to re-sign him after the season.

A contender willing to put together an impressive package for Chen, Wieters, or Davis should be heard and negotiated with. If you can somehow move what remains of the salaries of Bud Norris or Tommy Hunter, you do it without giving the compensation much thought.

The Orioles shouldn’t feel an intense need to dump all of these players, but trading at least a couple could provide some nice pieces for the near future and may not even completely destroy whatever chance the current team still has to make a run at a wild card. If Buck Showalter’s club is going to rebound from a 46-48 start, the substantial improvement is going to come from within more than anything Duquette might be able to add as a buyer at this point.

Maybe adding a couple young players to the mix is what the Orioles need.

Why not take a look at what 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez has to offer? He really couldn’t be much worse that what the Orioles have received from the corner outfield spots so far this season.

If you sell high on Chen, reward 22-year-old pitcher Zach Davies with an audition in the rotation after his strong season at Triple-A Norfolk. Or do the same for Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright.

Over the last couple months, we’ve continued to remember last season as justification for why this year’s Orioles could still turn it around.

But after a disastrous July got even worse in three days of frustration at Yankee Stadium, it might be time to make a few moves to brighten the future instead of continuing to look back at a past further dimming in the rear-view mirror.

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If it meant a World Series, do you trade the Future?

Posted on 22 July 2015 by James Revere

 

untitledHi, Folks. James is back at the helm. As I was looking through the Twitter-sphere today, one tweet from @MasnRoch really caught my eye. The Orioles are apparently listening to offers that include future ace Kevin Gausman. Has the recent disturbing trend of lack of clutch hitting really pushed the front office this far? Last year, Gausman and Hunter Harvey were deemed the second coming of Sean Connery and Kevin Costner. (The Untouchables for all those who didn’t get the reference. Decent movie by the way.) Now at five games behind the division leading Yankees, it would appear that with 11 pending free agents, all bets are on the table in order to try and win now.

The response to this rumor was met with more favor than I thought possible. If I had to predict, it has to come from a long seeded frustration with the organization’s inability to develop front line starters. Dylan Bundy was deemed Das Wunderkind from his draft day. No player would ever be able to pry him away from the clutches of our team. Here we sit three years later, and his arm has done nothing but let the young man down. Adding him to the ever growing list which includes Hayden Penn, Daniel Cabrera, Matt Riley, and Adam Loewen can really help show where this willingness to part with Gausman is coming from.

The major problem with a move of this magnitude lies with where the Orioles are as a franchise in terms of organizational depth. With a severe lack of impactful prospects,  prospects that are highly regarded in the system still years away from the bigs, and the potential mass exodus of players from the major league team, the Orioles could very well see the proverbial “window” close very harshly behind them if the wrong deal is made. Trading enough of the farm system now, for the services of a big bat or front line starter could derail this team for many years to come. So what exactly is the “right move”?

While there are many names linked to the Orioles right now, almost every single one of them is a free agent at the end of the year. Be it Justin Upton from San Diego, Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit, or Johnny Cueto of Cincinati, these stars will most definitely test free agency after the season is over. To part with a load of minor league talent for one of these guys would have to most certainly require a 72 hour window to negotiate a new contract. If not I would let everyone of these gentlemen go somewhere else. There is only one team out there in dire need to shed some contracts and get young fast that would make sense to trade with.

The Phillies have been laughable this year. Weighed down by injuries, age, and hundreds of millions of bad contracts, this is the team you need to meet at the table. They need a youth movement, and major league ready help now. Looking at their roster, I see three guys who would provide the Orioles with everything they need as well as provide them with some building blocks to help the team compete next year. With a promise to help with some of their contracts, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, and Ben Revere would instantly give the Birds all that is needed to help push for the division. In Revere, not only would I be able to buy a jersey with my last name on it, but the long lost leadoff hitter that this team has missed since Brian Roberts would be found. Put him in left field and bat him leadoff to move Manny Machado to a more productive spot in the line up. With the likes of Adam Jones and Chris Davis around him, Machado could easily duplicate the first half numbers he displayed down the stretch. While Ryan Howard is up there in age, he can still provide power and protection in an already deep roster. Place him as your DH, move Jimmy Paredes into a Delmon Young type role and the bench gets that much deeper. Hamels doesn’t exactly need explaining. At 30 years old, he still has good baseball ahead of him. With finally acquiring that number one starter Birdland has yearned for, the rest of the rotation becomes that much better.

Granted it may be wishful thinking, but if Kevin Gausman plus a few other players got this kind of return, I’d pull the trigger. With a few of our players saying they wanted to see if the front office was committed to winning, this deal may just be the sort that makes them realize just how serious the front office is.

So what do you guys think? Does the thought of Kevin Gausman being dealt make your blood curdle, or do you think in the right package it could make sense. Send me a tweet or leave a comment.

 

@DJ_Jaymz

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Pondering next Orioles roster move, Machado, Tillman

Posted on 19 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With Kevin Gausman set to make Wednesday’s start against the New York Yankees, the Orioles will be faced with their latest decision to make room on the 25-man roster.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Detroit that it is likely to be a position player since a seven-man bullpen that now includes Bud Norris is without a pitcher holding a minor-league option. Even if the Orioles could option a reliever, you can only go with a short bullpen so long in this modern age of baseball.

So, who will be the next position player to go?

Much of the discussion from when the organization parted ways with Delmon Young earlier this month still applies now, but the continuing struggles of first baseman Chris Parmelee appear to have landed him in a vulnerable position. Since homering three times and going 5-for-9 in his first two games with the Orioles, Parmelee was hitting just .183 with a .216 on-base percentage and a .338 slugging percentage in 74 plate appearances entering Sunday’s game.

Parmelee started two of the three games against Detroit over the weekend, but the fact that Showalter has lowered him to ninth in the order speaks volumes about how much the 27-year-old has struggled. Meanwhile, Steve Pearce — who has platooned with Parmelee at first base — is hitting .292 with a respectable .779 on-base plus slugging percentage since June 1.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see outfielder Nolan Reimold designated for assignment as he’s hitting just .224 and is not playing much, but Parmelee is clearly in more danger than he was the last time the Orioles needed to part ways with a position player.

Machado continues rolling

Can we put to rest any concerns about the aftermath of Manny Machado participating in the Home Run Derby?

The 23-year-old hit his 20th home run of the season on Saturday night, becoming the youngest Orioles player to hit his 20th of a season since Cal Ripken did it just a few days after his 23rd birthday in August 1983. In his first two games after the All-Star break, Machado went 3-for-6 with a homer, a double, and four walks.

Facing All-Star lefty David Price in the third inning of a scoreless game, Machado hammered a slider an estimated 434 feet down the left-field line, an impressive display of power against one of the finest pitchers in all of baseball. For those wondering what Machado can aim for in terms of Orioles players age 23 or younger, Boog Powell holds the highest single-season homer total with 39 in 1964.

Eclipsing the big first baseman would be difficult, but Machado appears to have a solid chance to hit more home runs this year than he did in his first three seasons combined (33). As frustrating as the 2015 season has been at times for the Orioles, watching the young third baseman blossom into a superstar has been a blast.

Tillman’s masterpiece

How good was Chris Tillman on Saturday night?

After allowing a leadoff single to Ian Kinsler and walking No. 3 hitter Victor Martinez in the bottom of the first, the tall right-hander retired 23 hitters in a row in what was arguably the best start of his major league career. His eight strikeouts were a season high as he masterfully used his high fastball to help induce 18 swinging strikes from Tigers hitters.

Tillman’s game score of 87 was not only tied for the 24th best in the majors this season, but it was the highest of his career, even surpassing his shutout in Kansas City last May. Saturday’s win also marked his sixth career outing in which he allowed no more than one hit.

The 27-year-old lowered his season ERA to 4.96 with his eight shutout innings. His ERA against non-Toronto clubs is now 3.14, illustrating how skewed his numbers are by a horrendous 15.00 ERA in four starts against the powerful Blue Jays. It’s not an excuse for pitching so poorly against a division rival, but any remaining talk about Tillman potentially losing his spot in the rotation should cease when you acknowledge how good he’s been against everyone else.

 

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of the first half

Posted on 16 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Though standing at just 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have benefited from their share of surprises as they now look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

A staple of the prosperity during the Showalter-Duquette era has been the emergence of at least a couple relative unknowns to make key contributions each season while counting on established players to either rebound from previous disappointments or to take their talents to a new level. Even if their season hasn’t gone exactly to plan through the All-Star break, the Orioles have experienced a little bit of everything in terms of pleasant surprises.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season:

Honorable mention: Darren O’Day, Ryan Flaherty

5. Zach Britton

Why does an All-Star closer with an ERA just a shade higher than it was a year ago belong on the list of surprises? A deeper look at the numbers shows just how dominant Britton has been in his second year as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man.

Relying on a heavy sinker to induce grounder after grounder last season, Britton converted 37 of 41 save opportunities and pitched to a 1.65 ERA, slightly lower than his 1.72 mark this year. However, the lefty benefited greatly from opponents batting .219 on balls in play (BABIP) in 2014, much lower than the league average of .297.

Such numbers would have made it reasonable — if not very likely — to expect some regression similar to what fellow sinkerballer Jim Johnson endured in 2013, but Britton has been even more imposing despite not being nearly as fortunate. Opponents have a .304 BABIP against Britton, but he’s overcome that with an improved slider to help increase his strikeout rate per nine innings (7.3 in 2014 to 10.1) while decreasing his walk rate per nine (2.7 to 2.0).

Simply put, Britton hasn’t been nearly as “lucky” as he was a year ago, but he’s pitching to less contact and still inducing a boatload of grounders when opponents do hit the ball. Britton had a great season in 2014, but he’s established himself as one of the best closers in the game by converting 23 of 24 save chances so far in 2015, numbers that rightly earned him a trip to his first All-Star Game.

4. Manny Machado

It was difficult to know what to expect from the 23-year-old third baseman after he suffered a second serious knee injury in less than a year last August. Machado’s defense and gap power established him as an All-Star-caliber player in 2013, but he’s blossomed into one of the best players in the AL this season and the kind of performer the Orioles hoped he might become one day.

Serving in the leadoff role out of necessity — who else could even handle the role right now? — Machado is hitting .298 with a .361 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, 35 walks, and 13 stolen bases, numbers which are all already career highs. And while the Orioles will continue to knock on wood and keep their fingers crossed for his health, Machado has started all 88 games at third base and you’d never know he has two surgically-repaired knees while watching him play.

Machado has been the club’s best player by a significant margin, continuing to play Gold Glove defense and providing the kind of offense that’s turned him into an MVP candidate in 2015. According to Baseball Reference, the 2010 first-round pick ranks second behind only Mike Trout in the American League with 4.8 wins above replacement.

Taking nothing away from Adam Jones who is having a fine year and has been the club’s best player for several years, we could be seeing the passing of the torch this season with Machado emerging as the kind of rare superstar who makes the game look easy. The Orioles and their fans just pray the injuries are finally behind him.

3. Chaz Roe

Though it’s also a reflection on a disappointing winter, I doubt anyone would have projected the minor-league signing of a 28-year-old reliever with a career 4.44 ERA last December to be their best offseason addition so far in 2015.

Beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk, Roe quickly established himself as a viable option for manager Buck Showalter in the late innings with a two-seam fastball and a devastating slider that’s helped him strike out 30 hitters while posting a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings with the Orioles.

Roe has struggled of late by allowing six earned runs in his last five outings, but it’s clear the Orioles saw something in the right-hander as he’s throwing his two-seamer more than ever and the movement on his slider has baffled hitters since he was called up in May. His stuff should allow him to remain an effective member of the bullpen even as he’ll need to make adjustments in the second half.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez

Perhaps his track record suggests his rebound shouldn’t have been so surprising, but anyone who watched Jimenez pitch in 2014 couldn’t have easily imagined him being one of their two best starters in his second season in Baltimore.

Simplified mechanics, the heaviest reliance on his two-seam fastball since his 2010 All-Star season with Colorado, and a dramatically improved walk rate (just 2.9 per nine innings this year after an awful 5.5 in 2014) have made Jimenez the pitcher the Orioles envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract last year. His improvement is a major reason why the Orioles remain firmly in contention despite poor seasons from Chris Tillman and Bud Norris.

After throwing his two-seamer just 16.4 percent of the time a year ago, Jimenez has used the pitch more than a third of the time (37 percent) this year to induce more grounders while still striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. It was a brilliant adjustment to make for the 31-year-old to better take advantage of one of the best defensive infields in baseball.

In the second half, consistency will be the key for Jimenez as it has been throughout his career, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for much better from him than a 7-4 record with a 2.81 ERA and a 3.21 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark that is easily the best of the rotation. Other than maybe only Wei-Yin Chen, there’s not another starter Showalter would want to take the ball more on a given night as Jimenez will make the first start of the second half in Detroit on Friday.

1. Jimmy Paredes

Who else could it really be?

After hitting .302 in 55 plate appearances late last year, the 26-year-old was a name of interest in spring training but hardly someone most predicted to make the 25-man roster. Paredes was out of minor-league options and lacked a position with the defensive-minded Orioles, but he stated his case by hitting .364 with a 1.005 OPS in 55 Grapefruit League at-bats before a back injury landed him on the disabled list to begin the year.

Once Jonathan Schoop went down with a knee injury in mid-April, Paredes got the call and hit an astounding .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year. A 4-for-41 slump that dropped his average 59 points in two weeks appeared to signal the end of a nice story, but the switch hitter has bounced back to hit a very steady .310 in his last 91 plate appearances dating back to June 12.

Clearly better from the left side of the plate, Paredes hinders Showalter’s lineup flexibility with his defensive limitations — the Orioles want him to learn to play the corner outfield spots this winter — but it’s difficult to nitpick a man who was such an unknown. Paredes is hitting .299 with 10 homers, 39 RBIs, and an .809 OPS in 277 plate appearances this year and has been the club’s third-best offensive player behind Machado and Jones.

His 69 strikeouts are the highest on the club behind only Chris Davis, but Paredes has drawn six walks in his last 51 plate appearances, which the Orioles hope is a sign of improved discipline at the plate. Time will tell whether Paredes sticks, but it’s hard not to be impressed — and really surprised — with what he’s accomplished so far in 2015.

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Machado falls in first round of Home Run Derby

Posted on 13 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Manny Machado performed admirably, but it was another 23-year-old who got the best of him at the 2015 Home Run Derby in Cincinnati on Monday night.

The Orioles third baseman hit an impressive 12 home runs in the first round before Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson — who is more than two months older than Machado — clubbed 13 with a minute remaining in the new timed format to advance to the second round. Pederson went on to finish second in the competition, falling to hometown favorite Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds in the championship round at the Great American Ballpark.

Making his second trip to the All-Star Game and first appearance in the derby, Machado’s long distance was a 469-foot blast and his average home run distance was 431 feet. His first-round total was the fourth highest of any competitior, but he did not advance in the new head-to-head tournament.

Upon using his timeout in the first round, Machado was greeted by teammate Adam Jones in the home plate area with a sports drink and a plate of tortilla chips with a container of the young infielder’s special salsa. Always a character, Jones later presented the winner Frazier with a WWE championship belt at the end of the evening.

Already with a career-high 19 homers at the All-Star break, Machado has a good chance to surpass his total of 33 bombs from his first three major league seasons combined.

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Jones starting in left field for All-Star Game

Posted on 13 July 2015 by Luke Jones

After learning late last week he would be in the American League starting lineup, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones will play left field in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

On Monday, Kansas City manager Ned Yost revealed his lineup, which included the 29-year-old Jones batting sixth in left field. After Royals outfielder Alex Gordon suffered a groin injury last week, Jones was given the privilege of starting his third consecutive All-Star Game as he makes his fifth appearance overall.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout will lead off and play center while normal Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain will move to right field for the AL squad. Jones had started in center in each of the previous two All-Star Games with Trout playing left.

Former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz will bat cleanup and serve as the designated hitter for the AL after hitting 21 home runs in his first season with the Seattle Mariners.

Of course, the Orioles will have a strong presence in Cincinnati with third baseman Manny Machado and relief pitchers Zach Britton and Darren O’Day also chosen as All-Star reserves. The 23-year-old Machado was scheduled to participate in Monday night’s Home Run Derby despite heavy rain threatening the event.

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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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Orioles once again looking part of first-place club

Posted on 29 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles pitched two shutouts, their top six relievers threw a combined 18 pitches, and Adam Jones finally made his return to the lineup on Sunday.

The Buck Showalter garden gnome giveaway was a huge hit.

And, oh yeah, the Orioles found themselves back in first place in the American League East for the first time since April 19.

Cleveland manager Terry Francona might have been asking himself why he waited until the ninth inning of Game 2 to get ejected after his team’s abysmal day, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for a better doubleheader. In tossing shutouts in both games of the twin bill — a 4-0 win in the opener and an 8-0 final for the nightcap — the Orioles did something they hadn’t accomplished since Sept. 6, 1974 when they twice blanked the Indians in a doubleheader at old Cleveland Stadium.

“It was big. It was a good day,” said Game 2 winner Chris Tillman, who pitched a much-needed seven shutout innings to help his own psyche after Ubaldo Jimenez tossed eight scoreless frames in the opener. “Ubaldo went out and did an outstanding job. There was a lot of offense today in both games. It was really fun to watch.”

On the same day they won the 5,000th game in club history, the Orioles came out of the weekend only reinforcing what many have begun thinking more and more over the last four weeks. They’re looking like a first-place club and woke up Monday morning in that very position, percentage points ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in a division where four clubs are currently separated by one game.

It’s a different season and a different club, but you couldn’t help but notice that the Orioles seized first place for good on July 3 last season. The similarities are there with an excellent defense, a stellar bullpen, and a revitalized offense hitting home runs, but even the starting pitching got into the act after struggling in recent weeks by allowing just two earned runs in 21 innings of work against the Indians.

Right now, the AL East is far from the poor division it looked to be six weeks ago as three clubs — Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and New York — would have qualified for the playoffs if the season had ended on Sunday. Whether the Orioles will follow the same script of 2014 remains to be seen, but 18 wins in 23 games to move to the top of the division would have any club feeling good about itself.

“It’s a return for that, but it can be very fleeting,” Showalter said. “The only thing I look at is the loss column now and then. I don’t pay much attention to the other part of it.

“See if you can stay engaged and have a chance to roll the dice in September. That’s what it’s about. Position yourself to be in it in September and play meaningful games when the leaves start turning. It’s not that complicated.”

Continuing to win at a .783 clip as they have for more than three weeks isn’t sustainable, but the Orioles learned last year that it doesn’t take prolonged winning streaks to pull away from the pack if you consistently win series. If you combine the four games — two home and two away — against Philadelphia, Baltimore has now secured seven consecutive series wins.

Unlike the Orioles clubs from a few years ago, this group of players has the experience of bouncing back — like when they were six games below .500 earlier this month — that brings confidence the rest of the way. They know it won’t be this easy over the final three months of the season, and Showalter makes sure his players are prepared for that reality, never wanting them to be too high or too low after any result.

“We have the ups and downs,” said third baseman Manny Machado, who hit his career-high 15th homer on Sunday and continues sprinting toward superstar status a week shy of his 23rd birthday. “We started off a little slow. We had players injured, and we’re just getting back into it. Everybody’s starting to get healthy. This is just the midway point.

“There’s a lot more baseball ahead, a lot more slumps, a lot more games lost coming ahead, but we’ve got to stay focused and stay with the mindset that we have.”

The Orioles know they aren’t perfect.

Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette are still sifting through a crowded corner outfield situation that will likely require parting ways with one or two options. As a whole, the group has been more productive in June, but the Orioles have to hope they’ll make the right decisions and the remaining pieces will continue getting the job done.

Tillman’s strong performance on Sunday was a step in the right direction as he and Bud Norris still have a long way to go to quell concerns over their immense struggles in the first half of 2015.

But these issues don’t feel insurmountable and certainly aren’t any worse than the weaknesses the other AL East contenders are facing. Even in winning 96 games and the club’s first division title in 17 years last year, the Orioles had their flaws.

It’s tough to ignore the similarities with 2014, even down to the contributions from unexpected sources such as Jimmy Paredes, Chaz Roe, and Chris Parmelee a year after Steve Pearce, Brad Brach, and Caleb Joseph emerged from the shadows.

“This team tries as much as we can not to think about last year,” said Chris Davis, who hit his club-leading 16th homer on Sunday night. “It was obviously a great year, but it’s over with. You have to turn the page and focus on what’s at hand. I think we’re proud of the way we’re playing right now and battling these last few days and playing with somewhat of a short roster.

“Guys have stepped up and have done a great job.”

And the Orioles have stepped to the top of the AL East as a result.

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Jones falls, Machado climbs in latest All-Star voting update

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

While the Kansas City Royals continue to dominate the All-Star voting in the American League, the Orioles’ chances of securing a starter appear bleaker.

In the latest AL voting update released on Monday, four-time All-Star selection Adam Jones fell to seventh among outfielders and trails the third-place Alex Gordon by nearly 3 million votes. The 29-year-old center fielder ranked fifth among outfielders in last week’s update.

In the midst of his best season, the 22-year-old Manny Machado climbed to fourth among AL third baseman but trails the first-place Mike Moustakas by nearly 8 million votes.

While seven Kansas City players are currently slated to be starters — Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout are the only non-Royals — the Orioles had no other players appear among the leaders. Voting concludes on July 2 with the 2015 All-Star Game set for July 14 in Cincinnati.

Let’s just take a moment to remember we’re living in a world in which 6,521,733 votes have been cast for a second baseman rocking a .549 OPS. As Buck Showalter put it, Royals second baseman Omar Infante must be having a heck of a defensive year.

Is it too late to start the Ryan Flaherty All-Star campaign?

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